Some years ago on Facebook, I made an intriguing observation on why we post.
On my feed, I saw a variety of different types of posts. Ignoring the sponsored posts and paid advertisements, I looked at what posts seemed to have more discussion and engagement with my family, friends and peers.
I noticed that posts from fellow Australians involved photos (but never videos) with their friends and families that involved outdoor activity or travel. Meanwhile, my cousins and friends in European countries such as Greece and Italy mainly posted selfies, beautifully composed photographs (and again, never videos) displaying their fashions, hair, nails and makeup. Alternatively, they posed with a group of friends at bars and tavernas with very few, if any, photographs of their home town, their house, their families or even, discussions or comments about anything topical such as news or politics.
I sent a private message to my cousin in Greece and asked naively, “Why do you Greeks always pose selfies or photos at bars with friends?”
Her answer was, “Why do you Australian women always post photos running or doing some sport? Are all you women crazy for sport?”
This response hit me between the eyes.
For the first time, I had my own culture reflected at me and to others, it seemed that Australians were always out being active – or working – and not sitting back and enjoying life like my Mediterranean friends.
Our life seemed action packed but exhausting to others who had different values in their lives.
Last month, I was invited by Donald Taylor (@DonaldHTaylor) to present at LearnTech Asia 2017 in Singapore and this online conversation came back to me. I realised that across my global network, I have gaps of people who come from different cultures outside of the western countries such as UK, NZ, USA and Canada. I was missing an entirely big piece of the puzzle when it came to understanding how non-western countries used social media and participated in social networks.
I needed to understand this better if I was to support my corporate clients many of whom had global workforces with multiple languages spoken. After all, how was this impacting cross-country collaboration and how were people from across countries learning from each other and with each other?
Or, were countries siloed themselves within the organisation?
Delving further I considered how people collaborate at work who come from different cultures. I also considered if this impacted the way they used enterprise social networks when it came to showing and sharing their work openly and publicly (working out loud) across the company. For example, would they be as open to knowledge sharing, learning from failure or transparent work processes in a culture or society that may frown upon these?
I also recalled the work I used to do in Learning and Development teams years ago when we received requests for learning solutions from our partners in India, Indonesia or Pacific Islands. Rather than exploring their needs fully to understand their culture and work environment to provide a custom solution, invariably we always created facilitator-led training because our assumption was that it was “their preferred way to learn”.
With this in mind, it didn’t seem right to stand up on a stage telling people my limited and one-sided western view of the world when they had a completely different perspective or cultural norms to follow that I wasn’t aware.
The Why We Post Online Course
So it was timely that the FutureLearn MOOC: Why We Post: An Anthropological Study of Social Media was promoted across social networks. I enrolled, undertook the program and completed it recently. Here is an introductory video of what the MOOC was about.
It was a fantastic 5-week course which was an eye opener.
It broadened my perspective in understanding that there ARE cultural differences to consider when it comes to learning how and why people participate and contribute in social networks.
As I read the articles and watched the videos of the anthropologists based in countries around the world such as Italy, China, United Kingdom and India, I realised that there was a massive gap in my own understanding of culture (not just “organisational culture”) when it came to workplace collaboration and social learning.
For example, in China, the market uses their own social networks such as QQ and WeChat to the point that many people are on these networks run their entire lives from them – even their financial transactions in business. Asians are more open to using social networks to financially transact with their families, friends and businesses whereas in Italy and other European countries there is still a level of scepticism for this preferring to post photos that show off themselves or good times with friends. Meanwhile, in India, people are likely to post more memes and quotes that express their sentiments, rather than explicitly stating or writing their points of views that may impact how they are perceived by their friends, families and networks in their local community.
Another interesting point is social media means an opportunity to have a voice and brings equality to people. However, in some cultures, it is also used in the opposite manner, for example, people only following and friending people from within the same caste system such it is in India.
The different and varied examples across the countries were intriguing because I never questioned how I posted or presented myself or my work openly and publicly to others whether it was on public social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter or enterprise social networks such as Yammer. Now, I understand that posting may be difficult for some cultures and that I can approach my work now from the position of dialogue to come up with alternatives that are respectful of their needs – and not impose my view.
What this course showed me is that there is no right or wrong and to not make assumptions when it comes to people participating and contributing to online networks.
Just because you use social networks one way – your way – doesn’t mean that everyone else will.
What do you think? I’m interested in learning more about any research you have come across about the cultural considerations when implementing and enabling collaboration across cultures through enterprise social networks and platforms.
If you would like to read more about the research of the Digital Anthropology Team in UCL, refer to their Global Social Media Impact Study research.