A guest post by William Foreman, the global communication manager at U-M’s News Service. He prefers Cantonese dim sum and peppery Hunanese dishes.
Does Ann Arbor have any decent Chinese restaurants? It’s a common question asked by students from China thinking about studying at the University of Michigan. I could share my opinion with them, but as a non-Chinese PR guy, they probably wouldn’t think of me as the most credible source. It’s best to go straight to the experts: the Chinese students who are already here. And that’s what we did by using Weibo.
Weibo (pronounced: WAY BWO) is often called China’s version of Twitter, which is blocked in the country. Like Twitter, Weibo allows people to file 140-character tweets along with photos and videos. With nearly 400 million users, it has become wildly popular and continues to grow exponentially. In a nation where the traditional media are censored and often boring, Weibo has become the prime source of news for the masses. Some say it’s the next best thing to a free press.
Six months ago, U-M launched its own official Weibo account, which already has nearly 5,000 followers, representing every province and region of China. We’re really the only American university using Weibo in a strategic, planned way to share news, photos, videos and other information. We even have a full-time Chinese content producer – Zhang Xiaoxi, a graduate of U-M’s School of Information Science – who posts daily in Chinese.
In many ways, Weibo is far more advanced than Twitter. For example, it has a function that allows users to do polls. Xiaoxi and I used it to create a survey that included 10 Chinese eateries in Ann Arbor. We tweeted it out on Weibo, asking our followers to vote for the best restaurant.
My biggest worry was that everyone would like the same place, showing that everything beyond it was a virtual wasteland of greasy crab rangoon and gluggy moo goo gai pan. But to my relief, the votes were generally spread out among seven restaurants. For sure, there was a clear winner – Chia Shiang, with 61 votes, 30 percent of the ballots. The runner-up was Asian Legend with 51 votes. But five others garnered between 30-39 votes.
The idea was to show that Ann Arbor does have some decent Chinese food. But as with much of social media, the objective was also to start a lively discussion and encourage engagement.
The survey also confirmed that I’m an unreliable judge of Chinese cuisine. My favorite restaurant was one of the lowest vote getters.