With about 1/3 of Earth’s population using the services of the internet, it’s no surprise that online cultural awareness is becoming a significant issue. As over 2 billion users surf the net, individuals from different cultures are coming together at a growing rate, and online communities are as diverse as ever.
In a recent blog post about online community management by the Social Media Examiner, the importance of respecting other cultures is highlighted. Changes to NPR’s ethics guidelines for
journalists were noted, and summed up as such:
“To get the most out of social media we need to understand those (social media) communities. So we respect their cultures and treat those we encounter online with the same courtesy and understanding as anyone we deal with in the offline world.”
But what happens when you or your company fail to acknowledge and understand the cultural differences that make members of your online community/following unique?
1) You risk alienating sections of your audience
“If you can’t interact with your customers and cater to their individuality, they won’t be customers for long.” That’s been a central theme of social media and online interactions of late, and it’s true.
Online interactions can take place in many ways, whether it be via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, user forums, chat rooms, and more. These mediums are available all over the world, and as immigration further mixes our populations together, it is likely your audience consists of different cultures.
However, the times of simply listening to what customers are saying is over, and a new era of interaction is underway. Consumers prefer companies that understand them and pay attention to their questions, concerns, comments, ideas, and preferences.
This also means companies need to be flexible and understanding to a variety of different cultures. Doing some research about the cultural differences or societal norms that exist amongst your audience can help you relate on a more personal level and effectively build trust with your customers.
Names often point to cultural heritage and can clue you in as to what a certain customer may want to hear or not hear.
For example, perhaps your company sells Latin Food and a customer by the name of Suri Prakesh tweets at you saying, “I like your chicken tacos!” Your company has just released a new item, so you feel like this is a great chance to share, and you tweet back “Thanks Suri, you might want to try our all new carnitas. We think you’ll love them!”
The statement seems harmless enough, although carnitas are made from pork, and for Muslims and other cultures, eating pork is forbidden by god. The result could be a disconnect between customer and company.
2) You slow the global spread of your company/product
People from different cultures and people from different parts of the world often interact within entirely different social networks than here in North America.
By making a customer who is of Indian or Chinese decent particularly happy or satisfied, you may open your brand to their social network and a whole new group of potential customers. If you fail to make a good impression, your customer may never go on to share information about your product or company.
Utilizing your customers’ social networks is part of a strong marketing strategy for all sorts of products and services, and can help grow the global awareness of your brand.
3) You risk a viral backlash
Just as using a customer’s social network can benefit your company and products, it can also hurt. If you make a bad impression or come off as naïve in the eyes of a customer, it could negatively impact your sales, image, and more. And bad news spreads just as fast, if not faster than good news.
Cultural awareness and sensitivity should be parts of your company’s strategy, as appearing culturally unaware will tarnish any reputation. Being unaware reflects the character and focus of your company, and makes you seem uninformed, unworldly, or ethnocentric.
Some common mistakes could be, but are not limited to, the lack of knowledge about:
- Important current events
- Cultural norms or habits of society
- Common religious beliefs/practices
- Important events or people in a culture’s history
- Common names & sounds of the language
By learning about the cultures of your audience, your company becomes not only more informed, but also more personal. Businesses today stress the importance of making personal connections, and being aware of a customer’s culture and heritage is a great start.
Is cultural awareness important in your line of business? We’d love to hear from you, so drop us a line! Feel free to comment here or email us at info [at] antvibes [dot com].
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