As one of if not the foremost China watchers on the scene today, Bill Bishop (perhaps better known as @niubi) has been a vital part of the social media ecosystem for some time, through his blogs Sinocism and Digicha, his use of Twitter and Sina Weibo, and his daily email posting and analyzing China-related links and news. With his highly influential social media use, he not only shares the news but makes it too. He shared with Agenda how he handles it all.
What social media platforms are you on, and what are your handle(s) on them?
I am @niubi on Twitter and @billbishop on Sina Weibo. I was an early user of Twitter and had no expectation it would become so big, hence the “smartass” handle. Unfortunately all variants of Bill Bishop are now taken, as I would much prefer to use my real name.
What do you get from each of these platforms?
Twitter is one of my primary sources for following news. Weibo has a similar function for me, and I find that the ongoing discussion on Sina Weibo tends to be more interesting and extended than on Twitter. I also use Sina Weibo to help promote my partner’s cake shop, @ccsweets 创意蛋糕. Weibo can be an incredibly effective marketing and communication tool.
Where do you get your news from?
I have used an RSS feed reader for probably close to a decade. Over those years I have built up a list of several hundred English and Chinese feeds that I think are interesting. I usually start my news browsing in the feed reader, then go onto Twitter and weibo, then browse a few websites. I also use filters and alerts, as there is too much information out there, but even with those I think I am still drowning in information overload.
How much time would you say you spend on social media daily? Is it worth it?
Much of my usage is on mobile devices, especially when stuck in traffic. I’d say I probably spend about 90 minutes on weibo and Twitter, though if something big is happening in China, weibo is the place to watch it. So for example I was up all night watching the escape to the Chengdu consulate unfold.
How do you organize everything? What software do you use?
Pinboard.in has been a lifesaver. I use it to save things I think are interesting, and it allows you to tag items as you see fit. I then use a WordPress plugin to automatically pull my tagged Pinboard items into the daily China Readings Post I publish at sinocism.com.
How would you compare Sina Weibo and Western social media?
Weibo has a much richer feature set that allows much deeper conversation and much broader dissemination of information than does Twitter. The way you can retweet and comment on individual weibos means that each one can become a node in a much bigger conversation, as opposed to the ephemeral, “miss it and it’s gone” nature of Twitter.
Weibo also exists in a much different political-information environment, one in which many people do not believe official sources and so are much more willing to believe what they see on weibo.
Has being on social media been beneficial to your life or career in Beijing?
I am not actually sure. It has certainly helped CCSweets, but it did not help my video game business, and so far all the blogging, tweeting and weiboing I do is gratis.
Which accounts do you most recommend people to follow?
Danwei.org just published their absolutely essential list of the best English language blogs and Twitters to follow. (Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be named in their “2012 Model Worker” list.)
Will social media supplant journalism, take it someplace new or just be a supplement?
It should supplement it and improve it. The old days of a handful of editors determining the news agenda, especially about China, are gone. That is a good thing, except perhaps for those editors and their bosses. But the challenge for consumers is to figure out who to trust, and I think a social network like Twitter can help with that as if you are an idiot the community will figure it out fairly quickly.
I have noticed that more and more of the China-based western journalists are using Twitter. Many seem to have resisted at first, but now they, and I think all journalists in general, realize that they need to build a personal brand beyond the news organization for which they report.
Published in Agenda magazine