Cameron gets his lan­guage right on weibo

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLDREVIEW -

When Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron re­turns home from his care­fully chore­ographed trip to China, he will be sur­prised by the dozens of busi­ness con­tracts that will start to flow in, as well as by end­less ques­tions from thou­sands of his new Chi­nese friends on so­cial me­dia.

I have long ob­served for­eign politi­cians try­ing to en­gage with Chi­nese fans, some­times in the mil­lions, through so­cial me­dia. Their teams waste no time up­load­ing their sched­ules, speeches and short ideas in English, French or other lan­guages.

How­ever, th­ese mes­sages usu­ally fail to reach the Chi­nese pub­lic, mainly be­cause they are not writ­ten in Chi­nese.

So I have drawn the im­po­lite con­clu­sion that most ef­forts by for­eign politi­cians and their han­dlers to in­volve or­di­nary Chi­nese via so­cial me­dia have been pretty much fail­ures.

But Cameron’s team has made a dif­fer­ence. It set up a mi­cro blog for the prime min­is­ter on Sina Weibo. Cameron is a late­comer, but for the prime min­is­ter it has been a case of bet­ter late than never.

By Wed­nes­day, Cameron had up­loaded seven posts, even though he only started to use the tool on Fri­day. Of the seven, three were posted as warm-up mes­sages be­fore he news­pa­pers, The Guardian and The Fi­nan­cial Times.

Cameron does not have the largest num­ber of fol­low­ers among the dozens of for­eign politi­cians in China’s so­cial me­dia com­mu­nity. Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Her­man Van Rom­puy, who opened a weibo ac­count in 2011, has more than 3 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

Chris­tine La­garde, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, has been work­ing to ex­pand her net­work in China and has ac­cu­mu­lated more than 3.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers. To my sur­prise, this French­woman uses French and English most of the time.

Chris­tiana Figueres, cli­mate change chief of the United Na­tions, also has opened a weibo ac­count that now has more than 45,000 fol­low­ers, a rel­a­tively small num­ber com­pared to the oth­ers. But she and her com­mu­ni­ca­tions team have al­most no ex­pe­ri­ence in us­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage on mi­cro blogs, par­tic­u­larly when dis­cussing this com­plex topic.

Though Cameron has not re­sponded to the mount­ing com­ments on his weibo ac­count so far, he should be de­lighted by the re­sponses from his fol­low­ers, who can un­der­stand his mes­sages in Chi­nese. His lat­est post has been for­warded and com­mented upon more than 20,000 times.

Van Rom­puy had no such luck dur­ing his Novem­ber visit to Bei­jing. His team pub­lished sev­eral posts re­lated to his of­fi­cial meet­ings with Chi­nese lead­ers, but each at­tracted fewer than a dozen com­ments.

More re­cently, Van Rom­puy made some progress by post­ing sev­eral short notices and com­ments in Chi­nese. But the num­ber of re­sponses was still small, given his colos­sal num­ber of fans.

Van Rom­puy wel­comed Cameron to blog­ging in China on Tues­day in his lat­est post, ex­press­ing the wish that the Bri­tish leader fol­low suit in mak­ing Chi­nese friends who are truly in­ter­ested in build­ing closer EU-China re­la­tions through so­cial me­dia.

Van Rom­puy is cor­rect to en­cour­age Euro­pean lead­ers to in­vest time and en­ergy. But in prac­tice, he and other politi­cians should fol­low Cameron’s ex­am­ple. While blog­ging in China is open, fast and in­ter­ac­tive in China, it shares fea­tures with tra­di­tional me­dia con­tent.

The politi­cians should bear in mind that con­tent is king in so­cial me­dia, just as it is in jour­nal­ism. It is the key to ex­pand­ing a so­cial me­dia net­work and at­tract­ing a big­ger au­di­ence.

Fur­ther­more, us­ing ne­ti­zens’ own lan­guage shows re­spect. It would be use­ful if for­eign po­lit­i­cal fig­ures fol­lowed Cameron and stud­ied his team’s ef­forts to carry on ef­fec­tive con­ver­sa­tions with Chi­nese fol­low­ers.

I have be­come a fol­lower of Cameron’s. I sent him a ques­tion, in both Chi­nese and English, ask­ing about his plans to main­tain a smooth di­a­logue with the Chi­nese to avoid the ups and downs of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. I am look­ing for­ward to his re­ply. Con­tact the writer at fu­jing@chi­


The home page of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s Sina Weibo ac­count. He started to use the so­cial net­work­ing tool on Fri­day, and had more than 260,000 fol­low­ers by Wed­nes­day.

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