China Daily reported today that Chinese government officials are starting to increasingly embrace micro-blogging, known as weibo.

According to a Tencent study, as of August 1st, there were more than 10,000 government departments and officials in China with weibo accounts, 266 of which are owned by senior ranked officials at the deputy-city level. At March 20, there were only 2,400 accounts open by authorities and officials.

The phrase, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, pops to mind when not long ago government officials were reported as visiting the Sina Weibo office to check out what was going on and to make sure everything was in order. Perhaps they were asking them to help them set up accounts?

But it is becoming strikingly obvious that everyone from brands to governments need to understand and manage social media, especially micro-blogging. The recent UK riots pushed the British government to investigate if parameters should be imposed on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Also, some of my friends who work in embassies have asked me if I know anyone who can help them with social media marketing.

In terms of crisis, the government is realizing how powerful social media can be. The Wenzhou train disaster was a sharp reminder of this. They are learning that communication in both content and style matters, where something with a hint of foulness can travel far and wide. Therefore, Head of Organization Department of the Communist Party in Zhejiang province, Cai Qi,  has said that ‘authorities and officials should adopt a modest approach to writing micro-blogs.’ It seems he knows what he is doing, with a fairly large follower base of 5.3 million.

Another key reason for government officials to join the micro-blog wave is to keep a pulse on what popular opinion is thinking about society and life issues. When sensing emerging issues, the government will hopefully will be able to devise ways to solve them.

China Daily reports however that a large number of accounts are inactive or filled with tricky government speak. It is obviously just the start of the learning curve.

Cartoon by Wang Xiaoying [http://cartoon.chinadaily.com.cn/]