Twitter is Dancing on the Global Stage

ImageAs Twitter prepares for its debut as a publicly traded company, in addition to the financial issues it faces like where does the revenue come from, it must also consider its global consumer approach. Many U.S. companies who go global do not take into account cultural differences among their consumers and opt for a single marketing communication approach. A company like Apple, for example, appears to take a single approach – Apple is Apple all over the world. But McDonald’s does not take a singular unifying approach to its marketing efforts, nor does Coke, or P&G for that matter. Companies that are not sensitive to cultural differences are likely to pay the price. Twitter, which is a service rather than a product, needs to be cognizant of cultural differences as it attempts to join Facebook as a global social media force.

Japan is one of the countries where, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Twitter “users tend to keep their accounts private and their circle of followers small.” The work of The Hofsted Center provides a wealth of information regarding cultural differences that might account for why the Japanese approach Twitter the way they do. According to the Hofsted model, Japan is a country that “is one of the most ‘uncertainty avoiding’ countries on earth,” which means as a culture the Japanese seek predictability. Social media may appear to the Japanese as unpredictable, and this cultural quality may in fact lead them to be conservative when it comes to their circle of followers. The implications for Twitter are apparent. To reach the Japanese, Twitter would either need to reduce uncertainty, something they are not likely to do, or bend toward the culture. In other words, Twitter needs to adapt to the culture in the same way that the Japanese adapt to the threats they face from natural disasters: make Twitter predictable, create rituals around its use.

Brazilians, the WSJ article points out, are quite public about their social media use and “liberally follow one another.” According to the Hofsted model of cultural dimensions, Brazilians are also high on uncertainty avoidance, which would make them similar to the Japanese. However, the model suggests Brazilians are also very social people “chatting with colleagues, enjoying a long meal or dancing with guests and friends,” which might account for the difference in their use of social media.

Sensitivity to cultural differences is important to any organization seeking to operate on a global platform. Social media are no different than product marketers like Coke or McDonald’s in regard to the need to adapt to the cultures in which they operate. Marieke de Mooij, author of the book, Global Marketing and Advertising, describes a paradox that exists in which the more global organizations become, the more acutely aware consumers become of their own cultures. A few companies may get away with imposing culture on others; most cannot. The need to adapt is important to any social media company seeking to operate on the global stage, including Twitter.

Neil Alperstein, PhD
Professor and Director, MA in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland
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