“Those stories are great, but do you any good-looking white people who can speak Cantonese?”
The question should have outraged me, but after two years of toiling in Hong Kong-based content platforms, I got used to rolling with the punches. The bulk of Hong Kong’s social media audience consumed the shit out of that type of content, and I had no bullets to run against the pack.
Since my few brushes with Hong Kong’s social media cookie jar that got the third-culture life (I will refrain from using ‘ethnic minority’ for now) discussion momentarily back on the radar, I am often ‘headhunted’ to do the same thing for other local content platforms. I could list out the many reasons why (mainly boring stuff like consumer behaviour and a HK-specific ego that involves some very oppressed feelings), but the dominant one is simple: they go viral.
I then proceed to pitch a few more ideas that embodied similar story elements, quickly realizing that the ones that get a quick reject are the ones that didn’t involve good-looking white people speaking Cantonese. This was immediately followed by a lecture (from them to me) on why Johnny Harris’ Vox Borders coverage on Hong Kong did so well––there are a number of reasons why that Vox Borders feature did well, but the fact that “it was done by a white guy” (which was what my ‘lecturers’ were committed to) just barely scratches the surface.
I’ve denied it for too long, and am only really facing it now because this is happening way too often. The formula was simple: the ideal video has to involve a good-looking outsider indulging in something local. Add any more substance to it, and it would be ‘hard to digest’. Granted that from a content marketing strategy perspective, this kind of model is what most clients abide by. Ditch “storytelling", even if the content is valuable, because it’s probably not what your prospects consume for fun.
It’s been quite the journey for me, learning and unlearning, from working as an editorial assistant, to corporate in-house marketing, to managing in a startup, then to content creation, then back to corporate in-house marketing, and now freelancing digital marketing. What does it really take to produce content that will consistently bring in new business opportunities and conversions? How do you re-evaluate the existing content that isn’t cutting it?
Back to my conversation with this platform-that-will-remain-unnamed, a conversation that reeked of desperation to charge into a new demographic without compromising the existing fanbase (one that doesn’t even bring in monetary value). It’s a corporate move, but I understand: no business can survive on page likes and followers alone. Yes, good content is key. But good content needs to be supplemented by good distribution. Who are the people you’re trying to convert into customers, and how can you be helpful to them?
The further we went on, the more I picked up on the lack of strategy this company started out with. I was being asked to pitch content ideas with no target demographic, with no marketing objective, and with no content pillars (and no post-publishing evaluation process). “What is going to go viral? What is going to grab people’s attention? What should we make?” An amateur mindset: that one brilliant viral video was going to whip up a perpetual win in the content creation game.
I don’t speak for all content creators out there, but I don’t want to work with/for a company that does not know how to utilize a good content creator. If there’s one thing I live by in my field of work, it’s that good content creators aren’t always good storytellers. But they are good “tour guides”: they introduce you to a subject you’re unfamiliar with, and then they help you arrive at a level of knowledge without losing you along the way. Don’t get me wrong: all content creators can pitch and execute a good story, and it isn’t beneath anyone to do so. But did you know that good content creators actually have the skillset to diagnose and recalibrate a brand’s content strategy if given the right means?
This could easily branch off into a conversation about brand authenticity, but I’ll leave that for another time. The bottom line here: you can “factory order” content from content creators all you like, and we can deliver, but don’t expect extraordinary results. If you can identify what shitty content is, chances are: so can the general public.