“Our Alan Tang gave a speech about his blogging experience as a Singaporean blogger on 5th October in an invitation-only, closed-door conference and in my view was clearly the best speaker!
CENS, The Center of Excellence for National Security is a research unit of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Established on 1 April 2006, the think-tank is devoted to rigorous policy-relevant analysis of a range of national security issues. The CENS team is multinational in composition, comprising both Singaporean and foreign analysts who are specialists in various aspects of national and homeland security affairs.
Alan Tang, our celebrity blogger was invited to speak on October 5, at a workshop organized by CENS entitled: Social Media in a Crisis – Effective Engagement in the Digital Age
It is well known that social media is a double-edged sword in relation to crisis and crisis communication: social media can cause a crisis and exacerbate an existing one just as easily as it can diffuse a crisis and enhance an organization’s reputation. Deriving key takeaways from lessons learned and best practices can often be effective in managing this phenomenon. This workshop seeks to provide participants with useful strategies and techniques that would help them better incorporate and utilize social media in crisis response. Topics that will be discussed include: (a) the psychology of social media users; (b) working with social media influencers; (c) enhancing online credibility of government agencies; and (d) case studies from the UK, Malaysia, Australia and Singapore. Speakers comprise of local and foreign industry experts, government officials, practitioners, and academics.
Members of the Fellowship invited to listen included AG, Kamal, Alec M, Alec Ee, Freddie and myself. Since this was the first time Alan has ever spoken in public – his maiden speech so to speak, pardon the pun, we were there to support him.
Here is the full-text of the speech:
My name is Alan Tang. I blog at gintai.wordpress.com.
I chose the name Gintai because it means 昇泰 in Chinese – to rise or soar to greatness. It’s originally the name of a hardware shop I used to manage on a part-time basis. It belonged to my in-laws who were in the shoe business and knew little about hardware.
I’m a train officer working in Singapore Mass Rapid Transit. I drive trains. This is my second job. Prior to being a train driver I was a police officer. I am now 49 years old and I am looking to semi-retirement in six years’ time when I turn 55.
gintai.wordpress.com was started on October 20th last year. I was goaded into blogging by a friend, who has been blogging for more than 12 years. He is a retired psychologist and the author of 7 books. He calls me his “kindred spirit” as we used to have long email discussions about social issues. He then suggested that I start a blog.
In the beginning, I just blogged my personal thoughts and about rather inconsequential events. If you look at my profile, it says that I share jokes, anecdotes and other observations on my blog. It’s basically a personal blog recording whatever events and things I came across.
The first breakthrough came in December last year when there were two major train disruptions. This has never happened before. I thought I would just blog about my job as a train officer and a little about trains. The post “Train Officer” went viral. It was re-posted on Singapore Daily, Online Citizen and few other web sites. It scored more than 35,000 hits. Many Singaporeans commute daily by trains. As human beings, many are curious about the persons behind those trains. That blog post satiated that innate curiosity. I received overwhelmingly positive reviews and many comments.
There are many types of blogs in blogoland. They are also hundreds of them. Some are very private personal blogs, some concentrate on hobbies such as travels, photography or food. Even social-political blogs commenting on social issues and current affairs are varied. We have extreme, moderate and even pro-establishment social-political blogs. My blog is a mix of those mentioned. It is not entirely social-political commenting on issues of the day only. My readers even commend me for blogging about Chinese idioms, and for promoting multi-racial integration by posting articles on other races and cultures. Link: “My fellow Singaporeans ….”
I must say that every blog is unique. There may be similar blogs but no two blogs are the same. I have found my niche in blogoland with a following due to the sincerity and truthfulness in my articles. In short, I write from the heart, and straight from the shoulder. I see and observe what’s happening around me and I just blog about them.
Before I got into serious blogging, I borrowed some books from the library to read up. From them I picked up some pointers such as a blog post should not be too long to sustain the reader’s interest. It should be easily understood and relevant to him. Try to write in proper, good, standard English without resorting to expletives. If possible, backed it up with hyperlinks to news reports and other factual accounts to support what you are deliberating. It will be helpful if a few pictures are used for illustration in a post.
To garner more hits, try to use your moniker or User ID to post intelligent and sensible comments on other popular blogs or public forums. From there, more exposure will get more readers to click on your blog. By clicking on your moniker, it will lead to your blog.
Frederick Forsyth in “The Cobra” says “a blog is the bizarre offspring of the internet.” It’s generally acknowledged that blogging is one of the holy trinity of new social media. The other two are Facebook and Twitter. My blog is linked to my Facebook and my Twitter. Whenever, my blog is renewed with a new post, the link is automatically uploaded to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. There are dedicated Facebook and Twitter links on my blog allowing anyone to “like” or “follow” my tweets. Followers are captured in this manner. The three holy trinity of new social media in the cyber world synergize each other in a multiplier effect to spread and travel relentlessly without us knowing it – even in our sleep. It could be a powerful platform if you have a hit in hand.
That is what happened to my all time “best seller”, “Is this my Singapore? My country and my home?” That simply written post published on April 23rd went viral in cyberspace. Within three days, it garnered over 150,000 hits. More than 300 comments within two days! The link was copied and pasted in every nook and cranny of cyberworld. At least 10 netizens copied and pasted this link on our Prime Minister’s Facebook. It was also pasted on Minister Of State Tan Chuan Jin’s and Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam’s Facebooks. It solicited a reply from MOS Tan on his Facebook at 4.00 am. That article also led to Minister Shanmugam, granting a private audience to me two months later.
From the look of it, “Is this my Singapore?” seems to be quite an ordinary looking article – simple and straightforward. But it hit a raw nerve. The post started off by telling how I spent one week with a Malay colleague taking our meal breaks together. It shows how we get along as Singaporeans in a multi-racial society and then went on to describe our common preoccupation with affordable HDB flats. Our conversation then went on to how PRs benefit the most from our country. Two major themes ran along the entire post – rising housing costs and the pricing out of locals (versus Permanent Residents or foreigners). It reflected the general frustration and unhappiness of large cross sections of Singaporeans. I provided real examples in the post to underscore my points.
If I didn’t close the comments section, even more comments would have been posted by readers. After this article was published, my blog attracted even more followers. It has come to a point where I could easily garner about 1,000 hits each day. If the post is a controversial topic, like “My Meeting With Minister Shanmugam,” then 10,000 over hits are not uncommon. Social issues such as “Our homeless sleeping in public places” got me about 5,000 hits. “Is this my Singapore?” is still getting readers after nearly six months when it was first published. Total number of hits since I first published it is about 180,000. Total views on my blog have already exceeded 500,000 hits.
I’m using WordPress for blogging. It allows me to track my traffic and see where they are coming from. If a website like Hardwarezone re-produced my blog post, the WordPress dashboard will show.
After nearly a year of blogging, I have become a household name. Most Singaporeans know that I am that blogging train driver from SMRT. My colleagues’ children, my relatives, etc ask about me. Just recently, a station staff told me that when he visited Faith Clinic at Tampines Street 45, the doctor, Dr Wong asked about me when he realized that my colleague was from SMRT. They are all followers of my blog. Some of my colleagues even ask me what my topic will be for tomorrow? One of them told me that he cried when he read my post about a colleague who has passed away. Link: “Remembering my buddy …”
That is the power of new social media. Unlike the mainstream press, I could write and publish what I fancy without the need to go through censorship or editing. But the power to influence or sway public opinion also comes with responsibility. We have to be careful of what we write. We do not want to invite lawyers’ letters do we? I have not really reached the level of some other bloggers like Mr Brown or Catherine Lim. When these personalities tweet, blog or comment on their Facebooks, the whole cyber world moves in tandem! Much chattering is initiated especially if they comment on hot issues of the day.
To give myself a fair assessment, I would say that generally I have been quite a successful blogger. Out of the so many hundreds of bloggers, my perseverance and tenacity as a blogger has reaped handsome, non-monetary dividends. I’ve carved a niche in blogoland with a loyal following. I’ve also made new friends meeting some of them. We communicated via FB, tweets or email.
Still I am not immune to cyber thugs for their attacks and public lynching. They are usually anonymous devious characters without the guts and courage to reveal their real names.
When I innocently posted an article calling all Singaporeans to fly our state flag during the National Day, I was attacked mercilessly when it was re-produced in Temasek Review Emeritus. There were 124 comments, mostly negative. I was called all kinds of names – “lackey”, “dog”, “bootlicker” etc. Even my job was attacked. Like what our Prime Minister said at the recent National Day Rally, “anonymity brings out the worst in humans.” I do not know how to stop such uncivilized and uncouth cyber behavior. I just ignore them but if they do come to my blog to hurl insults, I usually retort.
Some blogs do not allow comments. Some moderate comments to the owner’s discretion. I allow all comments so long as it is not racist, defamatory or libelous. My blog thrives on comments. Allowing comments enables me to interact with my readers and attract more readers with opinions and views to broadcast to others. I know some of them use my blog as a platform to propagate their opinions and views on a cause or current issue.
I have even blogged about public institutions and establishments such as Nanyang Polytechnic. and Starbucks. When I related how the security officer refused to entertain my request to hand over a Nanyang Poly result slip after office hours to the admin, I attracted lots of comments. Few days later, I received an apology from Nanyang Poly and they told me that they would collect it at my convenience from my place. I duly published that apology on my blog. It was the same when I blogged about the bad coffee my friend complained about. My advice to establishments is to respond to such negative publicity by getting in touch with the blogger. Rather than ignoring such negative blogging to the detriment of their reputation, it is better to damage-control. Whether you like it or not, new social media such as blogging cannot be underestimated.
That is why after the last watershed General Elections; the government has been reaching out to netizens and the blogging community. Some of our ministers continue to take the initiative to engage bloggers, myself included. Even the Prime Minister recently met 19 bloggers and netizens at the Istana to promote mutual understanding and engagement. That is recognition of our drastically changed social political landscape where the Internet is becoming a major part of our lives. Almost everyone is connected to the Net with a smart phone or tablet computer. It used to be just personal computers but not anymore. Opinions and views used to be heard only on radio, TV or forum or letter pages of the local papers – not anymore. It used to be unhappy citizens writing complaint letters to the relevant government departments – not anymore. The Internet is bridging the gaps.
This is not only happening in Singapore. It’s happening all over the world – Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street were movements fueled by the new social media. Even in one-party China, through Weibo – their version of Twitter – many corrupt officials in the countryside and far-away provinces have been exposed and brought down. The Chinese saying “The mountain is high and the emperor is far!” 山高皇帝远 (shān gāo huáng dì yuǎn) is no longer true.
#There is also this latest case of a Buddhist boy in Bangladesh. He had his name tagged to a partially burnt Koran uploaded to Facebook. A “friend” of the Buddhist boy tagged him to that image to make sure he sees it. Other “friends” of the boy see it and commented on it, “liked” it, friends of those friends commented on it, “liked” it …. and before long the image is spread to thousands and thousands through geometric progression. It started a wave of protests and violence which resulted in 7 temples being burned, 5 others destroyed and over 50 houses belonging to the Buddhist minority being damaged.#
The power of new social media has increased exponentially. We ignore such powerful platform at our own peril. Only those able to tame and harness the holy trinity of the new social media shall prevail.
I would like to thank Lohcifer for the above write-up. He is too kind and generous with his words. I would also like to express my appreciation for the six members who came to support me by their mere presence when I gave the speech. I must also thank Dr Damien D. Cheong of RSIS – NTU for inviting me to the event.
This is my last entry. Today marks one complete year of this blog. I shall be taking an indefinite break from active blogging. I thank all the readers (whose nicks are not mentioned here) for their invaluable comments on my blog.
Special thanks go to Patriot, Agongkia, Ape, Lohcifer, Dr Chan of Dewdrop, Darkness2012, Expensive Price, Azizan, Auntie Lucia and SG Girl for their many varied comments. This blog would not have been that lively without your contributions.
Not forgetting Rita Chan and Sydney Fong for ‘liking’ every post. Cheers to all of you.
Oh I almost forgot to thank my 15-year old nephew, Benedict Tang living in Vancouver for setting up FB page for this blog and monitoring all my blog comments and activities. He is also my blog admin. My indispensable assistant. He’s the first to alert me to Dr Damien D. Cheong’s invitation.
Till we meet again. Farewell my friends!