International Women's Day

Tip from social media ace: Don't be scared

Ms Quek saw the potential of social media while working at a temporary job. So, she broke her scholarship bond to pursue what she saw as a whole new paradigm.
Ms Quek saw the potential of social media while working at a temporary job. So, she broke her scholarship bond to pursue what she saw as a whole new paradigm. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Ms Christel Quek may be just 27, but she has already skyrocketed to the top in the world of social media as one of Singapore's highest-profile digital strategists.

As head of the Asia-Pacific arm of social media business intelligence firm Brandwatch, she traverses the up-and-coming fields of social media, marketing and data.

She was the company's first employee here, and has grown it into a multimillion-dollar business.

Before her current role, she held coveted leadership roles in the social media teams of tech titans Twitter and Samsung.

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While her rise has been seen as meteoric by some, Ms Quek has been chipping away at her craft for a decade as an early adopter of social media platforms, such as Twitter, and has taken some big risks.

While working in a temporary Web design role at an advertising agency, she realised the potential of social media.

She was then 18, the holder of a government scholarship and in her first year majoring in geography at the National University of Singapore.

"I realised it was a whole new paradigm - if I didn't get involved in it, I would forever lose the chance," she said, explaining her decision to break her scholarship bond without first clinching a job.

"I had $2.85 in my bank account shortly after I broke the scholarship bond. I told myself that I could fail again, but I could not be scared. I had to go out there and try to be the best I could be in the field," she said.

Her bet paid off when she landed a full-time role with the company after winning a million-dollar social media contract for the firm.

But it also meant that she spent her university years working and studying at the same time - earning an initial salary of just over $1,000. Some criticised Ms Quek for "losing her childhood".

She shrugged it off, saying that she was "just doing what she loves", gaining valuable job experience.

Along with clear goal-setting , she credits her rise through the ranks to "fearlessness".

Citing her favourite quote, she said: "Failure is not an option, but fear is."

It is important for women to speak up even when they feel intimidated, she said, adding that her first full-time job in social media came when she spontaneously spoke up at one of her first client meetings, telling them what she knew about social media marketing.

The Meridian Junior College alumna said she "never went to brand- name schools" and had "the worst maths results", but refused to be intimidated while working with geeky machine-learning experts and data scientists.

"I listened more than I talked and asked questions. At the beginning, when I had to use Excel and do forecasting, it seemed intimidating, but I got more familiar and comfortable with it... The key is: Don't be scared, just keep swimming."

She urges other young women "never to be afraid to speak up".

"There's a reason you are at this meeting, there's a reason why you are at the table, and you have power too, no matter what you think about it," she added.

Career tips from three successful women.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline Tip from social media ace: Don't be scared. Subscribe