Matt Eaton, China Beijing – Despite criticism about suppression of social media, a new survey shows 66% of China officials agree social media is the most influential communications channel in modern China. The survey of 132 communication specialists and government decision makers shows that 66% believe that opinions expressed in social media have more influence over contemporary public policy than other media. It comes as debate over access to social media sites like Twitter in China were placed squarely on the agenda by visiting US president Barack Obama. Addressing students in Shanghai this week, Obama said he was a big believer in the free-flow of information. “I think that the more freely information flows the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world cab hold their own governments accountable, they can begin to think for themselves and that generates new ideas and encourages creativity.” Sites such as QQ, Tencent, tianya.cn, Renren.com, 51.com and video sites like Youku.com and Tudou.com are shows to be playing a bigger role in how public policy is shaped. Alan VanderMolen, president of Edelman Asia Pacific, which ran the online survey, said it is no longer adequate to simply monitor social media. “It’s clearly impacting the development and implementation of public policy in China,” he said. “Foreign MNCs, SOEs and other organizations must get engaged to foster meaningful dialogue and relationships with stakeholders on an ongoing basis.” When it comes to leveraging social media as a means to collect and disseminate information about their business, the survey shows 60% of respondents use it at least several times during the week as an input device for news and information about their business. On the other hand, 37% use social media for putting messages about their business into public view at least several times a week. Nearly half (46%) use it only infrequently (less than once a week) or not at all. Edelman said the data reflect the views of those communication professionals who responded and should not be projected to the larger universe of China-based communication professionals. One out of three respondents to the survey were communications specialists with MNC’s or SOE’s; one in five work with consultancies. Approximately in 10 were employed by government or NGO’s. Among those responding, six out of ten claim to be decision makers for government or public affairs strategy in China. The remainder are mostly involved in the implementation of government or public affairs strategies. More than six out of ten respondents are residents of China or Hong Kong.