Believe it or not, China’s president Hu Jintao just started hiscampaign by opening his micro blog on People.com.cn. The account has been certified, and the message has been confirmed as genuine. As you can expect, such breaking news would generate a huge amount of traffic in the website, and therefore, his account had to be closed. According to most reporters, this account attracted more than 15,000 followers on the first day of its opening.
Upon this news, I would like to make 3 points:
1. This should not be an official launch of Hu’s Web 2.0 campaign.
My impression about the political campaign in China is that the politics pay a lot of attention on media. Most of the “important news” has to be approved by the officials before they can go live. If the government would like to promote something, all the media channels should be well-planned and arranged. I can not believe that there was a plan in place for Hu’s Web 2.0 campaign for the following reasons:
- I don’t see any preparation done by the government. Unlike other formal political campaigns, Hu’s micro blog just appeared in a sudden. I would expect a series of marketing activities before the formal launch of Hu’s micro blog account, such as inviting people to participate. Look back in the history, when Hu held an interaction session with the netizen on the forum of people.com.cn in 2008, the arrangement was like this:
- It was people.com.cn that created the account. According to a staff member of people.com.cn, the Hu registered a forum account in 2008 just for the interaction session, and now people.com.cn gives a micro blog account to every forum user. Based on the nature of the creation of the micro blog account, you can’t tell if it was Hu’s intention to open it. The micro blog account appears to be a verified account. However, the verification was just based on the ground that Hu’s forum account, opened in 2008, was genuine.
- The account has been closed. I can not believe that it was the huge traffic that made people.com.cn close the account. They need that traffic. They should have prepared for the increased traffic. If the traffic was the real reason, they must have already announced the anticipated time when the account can be re-opened. Was people.com.cn ordered to take the account off and fix the “mistake”? I don’t know.
2. Political leaders’ participation in Web 2.0 would have a significant impact on China’s policy over the Internet.
Experienced Chinese Internet users would know that a series of “sensitive” words are blocked by most of the forums and social networking sites. These words include the name of top political leaders in China. Some websites just simply refuse their users to publish the posts which contain the blocked key words so the users have to modify the keywords in a way that can bypass the system’s detection. Other websites use real human staff to check the sensitive posts. For example, if I post this message in Qzone, I would be advised that the post has to be approved by the admin. They may or may not approve it.
If the political leaders in China start to use Web 2.0 tools, it implicates that their names can be mentioned. A conversation between the citizens and the leaders can be carried out publicly and even instantly. I can’t imagine that there is still a moderator checking and approving the micro blog messages in the middle.
In fact, local governments in China have already started microblogging for a while. Just recently, it has been reported that more than four hundrads government officials have their own micro blog account. Local governments’ micro blog acounts have also exceeded two hundrads. Micro blogging is much different from the traditional way, such as via CCTV and state-owned newspaper, that the Chinese governemnt promotes their latest policy where the audiance can only receive the message without means to react. Instead, micro blogs allow their followers to “retweet” and comment. The comment could be possible or negative. Further more, when the citizens publicly request the government to explain and help with something, the government has to respond. I suppose this will speed up the communication between the citizen and the government. As this trend keeps going, I guess the Internent in China would become more open in the future.
3. The Web 2.0 Strategy should be taken seriously.
It is not just a trend. It is the strategy. If there is no a well-documented procedure to operate the Web 2.0 activities, the government and the leaders are actually putting themselve in high risk. What if the person who’s in charge of the account gets emotional at some other users’ “tweets” and says something silly? What if the micro blog accounts are compromised and unauthorised messages are delivered to the public? What if the some message that is supposed to be release later has been published earlier than it should?
On the other hand, if a micro blog account belongs to a particular person instead of an organisation, e.g., Hu Jintao’s account, how the account holder behaves so that the benefits of micro blogging can be maximised? On social web, everyone knows you are a dog, if you are a dog! If one person accidentally or always delivers inappropriate messages or uses less welcomed languages, it is recorded, and it does decrease the credibility of the account holder and the organisation that they belong to. The old saying of “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” has definitely not reflected the real situation anymore. Online image and marketing counsultance should be hired to provide advice if the government does want to launch the Web 2.0 campaign. Good care should be taken!
Good luck, China, my motherland!