Vancouver Mayor on Chinese Twitter, off juice boxes

Gregor Robertson amasses 70,000 Sina Weibo fans in first week

Mayor Gregor Robertson is on Chinas state-censored answer to Facebook and Twitter.

But his name is being phased out of the packaging for the juice and smoothie brand that gave him business credibility.

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Robertson opened an account on Sina Weibo at the end of October and appeared to amass more than 70,000 fans in the first week. It took Robertson four years to attract 28,000 followers on Twitter.

But how many of those who added Robertson to their Weibo fan list are real people?

A user posted a message on Robertsons Weibo page on Nov. 4 indicating that 95 per cent of the accounts were zombie users and included a screen grab as evidence. The users had no avatars (a small graphic beside their user name) and many of the accounts had little, if any, activity.

Why so many zombie fans? said a translation of the post by a user, whose handle translated to @CanadaHomes.

Robertson spokesman Braeden Caley downplayed the fake accounts and claimed they were new users themselves. A fast-trending account like the mayors is often picked up by a few bots (automated accounts) that are known (to be) used for spam purposes, but that would amount to an extremely small proportion, Caley said via email.

The exact same phenomenon often takes place for fast-growing and verified Twitter accounts. As a new user with verified status and a fast-growing following, the mayors account was also prominently featured by Weibo on the list of accounts that are highlighted as suggestions for new Weibo users to follow.

Robertson co-founded Happy Planet Juice Co. with Randal Ius in 1994, but only Iuss first name appears on the newly redesigned 2-litre boxes. Under Randal, co-founder, the label says in cahoots with sunshine and the fruit fairy. The slogan above says: We make food and juice that makes you smile. It has to do you good and taste great thats Happy Planet.

The old labelling, still on the single-serve, plastic bottles, is signed Gregor and Randal the Happy founders, under the mission statement: to astonish your taste buds, nourish your body, unite you with the best sources of food and drink on this planet, and grow a progressive business from which happiness flows.

Ius remains with the company as vice-president of business development.

The decision to remove Robertsons name was made by Happy Planet general manager Rex Sheehy, who joined 16 months ago.

As a non-actively involved person theres no point promoting Gregor on our packaging, said Sheehy. If people go to anyone for comment, theres no point going to Gregor because he hasnt got a clue. As far as whats happening in the business, Randal does.

Robertson left Happy Planet in 2005 when he won election as the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Fairview. He was elected mayor in 2008 and re-elected last fall. One of Ius and Robertsons early Happy Planet backers was Renewal Partners, the venture capital fund run by Joel Solomon and Carol Newell, who are also key financial backers of Vision Vancouver.

In October 2011, Robertson told the Courier that he holds less than 10 per cent of Happy Planet shares and claimed he receives no dividends. Happy Planet closed its Vancouver office in a 950 Powell St. warehouse in February 2011 and is now headquartered in Burnaby. Its juice and soup products are made and warehoused in Richmond and Delta.

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