Watching the European financial crisis unfold is a fascinating observation of clashing cultures. The Germans want other countries to stick to a rigid set of rules, whereas the Greeks and Spanish people are asking for things to be more relaxed. The different viewpoints on the financial meltdown are indicative of the various approaches to life within Europe. In fact, if anyone thought monetary union was really a long-term possibility they also probably thought that cultural differences could be ironed out.
Even in the USA you can see constant tensions between one set of cultural values in the deep south and the more relaxed lifestyles of California and New York, for instance. One country, several cultures. What you can do in California without any real concerns could get people calling for your execution in Texas.
Whether you look at the differing approaches to the way of life in the USA, or the varying ways the Eurozone approaches financial matters, one thing is for sure: societies vary even within relatively short distances.
For business owners this is of special importance online. In the “olden days” before the web came along, most businesses did not have to take into account cultural variation. Most companies worked within a relatively small area and understood how people ticked. And if they did stray outside their locality, business leaders took time to find out about these external marketplaces.
Now, though, a company in Germany can share its wares with people in Greece, Spain or even South Korea. The global nature of the web means that your business is now working in a multi-cultural world. And that can cause problems.
For instance, in general terms the West is much more focused on the individual, whereas Asian cultures are much more focused on the community. If your website demonstrates it is about the individual, your ability to sell in Asia could be limited.
This has been brought to light in new research about the images which appear on Facebook. It seems that the profile pictures of people in the Western World are mainly faces – focused on the individual themselves. However, people from Asia tend to minimise the self in those images, often including themselves as part of a much broader scene. Even those small profile pictures on social networks reflect the culture of the people taking part.
Interestingly, though, the study also found that when people moved from one country to another – such as Asian people moving to the USA to study – their Facebook pictures were changed to reflect the culture they now inhabited. Similar effects have been discovered with diet – Japanese people who move to the USA start eating more meat and less fish, for instance. The old adage of “when in Rome” appears to actually take place.
But here’s the problem for businesses. When you build a website you are doing so from within your own culture and it will therefore reflect the way you think and behave within that culture. But what if you want more business outside your immediate locality? This new research suggests you need to think carefully about the images your website contains so that they reflect your target culture.
Once more, it is research which confirms you need to focus all your thoughts on your audience.
- Facebook photos may reflect unconscious cultural differences (esciencenews.com)
- What does your Facebook photo say about you? (adigaskell.org)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+