China needs public diplomacy strategy for cyberspace

14:59, May 31, 2011      

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Given its lesser standing in terms of international public opinion compared to the West, China should strive for the right to speak in public diplomacy in cyberspace, strengthen the universal participation of the public diplomacy on the Internet, draw attention to innovative means of public diplomacy in cyberspace, formulate a public diplomacy strategy for cyberspace and proactively build up a national brand.

With a long-term strategy in mind, China should learn to fully utilize the Internet. China's "Internet users-based reporters" can disseminate facts to every corner and Internet community around the world through social networking websites and change the misperceptions about China held by the international community.

China should use its huge number of Internet and blog users and increasingly networked groups to advance public diplomacy in cyberspace.

The number of China's Internet users reached 338 million at the end of June 30, 2009, including 320 million broadband users and 155 million mobile phone-based Internet users. About 72 percent of mobile phone-based Internet users use the chat function, the most popular application of mobile phone-based Internet.

The number of Internet users owning personal blogs reached 182 million at the end of June 30, 2009, representing an increase of 20 million from a year earlier and nearly 54 percent of the total Internet users. About 35 percent of blog users update their blogs within half a year.

With the increasing recognition and popularity of blogs, the use of blogs among Internet users has become stable. In addition, a considerable part of grassroots-level blog users are shifting to social networking websites with more interactive features. China's grassroots-level blog and Internet users act as a major force of China’s overseas publicity, because they can disseminate true audio, video and text materials on various aspects of China to the world through social networking websites and blogs.

With the Internet gradually overtaking newspapers, more and more people are relying on the Internet as a trusted and timely news source. People tend to spread news among friends, relatives, colleagues and other intimate groups via the Internet. They established close relations before spreading the news, so they tend to find the news more trustworthy than those on traditional media.

Trustworthiness is the core feature of news spread from person to person via the Internet and is the most compelling reason why word-of-mouth publicity should be adopted to promote the overseas publicity work. Internet public diplomacy and word-of-mouth publicity are highly targeted. Traditional media often ignore individual differences and send exactly the same news to every reader. By contrast, spreading news via social networking sites is often one-on-one communication, and the sender and receiver are normally connected by common hobbies, interests or other bonds.

As they know about each other, the sender may select a news story in which the receiver is interested and then tell the story in a way that the receiver likes so as to achieve effective communication.

Overseas publicity through traditional media has become increasingly ineffective and expensive in the information-rich Internet era. It will be far more cost effective to conduct overseas publicity through public diplomacy and word-of-mouth publicity. Word of mouth can help save a lot of money on the advertising costs and is undoubtedly the cheapest publicity tool. The Chinese government used to invest heavily in promotions, advertisements and public relations activities to catch the attention of the world and to improve the country's international image. It should also consider using word of mouth, a cheap but powerful publicity tool, to achieve the same goal.

Millions of Chinese citizens have established personal contacts with various international social groups through different channels and forms, and keep exchanges and information communication with them through various languages over the past 30 years of reform and opening up. Each Chinese citizen that has international association experience and ability has certain connections with certain foreign social groups through social networking. This can be described as "birds of a feather flock together."

He or she can launch international communication with his or her foreign social group through public diplomacy and word-of-mouth news in cyberspace. As this kind of international communication is based on the various social psychologies of people, it is more initiative and acceptable compared with traditional international communication. For example, people can establish trusting relationships in social networks and search for a target audience to establish one-to-one dialogue and communication. In addition, people can also establish celebrity blogs, celebrity websites and celebrity micro-blogs with credibility.

In short, taking the opportunity of the great development of social networking to formulate China's public diplomacy strategy in cyberspace and actively launch China's Internet diplomacy to allow the international community to recognize China, and establish China's national brand in social networks is of great strategic importance.

By Li Xiguang and Wang Jing, translated by People's Daily Online

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