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Tiff Ng
Photo taken by Abby Shen
Interviewed in August 2023

Tiff Ng is a proud Chinese Australian with parents originally from Hong Kong, and since 2017 has been the Founder and Chief Storyteller at The Social Story, a social media agency helping impact-driven business share their impact. She’s deeply passionate about empowering people to tell their stories in meaningful ways through social – pioneering more accessible, inclusive and ethical ways to do so. In 2022, Tiff was shortlisted for B&T’s 30 Under 30 ‘Entrepreneur’ award and was made Honouree on the AA122 (Asian Australian) List.

Outside of what she does with The Social Story Tiff is an avid dancer. Dance has opened her eyes to how storytelling can come in so many ways including through movement. She’s been able to continue growing through dance as her sister runs Hills Adult Dance where adults can come back to their love of dance or try something new.
Could you tell me more about your career and life up until now, and what led you to creating a social media agency specifically for impact-driven businesses?
I’ve always been really interested in storytelling. Even from a young age, I remember I would write short stories and staple up books that my mom made out of scrap paper. When I was choosing my university degree, communications really stuck out to me, because I could see how important framing stories were, in influencing the way the world worked, particularly in politics and social justice.

In my communications degree, I ended up doing a variety of internships everywhere. As the youngest person in the office at that time, I would always be handed socials. The more I delved into social media, the more I realised how innovative these platforms were, and how there was a real opportunity for us to communicate to audiences through direct access compared to more traditional advertising platforms.

I spent the early parts of my career doubling down on socials in a very traditional corporate agency life, working my way up and getting insanely burnt out. I also felt like my values didn’t align well with the work I was doing, so about six years ago now, I decided to leave my corporate job. I went out on my own, freelanced, travelled around and realised how important it was for me to show up authentically and do something that fulfilled my purpose and my mission.

I realised that I was fulfilled when empowering others to tell their stories. And when I thought about the businesses that I wanted to help, they were very much social enterprises that were either reimagining the capitalist system or really connected to strong communities. So I created the Social Story, as a reflection of everything I cared about, and did it in a way where I reimagined what a business could look like.  
How have you imparted your own values of social impact and diversity within your own business?
This first step would be the business in itself. The clients that we choose to work with also have to have a clear social impact, in order for us to communicate messages for good. We’re also a certified social enterprise through Social Traders, meaning that we give stakeholders assurance that we're creating genuine impact through trade. In the context of our business, we have a social purpose that contributes to more positive communications on social media, and we put that first before profit.

The business donates through a B1G1 (Buy One Give One) program where certain business actions like workshops that we present or free template downloads on the website, directly go towards giving back to similarly aligned projects that B1G1 have worked with. For example our education workshops will correspond to a day of digital literacy education for the Aboriginal community.

We also volunteer our time with Pride by Side, Heard Storytelling, ROVA. We mentor through Rare Birds and the Pillar Initiative to help more people in small businesses and social media. We’re also very active in the impact community, from being a friend of the Fair Trade Asssociation, a member of SECNA, Impact Collab and Clean Creatives.

There’s a lot on the outset, but it’s also about what we do in the business. Even from the banks and supers we’ve chosen being Bank Australia and Future Super, and what we do internally in terms of building up and empowering the team. Jess, our first full time employee, is really interested in developing her leadership and sustainability skills, so the business is funding her to take a course at RMIT on sustainable leadership. In turn, she can contribute to rewriting our sustainability policies within the business as well. We want the company itself to be somewhere where employees feel empowered to show up as themselves, and grow in their impact.
Could you tell me more about ethical storytelling?
It’s a pretty broad term but ethical storytelling is when there’s an understanding of the responsibility of the story holder and the storyteller to not harm people, place and the planet. Ethical storytelling is an understanding of the responsibility that the stories we tell have an impact, not only on the person who holds that story but also outwardly on the world around them. Unsafe and unethical story telling happens when we maintain systems of oppression and perpetuate practices which exclude many of our lived experiences. I would very much recommend people look into the social enterprise Our Race - I learned a lot from attending their ethical storytelling workshop for story holders. They’re doing amazing stuff that should be showcased more. 
You’ve mentioned how growing up, you never thought you would end up being a business owner or entrepreneur. How did you make the transition from freelancing to deciding to becoming a small business owner with employees and contractors relying on you?
I think the transition happened when I looked over my mission again, and I could see a different, more ethical and impact-driven world for social media. And I wanted to push this mission, but people weren’t taking me as seriously when I was a sole freelancer. Before I started Social Story, when I introduced myself as someone who did social media at networking events, people would regard me as an influencer. I wasn’t given much credibility or respect for the work I was doing. Once I switched to saying that I ran a social media agency, I noticed both a shift in perception in others, but also myself. Not only did it give me more regard from others to take on an advisory role, but there was an internal switch where I felt more confident, and knew that I did know what I was talking about. Building a brand also allowed me to separate the brand’s values from my own, despite the fact that for at least a year I was the only person running The Social Story.
I feel like people often underestimate the power of social media due to the accessibility of it to the layperson. What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about your work as a social media manager?
Yeah, most people still don't think it's a real job. It's strange because even in generations that have grown up with social media, where everyone should all have the same level of digital literacy as me, people are baffled to think that there are real human beings running brand accounts. There is a whole team running tweets for Wendy’s!

There's also a really dangerous narrative where people joke how it’s always the intern running it. To be honest, ten years ago, that was the case. But now there are huge teams taking care of corporate social media accounts, and people don’t realise it. When you complain to the business, and go off at them in the DMs or comments in post, there’s a human being sitting on the other side of the screen reading it all. For example last year I did some shift work for a business where I would get up at 4AM in the morning to monitor Twitter comments. I would just be sitting in bed, getting yelled at online.

So I think people still very much misunderstand that running a brand social media account takes a lot of work. It's not the same as a personal account. One, because you aren't just showing pictures of your dog to an audience who knows who you are. In general, people are very adverse to brand advertising. People don't want to be sold to while they're just scrolling TikTok. Two, because most algorithms punish brand accounts more than personal accounts. Personal friends show up in your Instagram feed first over brands, because they know you’ll interact with more relevant content. It takes a lot of work to put a social media brand page together. It’s a whole function of advertising and should be treated as such.
You work in the happy intersection of social impact and social media. What are some cultural movements propagated by social media that inspire you to continue doing the work that you do?
I think the ones that first really came to prominence and shows you the power of what socials could do were movements like the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, Time's Up, #MeToo, where everyone now has an almost equal platform to be able to share their stories and connect with each other from around the world, that culminates into this mass power and reckoning.

The one that stands out to me is Not Your Asian Sidekick, started by activist and writer Suey Park. It was basically about deconstructing Asian representative media and it started a conversation about how there were no real storylines around Asian people - that we’re usually the sidekick or the nerdy best friend. This was about 10 years ago, way before Crazy Rich Asians, Shang Chi or Everything Everywhere All At Once. It was amazing to witness the conversations it sparked - interesting discussions that were personal, intersectional and about structural change, to do with understanding Asian and Asian diasporic identity and how it was shown in the media and how these stereotypes could affect people personally. Seeing Not Your Asian Sidekick play out gave me a lot of hope of how social media could be a constructive tool to make sure we have all these diverse and intersectional narratives play out.

And now we're in an age where Everything Everywhere All At Once won the Oscar, where we're getting more real Asian narratives out there, and I'm finally understanding what it means to have my story represented - and that's all happened in the span of 10 years.
on culture and identity
What has your relationship with your Asian Australian identity been like, and how has it evolved?
It's definitely changed a lot. I realised that I had a lot of internalised racism growing up that I had to work through.

I remember getting bullied in my early school years - I remember random things like someone calling me a ching chong in the playground in passing. There was this vitriol in his voice, just so laced in hatred. This was at a time when Pauline Hanson was very loud about how Asians should “go back where you came from.” I remember getting bullied even for having seaweed snacks, and it just made me feel so ashamed about everything. So, as I grew up, I had so much desire to be seen as a ‘normal person’ and get past that initial barrier where people thought I'd be a certain way. Throughout school, it got to the point where I would be really proud when people told me I wasn’t really Asian, or one of the good ones. I really just wanted people to accept me as Australian.

The first time I really felt like people would see me as Australian first was when I travelled. I remember my grandma who lives in Hong Kong, proudly commenting how I was her little Aussie girl, and showing me off to her friends. When I went over to the States, people would accept me for Australian at face-value. There weren’t really follow up questions about where I was really from, which I often get here in Australia.

I think the first part of my journey in being comfortable with my dual identity was when I felt like I could claim to be Australian, and see myself for that. But then over the years as I reconnected more with my personal story, and how I've become the person I am today, I realised how much my family and their cultural identity has been such a big part of it. Even though my parents moved here from Hong Kong around 40 years ago, so much of their upbringing brings into how they survived in Australia, thrived and built businesses here. I realised that it gave me a unique edge to understand different cultures, and taught me to be mindful of differences and embrace diversity because I knew what it was like to be on the outside as well. And so their experiences have made me more empathetic towards new migrants coming in, asylum seekers and refugees.

It’s definitely taken me quite a couple of years, but now I'm really proud to say that I'm an Asian Aussie. I inhabit this third culture, where I have this connection to Hong Kong and my family that I'm also still learning more about over the years.
What is a significant cultural memory of yours?
I’m going to say Chinese New Year at the Blue Dragon restaurant which was my dad's restaurant. He ran it for 36 years out in Parramatta and retired early 2020. I remember our CNY at the restaurant. In classic Asian fashion, the entire family was helping out - taking the dirty dishes away or helping with the bills. Our clientele were mostly white customers, and a lot of them would experience celebrating CNY for the first time at our restaurant. Customers would come in, not completely understanding the meaning behind it all but they were so open to experiencing it. And it was the first time I felt really proud to showcase my own culture. My dad had me going around each table, passing out empty red packets for them to put in money to feed the lion when it came in for the dance. Small moments of being able to talk about my own culture and share it with the customers was such a joyous occasion.

I remember how the lion dancers would play little pranks on the guests. I got to climb up on the counter and make them jump up for a red packet. I loved how everyone embraced and realised that our culture could also be a part of Australian culture. It’s amazing to see the huge festivals we hold every Chinese New Year all throughout Sydney now.
What is your favourite food from your culture?
It’s wat tan chow hor which is just scrambled egg whites with ho fun noodles, those wide flat rice noodles, with spring onions sprinkled on top. This was basically a dish at my dad’s restaurant, the Blue Dragon that my family nicknamed “Tiff’s noodles”. It brings me back home every time. After the Blue Dragon closed, when my dad found out that one of his original chefs worked at another restaurant close to our house, he walked two hours to the restaurant and back home to surprise me with it. He made sure that the sauce was separate so that the noodles wouldn’t get too soggy and brought it home for me. That’s probably my favourite food because it's so rooted in family for me. 
Who is an Asian Australian that inspires you, and why?
I do love my OG Lee Lin Chin, who's an Indonesian-born Australian television, radio presenter and journalist. I think she was one of the Asians we ever saw on mainstream Australian television when she was an SBS news writer. She’s been on SBS news for so long, and she was so funny and relatable, but also commanded so much respect as a newsreader.  She always looked like such a boss, but particularly in the past decade or so - I love the fact that she isn’t afraid to express herself through her fashion. I also love that she’s more of an internet personality after she published her book Iced Beer and Other Tantalising Tips for Life. So yeah, I think she’s just badass as hell.