There’s no doubt that people in China have more access to information than ever before, largely thanks to Internet services like Sina Weibo. Where once people in China may have been angry but disconnected, they are now increasingly able to band together for common causes and share their anger over issues such as government corruption, land expropriation, tainted food and more. The popular microblogging service most-recently lit up with angry comments during the Guo Meimei and Wenzhou train crash incidents. (If you’re unfamiliar with these two cases, you can read more about Guo Meimei here and Wenzhou here.)
Both cases were bad in and of themselves, but one could argue they were made worse by PR bumbling. This is not China of the 1970s (or even 1990s) where the government had a monopoly on news and information, which means more is expected of the people trotted out to publicly make the government’s case. The good news is it seems the government has received the message loud and clear. The Nanfang Metropolis News has published a story today (Chinese) on a lecture series offered to public relations spokespeople, using the Guo Meimei and Wenzhou train collision as case studies:
To help government bodies better communicate with their audiences, especially in an age where people can post their opinion relatively freely on social media platforms, the National News Publication Bureau recently organized the eighth national spokespersons training course in Beijing. According to Wang Xuming, former spokesperson for the national education bureau and one of the lecturers during the training, this kind of training isn’t available elsewhere in the world. Previous courses have focused on skills rather than values, but he regards this lecture as a way to help spokespeople establish their moral values.
Liu Pengfei, chief analyst of the press monitoring office of the People’s Daily website and another instructor during the training, suggested all spokespeople open Weibo accounts. Liu said his lesson would focus on how to respond on Weibo. “The Guo Meimei incident started from Weibo and developed all the way to a trust crisis of the Red Cross, and I have to say during the Wenzhou train wreck, the Zhejiang local government utilized its Weibo account to good effect.”
The participants are communication officers from the enterprise (SOEs) and government bodies, (Liu Jintao, the vice president of Shuanghui Group, whose company was involved in the recent poison scandal which started on Weibo, participated the training.) Liu said his lecture is welcomed by these people and they all regard social media communication as crucial.
China’s poor PR apparatus has long been a criticism of this blogger, so this is a good first step.