Christel Quek is one of Asia’s brightest young social media talents. Known on Twitter as Ladyxtel, she is fast approaching her 100,000th tweet. She writes for Huffington Post and Harvard Business Review about all things social.
In this interview, the 23 year-old Singaporean, who has just left Samsung after the company restructured its Asia operations, talks to Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks about her first taste of the internet at the age of five, how long she can exist without social media, and what she wants out of her next job.
I have thought about leaving the industry and doing something different. I have five things I want to do before I die, and haven’t done any of them yet. One is to do something about rethinking education, and better preparing students for the knowledge economy.
I believe that there’s more that can be done to encourage creative thinkers for the information economy. We don’t always need the right answers, but we do need to ask the right questions. I also want to do something about improving financial literacy, using technology as an enabler for a commercially viable form of clean energy, and I want to build a product in the digital and technology area. But more importantly, I would like to give back to the community. I’ve volunteered some time occasionally to spend time with students and startups in my spare time because I genuinely enjoy learning from their adventures and understanding their challenges.
Now that you’ve got a break, why don’t you chill for a while? Are you addicted to social media?
It’s a blessing and a curse. As a person I like to keep up with the pace, because it interests me. It’s my passion. It’s a curse when you get too involved in the noise around you. You have to discern what is useful from what isn’t, and extract the good bits. I don’t have the time to look at everything.
Do you obsess about your klout score?
No, I don’t. Social influence scores, whether they are from Klout, PeerIndex, or Kred are useful as indications, but they are not an absolution. Vanity metrics can’t always translate to real results.
How long can you stay away from the internet?
When I was on holiday with my ex-boyfriend in the Maldives, he challenged me not to go online. I managed it for two days, which is the longest I’ve ever gone without the internet. I can do without Facebook and Instagram, but not without twitter and my personal dashboard.
How old were you when you first used the internet?
I was five. My neighbour helped me set up my first computer, which had a 64k dial up modem. I took to it straight away. Around the year 2000, I started using Netscape. I had created my first website by the age of 11. I experimented with Geocities then Friendster, which I found interesting. But even when I was 14 I couldn’t see how Friendster could make money.
Then I experimented with writing, photography and designing creatives. I did some freelance design work for the National Trades Union Congress and NParks, who discovered my work through my website. I used to draw and paint a lot [Quek has painted her own version of the Mona Lisa], although I haven’t painted for three years. I love street art, and I would like to one day chronicle the different types of street art all around the world.
When I was 19, I was very fortunate to receive a civil service scholarship from the government to pursue my studies at the National University of Singapore, but I broke the scholarship bond in my first year.
Why didn’t you want to work for the government in the end?
Initially, I signed on the dotted line as I wasn’t 100 per cent sure on what I really wanted to do, and it was easy for me to slip into my comfort zone and accept the scholarship, the development program, and a “safe” career in the civil service.
But a year went by and I realised that I would not be able to perform at my best, and give my best back to people that I want to help if I had stayed on. It would also be incredibly unfair to the civil service if I had stayed on and my whole heart wasn’t in it. I have immense respect for civil servants. It’s an extremely tough profession and you have to be constantly under public scrutiny. It was also a difficult decision for me to break away from the path that seemed like a certain route to success, but I knew I had to be brave in my decision to venture into the unknown.
It was then when I also learnt that you have to trust your gut and listen to your intuition a lot more. When I broke my scholarship bond, I then started to work in the midst of my full-time degree at NUS. I have never looked back ever since.
If you could change one thing about the marketing industry to make it more appealing to young people, what would it be?
I guess it’s about always keeping the passion for doing good work alive. Talent and skills development can be thorny issues in the industry sometimes, as employers do fear losing the good talent they’ve trained to rivals. But if you don’t invest in training and development, it hurts the industry in the long run. Someone once told me that people don’t necessarily leave jobs, but they will leave their managers. I think this is really true.
You’ve posted more than 97,000 tweets, although I’m yet to notice many that are original thoughts from you (they tend to be shared links). Is social media thought leadership more about being observant than original?
That’s an interesting observation. I do share more links lately from other thought leaders and articles I find interesting all around the web, including the links to posts I’ve written for different publications, be it Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, or Medium. Towards the end of the day, I enjoy engaging with folks who comment or re-share the content I’ve tweeted from other people within the space.
I personally need to take more time to compose original thoughts and you can’t control when the inspiration hits , especially with other pressing time commitments – and Twitter is all about sharing content of interest!
If you look at it, thought leadership in social media shouldn’t separate observation from originality – at some point in time both would have to intersect. To me, thought leadership is more about having a point of view that challenges others to think differently about the landscape they are in every day.
The philosopher Alain de Botton tweeted recently: ”Proof that you have given your children the requisite amount of attention: that they have no desire whatever to be famous.” Are you into social media because you were not given enough attention as a child?
We all have different reasons for getting into social, and truthfully speaking, I’m one of the biggest introverts around. In fact, I’m an INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) on the Myers Briggs Personality Test. People who really know me can tell you that I enjoy listening more than expressing my views when it’s not necessary – so I’m not really into the attention space.
I’m into social because I want to humanise brands and make traditional institutions less arrogant. That’s really what drives me, because I believe that social has allowed for the democratization of media and power. Fame and attention are always temporary – you never know what will happen tomorrow, when something new and revolutionary will disrupt the industry.