Sunday, 24 November 2013

Expo 2020: Dubai's 'Social Bid'

(Photo credit: @cpe)
This is the week Dubai goes Expo 2020 bonkers and if you thought the noise level was already high, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Five cities originally launched bids to host Expo 2020 - the latest in a long string of 'World Fairs' that started with the original World's Fair, the 1851 Great Exhibition in London's Hyde Park. The bids are evaluated by the body governing Expo, the BIE (Bureau of International Expositions) and voted on by the 167 member states. This vote, as anyone in Dubai except the most dedicated of ostriches will know, takes place Wednesday 27th November and will pick a winner from Dubai, Sao Paolo, Yekaterinburg and Izmir. Thailand's bid, the city of Ayutthaya, was withdrawn earlier this year.

Dubai has been pretty hardcore with its bid. The city's made no secret of the fact it wants this and intends to get it - and a remarkable package of infrastructure and a relentless tide of promotional activity have been flung into the fray. The stakes are high - expo sites typically span hundreds of acres and the events attract tens of millions of visitors. Has Dubai got what it takes?

If social media is anything to go by, yes it has. Because its competition doesn't seem to have got the hang of the whole 'inclusion' concept.

Let's take Turkey's Izmir. The city has a website with all the right buttons, as well as quite an annoying interstitial that promotes its Facebook page. With over 73,000 likes, there's precious little sign of engagement but a high octane broadcast of 'support our bid' type messages rather than any attempt to foster or encourage a debate around the Izmir bid's theme of improving healthcare. Izmir's YouTube Channel is also on broadcast with a lot of 'talking heads' garnering typical views in the low tens and a couple of slick ads with higher views. Again, it's all about mememe.  It's hardly any better over on Twitter, where a tad over 6,000 followers receive broadcasts on supporting the bid. The Izmir Twitter profile does suggest you might like to sign the 'Health For All Manifesto', which on cursory inspection appears to reason that if you support Izmir's bid, it would be good for global health. Hosted on WeSignIt, the manifesto has attracted 522 signatures.

It's hardly compelling, is it?

Yekaterinburg is arguably Dubai's toughest competitor. It's Russia's fourth largest city and has a complex and diverse history, including being the site of the murder of the Romanovs. The vanilla template website doesn't really sparkle and isn't even particularly informative. Facebook offers 1,459 likes and again is more of a tourist board broadcast than any attempt to foster engagement around the bid's theme of The Global Mind. There is, for some odd reason, a picture of a squirrel. With under 500 followers, the city's Twitter account is just posting the same images as Facebook. YouTube hasn't really sparked inspiration, not even the slickly produced 'Global Mind Adventure'. There's certainly no sign of community involvement - or any invitation to involvement.

As far as I can tell, Sao Paolo's website is down or dead and its Facebook page, with a tad over 4,000 likes, hasn't seen a post since June. YouTube hasn't been fed a new video in five months, either. And its 162 Twitter followers have also lacked companionship since June. If you just saw Sao Paolo's online presence, you'd be forgiven for thinking they've given up and gone home for a Feijoada.

And so on to The City That Gave The World Modhesh. How's Dubai shaping up in the online stakes - and, more importantly, is there any sign that the city actually wants to talk about its theme rather than just nag people to support its bid?

Over 58,000 followers on Twitter and 721,000 likes on Facebook appear to be saying something. Yes, we know it's not all about the numbers, but there's a question of scale here. Uniquely, Dubai's using Instagram, with over 9,000 followers. There's participation, community and engagement going on over at the Twitter account, including a couple of cheeky tweets from 'Our Dave'. Facebook's similarly lively, with community events, stunts (the inevitable Guinness book of records stunt) and widespread public participation very much in evidence. The Dubai bid's theme is 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future', with sustainability, mobility and opportunity as sub-themes. The website features a number of thinkers talking about these themes. YouTube hasn't seen an upload in a while, but the content there again goes beyond tourist board images and 'back our bid' calls.

In fact, of all four bids, it has to be said that Dubai Expo 2020 online has the strongest sense of community and broad public participation of any of 'em. It's by far the most active and popular campaign on social platforms by a huge margin. It could do more and be a great deal slicker, without doubt. There is a huge opportunity to build further on what has already been established. But what's there is streets ahead of its rivals.

From its online presence alone, Dubai's the only Expo 2020 bidder that has clear evidence of coming together as a community in support of the city's bid - and a genuine interest in fostering discussion, debate and thought around its theme.

I must have mislaid my cynicism pills. Where did I put those blasted things?

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Luke said...

Can't find anyone who has been to an Expo or actually knows what an Expo is. Is it like the Olympics, just without any sport?

Adam said...

Yeah. I think that people are mistaking the utterly insane amount of money that Dubai has spunked on this campaign with people anywhere, giving a crap about the Expo (regardless of where it ends up)

Qatar got the World Cup and the Asian Games, Abu Dhabi got a GP, NYU and the Guggenheim. Dubai will get Global Village on crack, and the potential for the airport to be even more inefficient.

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