Melbourne Business School alumni reunion 2019

One of the highlights of my year is the annual Melbourne Business School alumni reunion – which is, essentially, a two-day seminar and networking event.

Here’s our Dean, Professor Ian Harper, giving us an update on how the school is doing.

Professor Ian Harper, Dean of Melbourne Business School gives alumni an update on how the school is doing.

This year I attended sessions on:

  • creating career roadmaps (with speakers from act3 Planning)

  • data-oriented businesses

  • areas of marketing debate

  • ethics for companies that collect data, and

  • managing sustainability.

All of which were excellent, as usual.

Content strategy is super important, y'all

I work in the corporate communications space – primarily on the digital and social media side – and I’ll be the first to admit that I dislike most of the online content that brands produce.

Most of what they (we?) produce is bland, boring, repetitive, shallow stuff. Even 90% of the ‘thought leadership’ content you see online isn’t particularly original or in-depth. (I’m looking at you, folks on LinkedIn.)

It would take me time explain why I think this way, but then content strategist Kristina Halvorson summed it up beautifully in a series of four tweets:


Content marketing says: "Brainstorm what content your audience wants, then distribute it wherever they are."

Content strategy says: "Your audience couldn't care less about your content until they need it. Better talk to them and figure out when, what, and where that is."


Let me tell you something: every time I tweet something critical about content marketing, it's because I'm sick of being inundated by a bunch of terrible advice from big "content influencers" about how to focus on the WHAT and WHERE vs. WHY.


As a result, we are now seeing widespread "content chaos" for the majority of orgs who went all-in on content marketing: a ton of repetitive, unoriginal, useless content pushed out on a million different channels that people have simply lost track of.


And so: we need to move leadership away from a focus on content *promotion and engagement* and towards an understanding of content as part of a holistic, integrated user journey that's driven by need, not the mythical desire to have a "relationship" with your brand.

Isn’t that brilliant?

As a content strategist myself, what I often tell communications and marketing people is that no one will be interested in your content unless it’s:

  • particularly useful (and even then, usually just to customers)

  • mildly interesting (often just to industry professionals), or

  • super cool (to everyone else).

Everything else you produce will generally be ignored.

Importantly, if you continue to pump out content that people keep ignoring, people will start to ignore you altogether. That is, producing lots of bad and boring content is worse than producing less content that’s much more interesting.

So, please folks, stop limiting your communications approach to just a few popular content tactics and start thinking about content strategy instead. Your audience will appreciate it and your brand will be more well regarded because of it.

20 years since my first PowerPoint presentation

It’s difficult to believe, but today marks twenty years since I gave my first public Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

Back then, in 1998, I was three years in to my BSc (Honours) degree from Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan. I was a computer science major, a founding member of the local Association for Computing Machinery chapter, and webmaster of the official university website.

I’d already taken courses in Computer Networks (CS371), Advanced Networks (CS472), and Data Communications (CS574) and had found myself drawn towards network security.

I wouldn’t take the Network Security (CS473) and Network Programming (CS575) courses till the following quarter, but I’d already done plenty of my own research in this area.

All of which eventually led to my Senior Project, ‘Incorporating Advanced Security Features into the LUMS Network’, in my final year – for which I got an A, by the way :)

An introduction to computer network security

But before all that happened, on the afternoon of 8 December 1998, I found myself giving the end-of-term Topic Presentation to our local ACM chapter on the basics of computer network security.

This wasn’t a new area of study, of course – the Morris worm was already ten years old at that time. But a surprising number of computer scientists didn’t (and still don’t, to be honest) know too much about network security.

So, over the next 30 slides and 60 minutes I ran my audience – mostly students plus a couple of teaching assistants – through the OSI model and told them about the security vulnerabilities that existed in each layer and what you could do to secure those layers from attack.

I wasn’t a particularly polished presenter at the time – but then, neither was anyone else in that room so we didn’t mind.

A little visual highlighting goes a long way

That said, I was super happy with my slide deck. There wasn’t any animation in it, as such. But each time I’d move on to discuss a new OSI layer, the layer I was talking about would get highlighted in the box on the right.

This was a super cool visualisation for 1998 and, surprisingly, that basic idea of visually highlighting a part of the whole on a slide deck still looks pretty slick in 2018.

Great success!

I got lots of questions both during and at the end of my presentation, and our hour-long session stretched to ninety minutes – which I was super happy about.

The audience was engaged, inquisitive, and we ended up having an excellent discussion.

All in all, we had a great time.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

The presentations I give these days are of different styles (both ballroom and boardroom) and on different topics (though mostly social media related). What I put on the slides has change drastically over the years, too: more colours, more graphics, high resolution graphics, animations, embedded videos, and so on.

But so much remains the same as it was twenty years ago: I’m still telling a story, I’m still taking people on a journey, and I’m still using interesting visual effects to highlight what I’m talking about.

My storytelling skills have improved over the years, of course – which makes sense given how many books and blog posts I’ve read about giving great presentations.

What’s great is that I still love giving presentations and, if I can blow my own horn here for a second, I think I do a pretty good job with them :)

My latest one, for example, was to support an hour-long ‘social media lab’ in which I taught people how to create great content for social media. I even got to fly around the country and present this to different teams from different parts of the business – which was lots of fun.

So, here’s to twenty more years of telling stories supported by different types of visuals. Who know where we’ll be and how we’ll be presenting to (physically or virtually present) audiences in 2038, but I sure looking forward to getting there.

You must communicate quickly in a crisis

Every few months at Jetstar we run a business-wide crisis exercise. All the people involved in crisis management take part. Sometimes these exercises are announced in advance, sometimes they’re a surprise. We are presented with a different crisis scenario every time.

We use these exercises to train new team members in our crisis management plan, practice the steps we’ll need to take in a real crisis, and confirm that our crisis checklists and processes are optimised and up-to-date.

Every time we do one of these exercises we learn something new and we continue to improve our approach to crisis management – and, in the case of my team, our approach to crisis communications. Plus we get the opportunity to test and update our systems, checklists, and processes.

In our most recent exercise, social media played a vital role and I was reminded of crisis communications analysis I'd done last year on the '2017 Essendon Airport Beechcraft King Air crash':

On 21 February 2017, at 8:59 am local time, a Beechcraft King Air aircraft operating a charter flight, carrying a pilot and four passengers bound for King Island, crashed seconds after taking off from Essendon Airport in Melbourne.

I’d put this analysis into a graphical timeline to show how the incident had played out on Twitter. I thought it would be useful to share the key lesson from this analysis.

Before I get to that, though, it’s important to remember that one of the key components of any crisis management plan is communications. And, when an incident occurs, you want to be as quick to communicate as you possibly can.

Because you don’t know too much about the incident early on, and you definitely don’t want to say anything that isn’t 100% correct, it’s best to start with just an acknowledgement of the incident and a promise of more information to come. This is what we call a ‘holding statement’ or a ‘holding line’.

When you post your holding line to social media you do two things. First, you reassure people that you are aware of the incident itself. Second, you make yourself part of the discussion early on.

If you don’t post that holding line, all the discussion about the incident takes place without you. And, these days, this discussion happens incredibly quickly – as my analysis showed:

Twitter timeline of 2017 Essendon DFO incident (Ameel Khan)

As you can see from the timeline, the crash occurred at 8:59am and the first tweet about it was posted exactly ten minutes later by talkback radio station 3AW. A passing motorist who had witnessed the crash had called in to talk about what he’d seen.

Two minutes later Channel 7 tweeted that they were diverting their traffic chopper to this area. And, by the time Channel Nine tweeted twenty minutes after that, video from this helicopter was being broadcast on TV and livestreamed by most Australian TV stations on both Facebook and Twitter.

Emergency services had also been tweeting alerts about the incident and the closure of the freeway next to the crash site. had been tweeting as well. In fact, they tweeted a screenshot of the flight data from their records a little over an hour after the crash.

The Direct Factory Outlets (DFO) shopping mall that the aircraft crashed into didn’t say anything publicly or on social media till almost two hours after the incident. But, given those folks probably don’t do as much intense crisis planning as airlines do, that’s not bad.

The key take-away here is that the bulk of the story about the crash was told within the first sixty to ninety minutes.

The lesson for businesses and for communicators is that, if an incident has anything to do with you, and you don’t jump into the online discussion quickly enough, all the discussion, the speculation, and the apportioning of blame will happen without you.

Basically, you will have lost the opportunity to share the authoritative account of the incident. Instead you’ll be stuck battling the numerous unverified, limited-knowledge stories and opinions that will already be out there.

In the case of the Essendon DFO crash, there was no charter service operator who could jump in and tell the authoritative story because the person who had chartered the aircraft was the pilot himself. So this whole story was told by other people.

If you do manage a business, however, and you find yourself involved in a major incident, then you must jump on to social media very quickly to make yourself a part of the online discussion. That means, if you haven’t created a crisis management plan, create one now. And, if you haven’t practiced yours in a while, you should go ahead and do that sooner rather than later.

To all the communicators out there who will have to deal with crises in the future: I know how difficult a job you have and I wish you all the best!

A new way of looking at my career progression

Several years ago I wrote about my career progression through Microsoft products.

It occurred to me recently that I can also map my career progression through the functions I've performed and responsibilities I've had in each of my jobs (a list of which you can see on my LinkedIn profile, by the way):

Makes sense, doesn't it? Particularly these last six years as Social Media Manager at Jetstar in which strategy has played such a major role, along with a good dose of project/vendor management and a bit of internal consulting.

Melbourne Business School MBA ranked #9 by BloombergBusinessweek

Melbourne Business School (MBS) has one of the best MBA programs in the world but, for whatever reason, it hasn't always gotten as much recognition as it deserves.

That's changed this year because MBS is at #9 in BloombergBusinessweek's 2016 International MBA rankings

It's also the only Australian B-school to be ranked by BloombergBusinessweek.

Students love it, too, because MBS achieved the #3 position in the student survey rank: 

This is excellent news for MBS and it makes me super happy to see how well they're doing. 

(For more on this, also check out Professor Mark Ritson's write-up: 'Melbourne Business School rated in International Top 10 for MBA for 2016'.)

Communicating with Pie Charts

Dark Horse Analytics are back with the third instalment of their 'Data Looks Better Naked' series. This time they're improving the pie chart

I don't quite agree with their conclusion because pie charts are a useful communications tool when you want to communicate simple part-to-whole relationships without having to talk through the numbers.

Using charts to tell a quick story

For example, I find pie charts useful when showing the proportion of men vs women in a particular sample set. Or the results of a series of yes/no questions.

Take a look at these pie and bar charts: 

If I was going to use these charts to tell a story during a presentation, I'd much rather put those pie charts up on the screen and say something like: "Most people voted 'yes' in Question 1; about two-thirds voted 'yes' in Question 2; but a little under half voted 'yes' in Question 3". That explanation wouldn't work as well if I had used the bar charts, instead.

On the other hand, if I had wanted to talk about the actual number of yes-vs-no votes cast for each question (or their percentage values), then I'd use the bar charts.

Of course if I wasn't going to show this on a big screen at all, but was instead including the results in a written report, then I might not even use charts. I might just put all those numbers in a table.

Communicating a rough sense of the numbers

The other situation in which pie charts are useful to me is when I want to communicate approximate results for a slightly larger data series but, again, without having to talk about the actual numbers.

For example, every Tuesday at work I email around a social media activity report that tells my colleagues how we did on our various social media channels over the previous week. One of the charts I include in my report is a Twitter sentiment pie chart for various geographical regions. This chart gives you an idea of how people felt about us on Twitter over the previous week.

The thing is: the people I send this report to don't particularly care whether 15% or 20% of people expressed excitement about our brand on Twitter last week. They really just want an approximate sense of how things went. They want to be able to say "a lot of people were positive about us on Twitter last week" or "people didn't like us very much on Twitter last week." And the pie charts I get from Hootsuite (one of the social media management tools we use) helps them reach that single-sentence conclusion pretty quickly.

Here are the Twitter sentiment charts for three of the regions we keep an eye on. The 3-D pie chart plus data table combo in the top row is what we get from Hootsuite (and is what I include in my reports). Below that I've converted this data into stacked 100% column charts and into bar charts: 

Each of these charts tells a slightly different story. The pie chart plus data table combo is nice because you can quickly look at the charts and think: "Okay, not too much dark red or dark green for Region 1; so a mostly average week there. Quite a bit of orange, but no dark red, for Region 2; so people were unhappy, but not angry. And plenty of dark red and dark green for Region 3; which suggests some people were very happy but some people were very upset. And I know that last week we had a great sale but a bunch of flight delays in Region 3 so this result makes sense."

The stacked column charts help you tell a similar story but, in my opinion, it's harder to judge the proportion of one colour to the whole in this type of chart so you're forced to look at the numbers to give you additional context. So you'd look at Region 3's chart and think: "Okay, 24+8 = 28%, so a little over quarter of the people were unhappy. And 21+12 = 33%, so about a third were happy." But now you're stuck comparing 33% green to 28% red instead of just getting a sense of what people thought, and then moving on.

The bar chart at the bottom does possibly the best job of comparing one colour/sentiment with another - but what you're missing here is the relative proportion of that colour compared to the whole. So, for example, you'd look at the Region 2 chart and think: "Okay, light orange is the highest bar so a lot of people were unhappy with us." But then you'd have to add 42% and 17% to see that about half the people were unhappy (though not angry) last week. You could reach that same conclusion with a single glance at the pie chart which shows that it's about half light+dark orange.

In my opinion the pie chart plus data table combo works best. If you just want to get a feeling for the data you only need to look at the pie chart and get a sense of the colour spread. But, if you want to dive deeper it's easy to move on to the table and add the numbers to do a more detailed analysis.

But no other pie chart use

Those are the only two situations in which I use pie charts. In most other situations I'm showing a data trend (as opposed to a snapshot) or a larger series of values - both of which require a different kind of explanation and, therefore, a different kind of chart.

So what I'd recommend is that, if you're ever not sure about which chart type to use, just chart your data in multiple different ways and then try use each type to tell your story. The one that works best (i.e. tells the best story, is the easiest to explain, and has the least chance of being misinterpreted) is the one you should go with. And if this happens to be a pie chart, then so be it. 

My Career Progression Through Microsoft Products

It occurred to me today that I can roughly track my career progression using the components of the extended Microsoft Office suite. That is, you can tell where I was based on which Microsoft software product I was using the most at that time.


Word & Access

When I first started my career, for example, the two components I used the most were Access to Word. This was when most of my work was technical in nature and I was the guy who built things - like Access databases - from the ground up. I then documented them and wrote manuals about them in Word.


When I moved into more of a senior developer or project lead role my focus shifted from Access to Project. This is because I wasn't building things any more, I was tracking the progress of my team and the products we were building.


My next step up was into an analyst role and in this I used a lot of Excel. I used that for both analysis (technical, business, and financial) and reporting (productivity, web traffic stats, budgets, and so on).


Later, after my MBA, I did more of the same but this time I was also a big user of Outlook. That was my step up from the start-up and nonprofit world into the corporate and enterprise world.


Now what I use the most is PowerPoint. I still use all the other tools, of course - though not Access and not too much Project these days - but I've gone from being purely a professional to being a manager and an ideas person, hence the need for good presentations.

Come to think of it, I can also track my career progression just by talking about what I used Word for. That is, I went from using it to document and write manuals to writing proposals and reports to writing policies and strategies.

Neat, huh? :)


Analytics & Tracking on Online News Sites

Ever wondered how you're tracked online? In my continued research on online news sites (e.g.  here's a chart on how much they traffic they get every month) here are a couple of charts that tell you which tracking tools Australia's top online news sites use.

This list was generated using Ghostery so it covers everything from web analytics tools and beacons to ad serving tools and social network platform connectors - basically, anything that's capable of tracking you on the web. 

You can find out more about these tools in this Digital Trends article and in this 'Tracking the trackers' map by the Guardian (part of their larger 'Battle for the internet' series).


Alphabetical List of Trackers

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

List of Trackers by Popularity

Source: Ghostery tracker alerts on each news website
Pro Tip: To view full-size, right-click and open image in new tab

Facebook Serves Me Ads

As someone who works in social media I look at the ads I get served on Facebook with a professional interest. Given that I haven't actually put that much information about myself on Facebook, it's fun to see how good (or bad) a job marketers and ad buyers have done in targeting those ads to me.

Of course Facebook does have a lot of my demographic data as well as my detailed social graph (though I do keep getting asked to "complete my profile", which is entertaining). It also has a history of all my likes, comments, and shares; each of which probably has multiple keyword and category associations. 

So, in what I'm hoping is the first of an ongoing series, here are the ads Facebook served me today and my thoughts on them:   

What ads do you get served on Facebook? And are they any good? 

Where do I go for News and Opinion?

While trying to decide whether I’d sign up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription or not (I ultimately decided not to) I thought it would be fun to document my news media consumption habits. (Being a nerd is so much fun!)

Here’s what I came up with.

Breaking News 

Where do I go to get breaking news? 

When a news tory breaks the first site I check is Twitter.

I then move on to Reddit to see what news content has been aggregated and bubbled-up by the online community. There I get both first-hand news and news that’s been collected by various outlets.

Next I check the BBC because they'll always have the most reliable and least biased story.

Finally, I go to Google News because that service quickly aggregates lots of news stories from multiple online sources, covering multiple angles.

If the breaking news is Australia- or Melbourne-specific I also check the Age and the ABC (though, in most cases, their news stories get captured pretty quickly by Google News anyway). I sometimes also check the online streaming versions of ABC News 24 and a few radio stations like ABC NewsRadio, 774 Melbourne, and 3AW.

More in-depth news and editorial opinion

What if I want more depth? 

When I want a little more depth to a news story my first stop is usually the BBC. Those folk not only excel at presenting an overview of what’s going but they also give a bit of background and then flesh out those bits of the story that are important at the time. (I usually follow this up by a few quick searches on Google and Wikipedia if I want more information.)

However, if want a much deeper analysis or some high-quality editorial opinion on a particular topic or story then the sites I go first to are academic news outlets like the Conversation, a bunch topic-specific blogs (I subscribe to a lot of blogs via RSS), and sites with strong editorial voices and traditions like the Guardian and the Economist.

I then visit a bunch of independent news outlets or, categorizing them more broadly, sites from which I get smart, well written, and mature news reports, opinion, and discussion. These include ProPublica, The Global Mail, New Matilda, Salon, Slate, the Atlantic, and a handful of others. 

Aside from those major sources I also read some blogs and feature pieces on the ABC and Fairfax websites (e.g. stuff written by Lauren Rosewarne or Sam de Brito). However, ABC and Fairfax don’t have the depth of coverage that the sites mentioned previously do; nor do they have as many contributors whose editorial opinions I value that much.

Local News & Opinion

What if the story is local? 

When a news story is local my preferred sources are the Age and the ABC (including, as mentioned above, the online streaming versions of ABC News 24, ABC NewsRadio, and 774 Melbourne). Though, increasingly, the Guardian with its new Australian edition is becoming a bigger part of my regular local media consumption.

Meanwhile, 3AW and the Conversation, while good sources, don’t cover as much as the Age and ABC do.

Daily Media Consumption

Speaking of my regular media consumption, these are the news sites I check on the tram both to and from work every day and also on weekend afternoons:

Daily Media Consumption.png

The top four are the important ones: I check the Age for updates on what’s happening in the city and around the country. I check the BBC and the Guardian to find out what’s going on in the world. And, I check the ABC to read more about what’s going on in both Australia and the world.

If I have time left in my commute then I then close that folder and check Reddit (the app in the background in the top left hand corner).

And if after that I still have more time I sometimes check my RSS feeds via NewsBlur and occasionally read the stories I’d saved earlier in Pocket.

As you can see, restricting my Fairfax consumption to thirty articles per month isn't going to be difficult because Fairfax is already a pretty small part of my news media consumption mix. This despite the fact that I check the Age website every morning because, when I do, I only occasionally click-through to read a whole article - I usually just skim the headlines.

So there you have it, my media consumption preferences. What sites do you visit to get news and opinion? 

Cost of a Fairfax Digital Subscription

Before deciding that I wouldn't be signing up for a Fairfax Digital Subscription I did some research to try to figure out what one of these subscriptions was actually worth.

Since I'll take any opportunity to make a good chart, here's a comparison of news outlet subscription rates (annualized so they're easier to compare): 

Source: News outlet websites

And how to Australian news media outlets rank in terms of popularity (which might help explain how much they charge for subscriptions)?

Here's another chart showing how much web traffic (unique audience) these sites received in May 2013:

Source: Nielsen (via mUmBRELLA)

Combined, the Age and SMH get over four million uniques a month. That's almost 20% of the Australian popular. Not bad. 

Why I Won’t be Getting a Fairfax Digital Subscription

On 2 July 2013 Fairfax Media will launch its digital subscriptions and erect a paywall around its two major newspaper websites, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald. From that day onwards Australian visitors to those sites will be able to read thirty free articles per month but, should they want to read more, they’ll need to sign up as paying customers.

I won’t be one of those paying customers and this mind map explains why:


Geek Productivity Chart

This 'Geek Productivity Chart' from Bruno Oliviera is surprisingly accurate at describing how I tend to work (ignoring, of course, the humorous generalization about what non-geeks apparently think): 

I'm most productive at the office from:

  • 11am-1pm, which is when I'm trying to finish stuff off before taking my lunch break
  • 3-5pm, but only if I'm not interrupted and I've timed my caffeine intake right (I usually have a mug of coffee at about 2pm)
  • 6-8pm, which is when most people have left and so the office is relatively distraction free (though at least 2-3 people from my team are regularly there till 7pm so I'm usually wearing my headphones during this period)

At home I'm incredibly productive from about 9pm to midnight, which is when I do most of my big-picture, strategic thinking and planning. (And blogging.)