Cross-Cultural Communication through Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are not just social, they are global. Even though US users tend to make up the largest proportion of social media users on these and other sites, the internet makes reaching a global community more and more feasible. While attending a workshop hosted by Social@Ogilvy on this topic, I was struck by the fact that global social media forces brands and organizations to re-examine their cultural awareness. The benefit for marketers is that they can micro-target culturally relevant messages to specific communities, even segmenting within countries. The benefit to society is that we will all learn to be more conscientious and respectful of the differences between cultures (a win in the mind of this progressive, inclusive thinker).

Respect for cultures comes from two factors in social media. The first is that messages have to resonate. The example used on the panel was Oreo’s work to translate the ‘’dunking cookies into milk” idea to some Asian societies where this behavior is not native. Oreo had to change not only the messaging but also the product to attempt to gain traction with the pitch. And when brands make mistakes, the power is with the people. Sports Illustrated learned this when the swimsuit edition featured white models decked out in what was assumed to be “tribal” or “ethnic” accessories framed by African “natives” in the deserts of Africa. The people, in this case, mounted a great social media backlash against this stereotypical presentation that was culturally insensitive, and Sports Illustrated was forced to respond.

Social media offers the people an opportunity to respond to offensive marketing, forcing brands to learn, which forces all of us to be more aware of and sensitive to individual and unique cultures. It’s almost as though social media is leading its own progressive revolution.

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