It’s part of the nature of social media. Cultural differences will always impact social media communication. And how you deal with these cultural differences will impact your international social media success.
This is an important point for businesses to remember. Social media can be used to help businesses connect with different international audiences… but only if the communication is getting through effectively.
One example of how cultural differences impact social media is to have a look at the most popular social media platforms. Although many of these popular platforms are American, they are also very popular outside of America. But if you listen closely, you can see different cultures using the same social media platform differently and you can hear cultural friction between different cultures. This cultural friction is not only between English speakers and non-native English speakers, but it is also amongst native English speakers from different countries.
Our cultural backgrounds impact our interactions on social media. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Social Media Is A Person to Person Environment
Before we look at social media platforms, let’s consider the smaller places for social interaction online: forums and online communities. Have you ever participated in one of these and paid attention to the social interactions? It is obvious: the biggest challenges for online community managers are related to dealing with different people. Social media is people connecting to people on a bigger scale.
Cultural friction happens because we are visible on social media. Our personalities come across in social media and our human behavior influences our social interactions. Some people are better at this than others. Some people are more forgiving of social mishaps than others. Most people are just themselves.
So what does this mean? Well, we all bring personal baggage with us into social media and this includes our cultural baggage.
Takeaway #1 – You need to take different cultural baggage into account when trying to connect with international audiences using social media.
Where Cultural Differences Impact Social Media
We communicate our cultural background and baggage on social media just as we do in face to face encounters. This is normal.
The problems start with how you react when you meet people from different cultural backgrounds. You can often find solutions to these problems with a little thoughtfulness, good communication skills and a willingness to improve your cross-cultural communication skills.
Remember, you encounter people from different cultures on the different social media platforms in other countries and also on the platforms you use regularly.
Takeaway #2 -You need to identify where cultural differences impact their your social media communication.
How To Approach Cultural Differences
To get beyond personal reactions you need to adopt an objective look at the situation. This is not always easy. One way is to look at the cross-cultural communication with the scales of cultural behaviors developed by Geert Hofstede and others.
- High Individualism versus High Collectivism
- High Power Distance versus Low Power Distance
- High Masculine versus High Feminine
- High Uncertainty Avoidance versus Low Uncertainty Avoidance
- Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation
When looking at areas of social media conflict and analyzing them these cultural behaviors can provide insights and answers. Of course, human nature is complex and these scales do not cover all the behavioral differences between different cultures. But when used intelligently, they can help you find the right questions to ask.
Refer back to these scales of cross-cultural behaviors whenever you can and you will improve your ability to identify when cultural differences are involved. Here are some questions based on these cultural behavior scales and related to social media:
- Do you need to put forward individuals or groups?
- Do you “friend” everyone or only a select group of people you consider your peers?
- Should your companies spokesperson on social media be a man or a woman?
- Does your relationship need to be developed over time or not?
- Do you become a fan or a friend?
These are some practical questions to ask to determine the best cross-cultural communication in your social media tactics. Don’t worry, even if you are not able to find the exact question you need for your particular circumstance, these questions usually put you on the path to improving your cross-cultural communication… even within social media.
Takeaway #3 – Use the cultural differences you notice, together with an objective view of the situation, to ask the right questions.
When Cultural Differences Create Social Friction
So, when do use questions like the ones above? The answer is simple: whenever you encounter any friction on social media you should immediately start asking questions. Here are some questions for you:
- Are there any little areas of friction?
- Do things feel not quite right?
- Does anyone feel offended?
- Has there been a negative reaction?
When different cultures are involved negative reactions may be due to cultural differences. Social media magnifies cultural differences because our communication is more personal. It is closer. And we feel and react to the cultural differences too.
On social media it is easy to react before adjusting our own cultural filters. Before taking cultural differences into account.
Takeaway #4 - Take a step back and look for cultural differences before adapting your own communication.
Other Cross-Cultural Differences Interfere With Communication
It is important to remember that cultural differences can interfere with effective communication on many different levels:
- Faces and avatars
- Internet performance
- Language subtleties
- Music and sound
People react to many of these cultural differences on a primal level and do not always communicate the reasons behind their reactions. Again, this can be complex to understand.
Takeaway #5 – Seek appropriate expertise when international social media does not get through on basic levels of communication.
Our Social Media Preferences
Even within our own culture we choose the social media platforms we like and where we feel most comfortable. Social media is made of different platforms with different types of environments and atmospheres. The choice is vast and there is something of interest to everyone.
When you add cultural differences into the equation of how to select your social media platform, things become complex.
- Some social media platforms are more appealing than others for different cultures
- Some social media platforms just do not feel right because of the cultural flavor
- Some media platforms are easiest with a particular mindset or context
- And others will always seem difficult to join for some cultures
This is why connecting with international audiences on social media takes time and it is important to go through the steps of getting to know each other.
Do you have any questions about how to connect with your international audience through social media?
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Filed under: international social media
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