Govt uses WeChat to streamline disclosures
Updated: 2013-12-13 00:50
By CAO YIN in Beijing and ZHENG JINRAN in Shijiazhuang (China Daily)
Service gives departments a way to quickly respond to public concerns
Although WeChat has been popularly used by the government to interact with the public, media specialists said it is more like an administrative service tool and will not replace government micro blog accounts.
Along with micro blogs and news conferences, WeChat, a mobile text and voice-messaging app designed by the Internet giant Tencent, has become a major tool for government departments to disclose information.
In May, the number of government WeChat accounts reached 1,000 across the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, according to news website people.com.cn.
That number had grown to more than 3,000 as of Thursday.
The first government WeChat account of Hebei province's Caofeidian New District has been helping residents solve problems since it was launched on July 15.
The account offers information in six different categories, including the district's news, weather, popular issues and hotline and basic information.
"WeChat users can get timely replies by typing in several numbers on the app," said Ma Li, an official responsible for operating the account, adding that she updated the information every day.
"One number corresponds to one category. So some information is replied automatically," she said. "But we also contact people who raise their own questions, ensuring a one-on-one exchange."
The account has attracted nearly 2,000 fans, including those who are just traveling through the district, the statement said.
"The number of our WeChat followers is not big, but it has great potential. It's easier to interact with the public this way compared with a micro blog," she added.
Gu Xiaoyi, another official in charge of the account, said a special computer has been set up to run the account, guaranteeing its security.
"First, I collect questions and give a quick response if ‘I get it' immediately," he said. "For similar questions, we'll answer in a group, while for individual ones, we'll get in touch in a private chat room."
"Mostly, we can reply to followers within 10 minutes," he added.
Xing Chunling, a worker in the district's industrial zone, said the government WeChat account has been useful to her in her daily routine.
A highway exit leaving the district is often blocked by traffic jams, "which cost me an extra hour to go to work and always made me late taking my daughter to school", said the 38-year-old.
"I was annoyed and had no idea (how to solve the problem). Out of curiosity, I followed the district's WeChat and made a complaint to the government," she said.
Within five minutes, Xing got a reply from Gu. One month later, the jam was alleviated.
"The number of government WeChat accounts has indeed increased quickly in the past year, and government departments have made use of their service functions," said Hou E, a senior researcher at the Institute of Public Relations at Communication University of China.
After WeChat for the first time conveyed information when a serious earthquake hit Lushan, Sichuan province, on April 20, "many government departments paid attention to it and aroused awareness to use it", he said.
In July, police in Xiamen, Fujian province, sent pictures of five women, suspected of pickpocketing on shopping streets, to its WeChat followers. Within 24 hours, the case was closed, Hou said.
"It showed great potential in governments' use of WeChat, meaning the application can play a more important role for administrations to cope with social issues," he said, adding that the medium would not replace micro blogs.
Although micro blog registration this year has decreased, it is still a mainstream channel for disclosing information and clarifying facts among government departments, he added.
Shan Xuegang, deputy secretary-general of the public opinion analysis office of people.com.cn, agreed, adding that the micro blog is a "must" for administrations.
Government WeChats will be more like an assistant that provides different services for people's different demands, such as facilitating residents to pay their mortgages, he said.
"Although WeChat makes communication more private than the micro blog, the two have no conflict," he said. "Micro blogs will still be a main channel for the government to publish information and get feedback from the public."
After all, in the modern technological age, micro blogs are more suitable for mass communication and improving transparency of governmental affairs, said Shen Yang, a public opinion specialist at Wuhan University.
"Not all residents can supervise WeChat because of privacy settings. In addition, if administrators can better operate the ‘private letter' function on micro blogs, solving the public's problems can become more efficient," he added.
Contact the writers at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org