Short but sweet

Short messages, big audiences

Short but sweet

Yao has a million followers

Meet Yao Chen, China’s microblogging queen.

Yao – who publishes her microblog on t.sina.com, Sina’s new microblogging service – is the most followed microblogger in China, accumulating over a million subscribers since September. Among those who follow her updates are a surprising number of celebrities like movie star Zhao Wei, SOHO chairman Pan Shiyi, and former head of Google China Lee Kai-fu.

But why is she so popular? Yao is a mainland actress famous for her role in hit TV series Lurk (see WiC13). But unlike most Hollywood celebrities who use Twitter to keep their fans updated on their mundane whereabouts and musings, Yao’s entries are refreshingly intimate and entertaining.

For example, on February 14, Yao wrote: “Me: Husband, today is Valentine’s Day. Husband: But that’s none of my business, I don’t have a mistress. Me: It is actually a special day for two people who are in love. Husband: That’s none of my business, we are married, not lovers. Me: Western men give flowers to their wives on Valentine’s Day! Husband: That’s none of my business, I’m not a Westerner.”

In another entry that was posted in December, the actress said: “My mother gave birth to me when she was 22 and for 19 years we saw each other everyday. After I turned 19 and my mother 41, I only saw my mother once every six months. Even if my mother could live till 100 years old, I could only see her another 98 times. I hope my math is wrong…”

Yancheng Evening News says it is Yao’s self-deprecating humour and candour that makes her so popular among China’s netizens. Yao also opposes using the microblog as a “tool of catharsis or ego,” she told Southern Metropolis Daily. “I want to try to send some happiness through the microblog.”

Even though Twitter is blocked in China, locally-inspired Twitter clones have started to emerge. On t.sina.com, users can post messages of up to 140 Chinese characters or 280 Roman characters from a computer or mobile device. If other users are interested in reading them, they can subscribe and receive automatic updates.

Chinese politicians are also becoming aware of the influence of microblogs in a country with over 380 million internet users.

Some have even started microblogging themselves to connect with the the general public.

Wu Hao, deputy head of Yunnan Province’s publicity department, is one of the politicians to have adopted microblogging. His microblog, called Microblog of Yunnan on t.sina.com, attracted more than 60,000 followers in the first month. His success quickly drew extensive interest from the media.

Wu’s microblog was short-lived, however. “The microblog was under so much media attention that I could not speak my mind,” Wu told the Shanghai Daily after he closed his microblog down early this year. “Many netizens, even some of my colleagues believed I opened the microblog for fame and to gain advantage in my career as a politician.”

The closure of Wu’s blog perhaps says more about the political climate than the medium. For an official, it is difficult, if not impossible, to speak without political motives being inferred, says Kang Guoping, content director of Blog China.

As for Yao, she has some way to go to surpass the true empress of tweets, Britney Spears, who has over 4.4 million followers. But as we have frequently commented, China’s law of large numbers is likely on Yao’s side. She’s only been doing this since six months, after all. Watch out, Brit…

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