I entered the ballroom where the NASA panel was taking place, and the NASA lady gave me a paper model of a spaceship. She did not expect a Chinese guy would show up.
It’s a unique experience for a Chinese like me to participate in the SXSW (including my slow talking). I was at a panel where they were talking about whether social media will transform the Chinese government. I found it extremely fun listening to people talk about my country. Social media is actually growing fast in China. We develop our own products (the authority bans Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Foursquare there). We localize them. And they change our lives.
It’s happening so fast that brands just don’t know what to do. Keep the old craftsmanship or launch a new product with a media workshop? Then have some fancy online coverage, to add a modern flavor of digital? If you observe most brands’ activations in China, you’ll find they are all doing the same thing. More dangerously, new brands step in with the same tactics, because everyone does so. This is, of course, not right. If a brand won’t take up the initiative to share, no matter how good its stuff is, the idea cannot be owned.
I do think Chinese brands should learn some lessons from our global friends. The NASA panel has given us a good example: Don’t be a master, be a friend. No media conference or meet-up for a space shuttle launch, just 150 fans on twitter. They have fun with people on social media, and have developed hardcore fans around the world.
Most Chinese brands so far still perform like tough teachers at school; trying to own a certain topic but usually ignored or rejected by their “students”. NASA was such a teacher for a long time, trying to own the ‘fun’ concept by releasing boring press coverage. Look at them now: a sharing approach has brought them hundreds of thousands of active fans and now they successfully own what they want to.
Social media is about sharing. It’s about giving people the initiative to get involved in communicating. This is exactly why Chinese people’s lives are changed by social media. I am bringing the paper spaceship home to show it to my clients. Share it, don’t just try to own it.