Israel’s Embassy in China seems to be mastering digital diplomacy boasting the most popular website of foreign embassies in that country on the Chinese social media site Sina Weibu with 1.9 million followers, according to a report released in December.
With its 600 million registered users, Sina Weibu boasts over 500 million subscribers of which over 300 million are active and post 100 million messages every day. The embassies of many countries within China have accounts on Weibu, which they use to promote their nations’ various activities. Israel far outpaces other embassies, followed by the Canadian Embassy with 1.13 million followers and the U.S. Embassy with 1.035 million followers.
Analysts have attempted to explain Israel’s popularity compared to larger and more popular nations. In an article on What’s on Weibo, 47 countries are listed in descending order of popularity with the unverified account of the Indonesian Embassy at the bottom.
“Overall, Chinese citizens seem to have a positive attitude towards the country. It is, among others, shared memories of the history of WWII that have contributed to the present strong relations between China and Israel,” the article explained. “In 2015, the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai published a video that featured hundreds of Israelis holding ‘Thank you’ signs in Chinese as a sign of gratitude for Shanghai helping the Jews during WWII. It also included a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing thanks to the Chinese people.”
When Israel’s late President Shimon Peres died half a million followers visited the embassy’s site to pay their respects. The Australian reported in 2014 that Peres was one of few Western leaders who maintained a social media presence in China. He had over 450,000 followers.
Owned by Sina Corporation and operated by Weibo Corporation, Sina Weibu is a Chinese microblogging social networking site, in essence a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. The site is known colloquially as Weibu, which means microblogging. “What’s on Weibu” is an independently run news blog that reports on microblogging and social trends in China.
Whereas other sites depend on the Chinese public’s initiative, the Israeli account engages with its followers and promotes interactivity. There are invitations to participate in award-winning campaigns, and there is no shortage of advertisements and giveaways for Israeli products such as wines, magnets, tickets for Israeli cultural events, Dead Sea products and even airline tickets to Israel. In addition, a popular quiz asks Chinese followers general questions about Israel, testing their knowledge of cities and favorite Israeli dishes.
A competition that the embassy ran in November significantly raised the number of followers. The embassy asked its Chinese followers to send videos explaining Israel in their own words. Hundreds of clips flooded and four winners were chosen. Winners received airfare and accommodations at an Israeli hotel as part of a launch of the 10-year visa agreement between Israel and China in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, El Al, Hainan and Dan Hotels.
Richard Lakin, founder of Analytika Research, is quoted as saying that the embassy’s popularity on Weibo is a matter of cause and effect.
“The Israel Foreign Ministry has really stepped up its game on social media,” he said. “The Israel Defense Forces has also boosted its use of social media. As the country puts out more buzz-worthy content, the effect is a jump in social followers.”