Competition for prime space in traditional media will be at its zenith in Shanghai this year. Countries and companies from every corner of the city, country and globe are competing for eyeballs against the backdrop of one of the world’s largest communications events: World Expo 2010 Shanghai.
As the battle for exposure begins, millions of Chinese will turn to the internet for information about the Expo. In anticipation of this trend, event organizers have already created a digital media platform: the Expo Online, a three-dimensional digital environment that will allow visitors to tour some pavilions in virtual reality. Other participants are already pushing their Expo message through social media. Those pavilions and sponsors that ignore its potential are unlikely to get as much benefit out of the Expo as those that do.
This is not to say that traditional media will play no role, but it is through social media that many internet users will map their complete Expo itineraries. Visitors from outside Shanghai will be influenced by online recommendations and information about accommodation, dining and, of course, what to do during their limited time at the fair. Shanghai residents will rely on online media to find events and plan activities based upon the recommendations of influential fellow residents within their digital network. Online buzz about which pavilion is the must-see attraction, which has the best food, and what concerts are coming up, is likely to be as influential as conventional advertising messages, if not more so.
The Chinese social network
Social networks like Kaixin, RenRen and Duoban will play an important role in bringing together people with shared interests. Members of those networks will upload, tag and comment on multimedia content covering different Expo pavilions. They will make their favourite parts of Expo known to everyone in their network and even arrange meeting places based around a common interest.
Video sharing networks like Youku and Tudou will also play a major role. Everyone with online access will be able to preview each pavilion almost immediately after the Expo opens its gates by watching video uploaded by the first wave of camera-toting visitors.
The new Sina microblog service also is enjoying enormous popularity among netizens who seek to be in instant contact with each other. Operating like Twitter, it means up-to-the-minute exchanges of ideas and thoughts in bite-size blasts, which will be perfect for covering live events and collating peoples’ opinions of the pavilions.
Leveraging the network
The greatest advantage of social media is its relative credibility: Users believe that personal points-of-view are often more valid than traditional media, in particular in China where media objectivity is particularly suspected. Nevertheless, exploiting social media’s higher level of perceived trustworthiness still requires strategic planning and good content delivery. It is not necessary to be present in every form and platform of social media. However, it is necessary to be visible in the most popular and relevant platforms, according to client objectives and target audience, and that means more than setting up a handful of social media accounts and waiting for them to instantly spawn user-generated and viral content.
In addition to tracking comments and content posted on video, community and chat sites like those mentioned above, Expo pavilions and sponsors should be active in submitting fresh content themselves to attract real-time visitors – and addressing any problems with the visitor experience that online complaints reveal.
Interacting with influential social media personalities is also important. Internet users are more likely to have an emotional attachment to their favorite blogger than to an anonymous stringer, so involving influential bloggers might be a sound strategy.
Ultimately, social media is about getting the right message to the right people – and only the right people. With only a few days left before the gates open, marketers wishing to reach an Expo audience need to get ready to launch. Those who don’t have a plan for utilizing the power of Chinese social media networks to promote their Expo investment need to develop one fast.
Michael Darragh is digital strategic planner at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in Shanghai and editor of worldexpoblog.com