Social Media – Culturally Diverse, or Simply Take It or Leave It?

Apologies in advance – this isn’t a terribly clever post. (And we do like a bit of clever, blog-snorkellers, don’t we?)

It’s simply that I got randomly forced, like a reluctant and rather fleshy square peg into an unattractive and not-terribly-fulfilling round hole, into attending a training course recently, entitled ‘Communicating Across Cultures’. With the help of some Janets and Johns, we were introduced to the pitfalls of dealing with colleagues and stakeholders from other parts of the world, and the things we might need to think about in order to ensure that the message got across, that we didn’t mortally affend anyone and that the right outcomes were achieved. We talked about direct and indirect styles  of communication, task vs relationship focusing and egalitarianism and status as a leadership and personality styles.

Then, in direct contrast, at home, over the weekend, over a glass of wine, I watched a movie called ‘Body of Lies’. (Which gives you an insight into the sort of cultural level at which I am comfortable operating.) Said movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, is almost an anti-course in cultural awareness. Russell Crowe is extremely effective as the senior CIA operator who – quite clearly – does not give a shit whether he offends or not, and is either self-confident enough, or deluded enough, not to care how he is perceived. At the end, however, you feel he is rather more isolated than he would like to be and, while achieving against his goals and the goals of his employer, there is something slightly pathetic and tenuous about him.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but thinking that social media is the Russell Crowe Body of Lies character. It’s heavy-handed and there’s no room for nuance. Indeed, as the province of the cyber-hippy, where we should all love each other and share everything and give peace a chance, well – there’s no need for nuance, is there?

It works well across communities and countries which share common cultural dimensions. What this will mean in practice is that the US, the UK, Australia and South Africa will be comfortable sharing a social medium, but it’s unlikely that China, or India or (perhaps surprisingly) Brazil are going to want to join them.

The thing about communicating effectively across cultures – and being successful as a business across cultures – is that it requires a basket of difefrent tools – words, attitude, behaviours and knowing which medium to use. The thing about social media is that it is one-dimensional and it brings nothing to this party.

It’s something else for the social media gurus to start working on and something else for their clients to throw money at. And I’d warrant that it’s something else that will never be resolved.

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