In Conversation With... Simon Kemp

In our series of interviews with people who do interesting work, this week Simon Kemp who runs We Are Social in Asia will share some of his thoughts with us.

Hey Simon, thank you for taking the time! So tell us, what do you do?

I look after We Are Social in Asia, helping organisations all over the region to make optimum use of social media.

Why are you in this industry?

I suppose it came about because I've always loved branding, technology and people watching. I was obsessed with logos as a child, and I used to love inventing ad taglines too. Then my dad bought a BBC Micro computer when I was about 4, and I started to learn coding. As I got older, I also started to enjoy trying to understand why people do the things they do; eventually, all these things converged into my current role, but that was probably more by luck than by design.

Sounds like you're a curious man. How did you end up in your position? What did it take?

It was all a bit random. I started my career providing interpreting services to a variety of different organisations around Europe, before taking on a role as a management consultant with Accenture in the UK. I did a few different things there, including building sections of Sainsbury's online supermarket. After 3 years there, I was lucky enough to find a role at a small, bespoke strategy consultancy in London called ascension. There were just 8 of us, but I worked on some amazing projects, like helping to develop the global marketing frameworks for Unilever and InBev, and helping to develop the "glass and a half full of joy" strategy that led to Cadbury's Gorilla and Joyville campaigns.

As part of the assignment with Unilever, I also got to travel extensively around Asia, working with almost every one of their brands to build large-scale integrated comms activities. After a year of almost weekly long-haul flights from London, I realised Asia was far more exciting than Europe, so I moved to Bangkok in 2007, before progressing to Singapore a few months later.

I spent time at Starcom and UM before securing a role as an Engagement Planner with BBH in early 2010, where I ended up working with the We Are Social team in London on a global Chupa Chups campaign. That inspired me to explore social media more in my own time too, and I got heavily involved in managing a variety of DJs and music communities in social media.

Shortly afterwards, I met Nathan McDonald (one of We Are Social's founders) for dinner when he stopped over in Singapore, and soon after I set up the Singapore office for We Are Social.

Sounds like you come across lots of different people in your work - what kind of talent are you looking for right now?

All sorts! Excellent social media marketing requires a careful balance of skills, because it's not just about advertising, coding or PR. At We Are Social, we specialise in building valuable, two-way conversations with audiences; in order to do that, we need people with a strong, intuitive understanding of areas like psychology and anthropology, as well as an innate flair for creativity and 'digital'.

What skills do you think are lacking within the industry?

Curiosity. The main thing that seems to hold people back is their inability (or unwillingness) to dig deeper - to continuously ask 'why?', until they've uncovered a real insight or motivation. This means that the work they create fails to connect with the audiences they're hoping to engage, and just becomes stale noise.

Sure, knowing how to code, use Photoshop, or optimise Facebook ad campaigns are very useful skills, but if you don't understand how to engage and motivate people, nothing you do will ever really work.

Who inspires you to stay curious?

Everyone can be inspiring in some way, and I often get inspired by strangers on the subway or the people sitting at the table next to me at lunch.

Having said that, some people have a knack of inspiring me on a more regular basis. The team at We Are Social are an obvious start; I joined the company because everyone I met here inspired me, from the interns through to the MDs, and I've been incredibly lucky to find similarly inspiring people to join the team here in Singapore as well. Their enthusiasm, curiosity, and willingness to try new things inspire me on a daily basis.

Beyond We Are Social, there are a number of people who shape my thinking on a regular basis. If I could choose a personal 'board of advisors', it would definitely include Clay Shirky and Seth Godin. I've also tried to build some of that board of advisors in social media, and I regularly find myself turning to Faris Yakob, John Willshire, Neil Perkin, Mark Earls, John Kerr and Dave Trott for inspiration and advice. On a more local basis, the optimism and energy of people like Gina Romero, Grace Clapham and Jonathan Briggs keep me inspired and motivated too.

Great - lots of new people to follow! Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! I have more of a challenge finding time to make use of inspiration than I do of finding it in the first place. If I ever get stuck though, I'll try complete disassociation - going for a run or a swim, reading comics (Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side have played a big role in some of my favourite ideas), having a glass of scotch or wine, or even just going for a walk around the block. I find any kind of travel usually offers great inspiration too. The internet is an endless source of spontaneous inspiration as well, but that's usually about 'squirrel ideas' - the ones you can't use right now, so have to put aside for a time when they're more relevant.

Is there a question that you would like to get asked? If so, what's the answer to that question?

I'll leave that to you - ask me any question you like via @eskimon on Twitter :-)