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Does Culture play a role in Social Media adoption in India Internal Communications?

We are in the midst of unprecedented opportunities in social media and India is just about getting started. As communicators and professionals putting plans and initiatives in place for engaging employees the options are more than one could ask for. But then why is social media not making enough inroads when it comes to internal communications usage?
Recently as my team got thinking on shaping the social media platform and infrastructure I stepped in to set context on the ‘cultural’ nuances that makes India unique.

Bubbles

I argued that the challenges in India are different and to ensure initiatives were a success we had to consider subtle yet notable differences in our social media acceptance levels.

Unlike most other geographies I believe leaders and people are social media ‘shy’. Which in effect means to get employee to participate, contribute, discuss and engage on say blogs, photo/video sharing tools, wikis and discussion forums amongst others we need to help them overcome their ‘shyness’. While they are fine with having an account on Facebook or hosting YouTube videos it is a different ball-game actively participating on employee related social media tools.
The advantages of social media in internal communication need to be first understood by communicators and leaders alike. From my experience I have seen reluctance and ‘fear’ among leaders to experiment and learn how these tools work. For example, very few communicators I know (and I encourage students in colleges to attempt it as well) know how to start a blog! Understanding the impact and measuring ROI is a far cry.
I would say I am blessed to have leaders in my current organization show interest in the various tools available despite the ‘generation gap’. Just recently a senior leader whom I interact with got on to Yammer and Twitter to ‘play around’ and check how the tool functions. A great leap indeed! Having all the knowledge of social media comes to naught if you have leadership and an internal ‘culture’ that doesn’t believe it in.

On the ‘generation gap’ issue – I have found ‘youngsters’ taking a fancy in creating, editing, hosting, discussing content online. At a recently concluded ‘internal’ Talent Hunt we were overwhelmed by the response received where videos were created and hosted that allowed all employees to vote online. Such was the impact of the event that the Talent Hunt winner is now actively sought for conducting internal programs as the ‘face’ of the company!
The other factor that has a big part to play is language. English is not our ‘first’ or preferred language and as an internal communicator a large percentage of my time goes in getting leaders and employees to structure communication, write accurately and appreciate the level of communication quality that we endorse as a company. People are conscious of what they put up there as content fearing embarrassment.
To overcome these concerns my recommendation is to conduct hands-on ‘workshops’ and face to face learning sessions on the ground in India to get people to appreciate, understand the benefits and use social media tools effectively.
At my former employer I conducted a social media primer for my team and what struck me was the ‘illiteracy’ on recent trends and tools that they were involved in some form everyday.
Culture plays a role and it varies by location in India. People are usually skeptical about asking questions in public (possibly ‘fear’ of standing out in the crowd, getting noted for ‘unpopular’ questions) and would prefer raising them in smaller groups. We recently moved to ‘close-knit’ Town Halls to overcome this issue.
Again, my personal perspective is that there is a North-South difference as well. People in North /West India are more direct and assertive as compared to people in the South?
Traditionally South India (places like Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad – the three IT hubs) are known to be ‘milder’ in their behavior as compared to counterparts in North India. Hierarchy is respected and valued in India. Therefore I think people will hesitate to come forward and blog/post content unless their ‘leads’ think it is fine to do so.

‘Show me that it works’ is another cultural pointer. We like to see the ‘proof of the pudding’ before plunging headlong. If at the project or team level leaders demonstrate that social media tools such as wikis work for everyone it is easier to get others to follow as well.

There is also the potential of social media tools getting ‘misused’ since people are unaware of the needs and consequences. In recent times the Shashi TharoorLalit Modi rift (in the Indian Premier League scandal) is a case in point of Twitter getting used as a medium to ‘slang’ match.
Can we get excited about Social media penetration in India? Not if you read the January 2010 Forrester report – Social Technographics® In India.
Unless your organization is in the IT, interactive, social media, FMCG business domains you may not see too much exposure to this media among employees. I have hardly come across people in India who use RSS feeds to get their information. Have you?
Furthermore to succeed in selling social media to our leaders and employees we need evangelists to take the message out there. For example, I have identified a set of India based bloggers for the Marketing team who will leverage them to help build traction via Facebook and other forums.
As I sum up I wanted to share some interesting nuggets of information from the Forrester report.

• In India, traditional media reigns supreme (print media, broadcast radio, and TV), even with India’s most active social media users.
• Digital activity is skewed toward young men with high educations and incomes. But while a minority of Indians uses the Internet at present, those who do tend to be social media users.
• Mobile phone owners have Internet access but use it rarely. Just 4% of the mobile phone owners in Forrester’s research base — affluent adults from metropolitan India — use their phones to access the Internet.
• Among Indian social media users, the single most common activity is consuming content.
• 55% of them are Spectators, meaning they read blog posts, watch video, or listen to podcasts.
• Of these, watching video is the single most popular activity among social media users in metro India — which fits with the popular view that India is a nation that loves movies.

What do you think? Share your perspectives here.

5 thoughts on “Does Culture play a role in Social Media adoption in India Internal Communications?

  1. Two things:

    1) Lots of people are lurkers and subscribers and not vocal participants anywhere. Indeed, in the west, there’s a formula: 1% of members supply majority of content, 9% supply the rest, and 90% just lurk.

    HOWEVER, those 90% lurkers are not dead contacts–they may well talk off-line about what they see (particularly in an internal communication context). And there are emerging tools and systems out there that reduce the work and exposure required to participate (voting and polling integrated into social communication software, for instance).

    2) Application of social network thinking is not contingent on adoption of social network software. Indeed, you can identify, connect and mobilize your own internal social networks using nothing but a telephone and an excel spreadsheet.

    Happy to discuss–here or off-line.

    Mike Klein

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