How To Go Viral in China Without Even Trying: A Lesson From BuzzFeed

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BuzzFeed doesn't have a Chinese-language edition, but it might want to get on that, since Chinese readers are already translating its stories.

A month ago, BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera was unknown in China. Now he's a minor celebrity. Paparazzi awaited him on arrival at a Chinese airport this week. He has more than 180,500 followers on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, and he has even hit the No. 1 trending spot on the platform.

And it's all because his phone got stolen.

To sum up a long and charming story (read it here), Mr. Stopera's iPhone disappeared a year ago at a bar in the East Village. A few weeks back his photo stream was suddenly flooded with unexplained pictures of an Asian man standing next to a kumquat tree. It seemed his stolen phone was getting a second life in China.

He wrote about it, Chinese readers translated it, and the tale went viral.

Weibo users tracked down the guy in the photos among China's 1.36 billion people. He's been nicknamed "Brother Orange." (The pictures were of kumquats, not oranges, but whatever.)

Brother Orange invited Mr. Stopera to visit him in the southeastern city of Meizhou, and here's what happened next:

For Western media outlets, it's certainly risky business opening up a Chinese language site -- they can be blocked by the Great Firewall at any time. That's what happened to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal when they opened Chinese-language news sites. But if BuzzFeed stayed away from hard-hitting corruption investigations and concentrated on cat videos and stories like "34 Ridiculous Chinese Character Tattoos Translated," it might be just fine.