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25 November 2011

Social Media

Why Businesses Should Use Social Media to Establish Cross-Cultural Relations

Over the past week, we have been following our American friends’ thanksgiving tweets and messages to each other and the sense of merriment and joviality has been palpable across all social fronts. For us Brits, it makes us look forward to Christmas even more!twitter logo

With Twitter conversations awash with #happythanksgiving and #peopleimthankfulfor among others, and Google’s Wizard Turkey doodle sending people on a wild goose chase for magic outfits, it occurred to me that the social buzz concerned with yesterday’s thanksgiving celebrations illustrates the influence of social media in promoting cross-cultural relations.

For businesses wanting to establish relationships with clients, customers, and partners abroad, skills in cross-cultural communication and managing international relationships are vital. It follows, then, that social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ (and the countless others) have certainly helped the globalisation project along, whilst allowing them to capitalise on the breadth of knowledge and experience brought to the table by colleagues from across the globe.

facebook logoA prime example of a business operating in unfamiliar territories is US supermarket giant, Walmart. When it entered the Chinese market in 2006, it had to completely rethink its tact with the Chinese public. As Keith Naughton revealed back in 2006

“[t]he standard-bearer of American retailing has pains-takingly [sic] discovered that success in China requires more than dutifully replicating its formula of cheap, steep and deep… it requires going native”

Newsweek, 2006

That lesson was learned the hard way when Walmart initially sold pre-packaged fish in their stores- a decision which offended its customers, who were used to picking their dinner while it was still alive. It was only after the supermarket chain decided to install fish tanks in its stores that sales rocketed.

Although Walmart made a boo-boo in the market research department, we have to consider how social media at the time could havetencent qq logo helped them avoid a costly lesson. Despite China’s Great Firewall blocking access to Facebook and Twitter, Chinese networking giant Tencent’s QQ messenger has in excess of 100 million simultaneous online accounts- that’s 10% of the country’s population. And since it’s re-introduction as a free network in 2003, the act of offering your QQ number to friends and acquaintances has become as common as it is to exchange business cards or phone numbers.

The potential of such a social network to provide greater insight into the changing face of consumer behaviours in China’s developing economy was undoubtedly overlooked here. But in a world where Twitter had barely spread its wings, and Facebook still a year off from its cash injection from Microsoft, the very concept of social media as a legitimate tool for market research would have been a vague idea to those outside the tech world.

Today, however, there’s no excuse. In a web 2.0 world, we can’t go too far before an opinion, anecdote, comment, like, blog, or tweet pops into our view. For businesses looking to greener grasses, this means not just looking at how many conversions you completed last month, or the amount of customers who visited your website from Shanghai, but gauging the individual responses of followers and fans and striking up meaningful dialogues with them, wherever they happen to be.

Have stories to tell about marketing across cultural and international boundaries? We'd love to to hear them. Leave a comment below or send us a tweet!

By Adam Cowlishaw

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