Young faces add personality to govt micro blog

Updated: 2012-10-14 14:50


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BEIJING - Zhao Yihan had no idea what to write when he was assigned to run the official microblog of the municipal government of Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu province, in June last year.

Although the young civil servant had his own personal microblog account at the time, it was inactive and he did not feel particularly enthusiastic about micro-blogging, which had just started to take off in China.

Government agencies rushed to take advantage of the new trend and opened their own micro blogs, but most of their posts were criticized for being out-of-touch and stiff.

Zhao decided to use his new post as an opportunity to change that perception, using a new writing style that resulted in unexpected popularity.

The "Voice of Nanjing", the official micro blog of the municipal government of Nanjing, was launched in April 2011 on Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging platform.

The blog had just 114,000 followers when Zhao stepped in last June. Today, it has nearly 1.9 million.

The secret to Zhao's success was simple. Instead of posting dry official statements and boring statistics, he took it upon himself to write about interesting and offbeat topics.

For his first post, Zhao created a personal ranking of the city's cuisine. To his surprise, the post was forwarded by 500 other micro-bloggers within hours.

Spurred by his success, Zhao was encouraged to give the micro blog even more personality. To that end, he elected to create a fictional female character named "Xiaobu" (a play on the blog's Chinese name "nanjingfabu") to give the blog a voice, as he believes that women are naturally better at communicating.

"I thought she should have emotions, hobbies and her own character," Zhao said, adding that the female "identity" made it easier to communicate with the blog's followers.

Zhao then began to attribute the blog's entries to the new persona, interacting with followers and occasionally poking fun at them.

The fresh and lively style of "Xiaobu" has earned the microblog a large group of diehard fans. However, Zhao has also used other methods to gain more followers, such as posting messages at certain times of the day.

"At 5 pm or 10 pm, people are prone to be hungry, so I'll write some posts about dishes that I think are delicious. A lot of folks are online around 8 or 9 pm, so I write some interesting news posts for them to read and think about," Zhao said.

Zhao's work has given him a chance to reflect, as he often uses experiences drawn from his life in the city to inspire his writing.

Zhao has also come to appreciate and enjoy the microblogging trend, checking his cellphone frequently for new comments and posts.

"I am a little obsessed with it," he admitted.

Zhao's team consists of another three staff members, including executive editor Huang Weiqing, a man in his 30s, and two young interns.

Huang said he has enjoyed working with his younger colleagues, adding that he can feel the energy of youth within them.

"They never fail to surprise me," Huang said.

Data from government Internet authorities indicates that verified government microblog accounts had reached nearly 80,000 in number as of September, while Sina Weibo reported that over 15,000 government officials had opened their own personal accounts as of March.