Social media research has highlighted the stark difference between the way people in the Western world use networks like Facebook compared with individuals in China who take a completely opposite approach.
In the West the principal use of social media is self promotion and self aggrandisement. It’s all about “me”.
But in China, social media usage is all about each other, about the group and about taking personal responsibility when things go wrong.
This is not an unexpected difference. Social research shows us that Eastern cultures are very group based, whereas Western cultures are individualistic. Neither is right nor wrong; they are just different. There are advantages and disadvantages of both.
However, in our increasingly global world there is the potential for culture clash. The individualistic me-focused Westerner is unlikely to find many social media friendships amongst the Far East where they would rather you were less self-obsessed. Equally, the Western citizen is unlikely to find it easy to get on with someone online from the East if they don’t talk much about themselves.
It has always been thus, of course, in international business. However, in the “real world” we often make accommodation for the differences, learning to rub along with variations in cultural practices. But online we don’t notice so easily that we are dealing with people from another culture. Hence we stick to our own cultural position, reducing the effectiveness of cross-cultural communication.
It is a reminder that we need to focus much more on our audience online. The more we focus on ourselves and our own positions, the less able we are to communicate effectively. In the real world we take into account who we are speaking with, yet our isolation online reduces that potential, thereby limiting our effectiveness. If all this cross-cultural study does is make us think more about how we communicate online it will have achieved a lot.