One of the reasons why it is a challenge to measure the ROI of social media is because of the soft skills involved in social media. Social media is based on people and good social media players have great people skills.
Most businesses are not used to defining or measuring people skills. Many business professionals seem to avoid digging further to understand “soft skills”.
In fact, I know that I have been told to avoid using the word “soft skills” because it is not “right”. It is almost politically incorrect.
Of course, this reminds me of the change in vocabulary that is considered polite to call people of color.
I still use the words “soft skills” because it is easy to picture why traditional ROI measurements do not work.
As businesses learn how to identify the value in social media they will also have to learn to evaluate the “softer” elements of people skills and people related value.
Similar People Skills
To be truthful, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt my new social media skills to bring in international business. And recently I realized why. As a business owner I did not focus on the ROI. Instead I used the skills I had as a cross-cultural marketer. I know how to use these people skills in a business environment:
- Without losing the business perspective
- And without letting my own personal baggage interfere
This should not be a surprise. Social media marketing is a people focused marketing… just like cross-cultural marketing.
I know that many people say that all marketing is about people. But in my experience companies underestimate just how much different cultures influence business as a whole. This realization often hits companies just as they are at the point of entering a new market. More than one company goes back to the drawing board to adjust their international marketing strategy.
This is because it is not just “marketing”. The people skills play an important role too and people need time to adjust.
You cannot keep cross-cultural marketing confined to a marketing department. Everyone inside an international company needs some level of cross-cultural skills for international development.
Marketing to different cultures effects all aspects of business. Social media does too. It is a totally different mindset for many businesses.
Where Cross-Cultural And Social Media Skills Meet
Here are the cross-cultural skills that helped me build my social media skills.
1 – Accept The Unknown
Cultural awareness means accepting that:
- You do not know everything
- We may have wrong assumptions and not know it
- Even if things do not make sense right now, there is a good reason behind them
I had many hangups about social media: I did not have time for it, I do not like hitting buttons blindly and why would I ever be interested in what someone has for breakfast.
But businesses were talking about it and I had to listen. The first step was to accept to jump in without knowing where I was going.
2 – Make No Pre-Judgements
Prejudice or pre-judgements are a huge barrier to get to know and understand different cultures. It is very easy to fall into this trap. But if we take the time to dig deep and understand other people, there is always a good explanation for why people do things differently. We should not make any decisions until we have a full understanding.
Yes, I know the word “prejudice” is strong. No one likes to be labeled as “prejudiced”. But sit back and think about it a minute. What exactly is prejudice? Pre-judgement is in there someplace… and where does it start? We can all have our opinions on where it starts. When you work in international environments it is easy to see that pre-judgements and prejudice are linked, and it makes you wonder what goes on underneath, where you cannot see the link.
Curiosity is the tool that helps you dig deep enough to gain the cultural insights you need to get a clear picture. A part of curiosity is finding the right questions to ask. This is the same for social media. I hear many people who say they want to get into social media, but they are stuck with the wrong questions.
Even after I jumped in I had a series of pre-judgements against social media. It took me about two months to drop them.
I still have my personal preferences, but these are not blind pre-judgements that are barriers to communication.
3 – Develop Empathy
We need to put ourselves in another person’s shoes before we can understand him. This is a fundamental people skill. It is always present in cross-cultural communication.
The thing is:
- Everyone thinks they are good people and have empathetic qualities, but we don’t.
- You do not just get empathy, you have to continually work at it.
Good social media players have strong empathy skills. Positive-minded people go far on social media.
4 – Question All Assumptions
Cultural differences make it easy to get things wrong. We make assumptions based on our own reality. This is natural. The trouble is that other people have other realities. Situations where two “rights” do not make a “wrong” often come up. In other words, people are just not connecting on the right level for real dialog.
This habit helped me enormously in the beginning. And this is the one that helped me identify how to use social media for my business.
It is basically the process of learning how to adapt to different environments. This is vital in environments of change.
5 – Learn To Live Without All The Answers
Cultural competency in another culture is a long process. When you start learning about a different culture you go through various stages of discovery.
- In the beginning, you cannot help it, you will compare the different culture with what you find as normal.
- As you move along the path of understanding this foreign culture, you discover the reasons behind the differences, and learn to see things through different lenses or perspectives.
In fact, you will probably realize at some stage that you will never fully be able to understand this different culture no matter how long or how hard you try. This is simply because of the space your own cultural background.
What does this mean? It means that you learn to:
- Live with not having all the answers
- Adapt when you learn more
- Be comfortable with changing your attitudes, thoughts, direction… change in general
Social media changes. There is nothing you can do about it. No one knows for certain what social networking will be like in the future.
Businesses have to learn to:
- Exist without knowing the future
- Create solid communication strategies that are not based on tactics or channels
- Be willing to change or adapt these communication strategies
- Adapt all investment for change
6 – Embrace Diversity
You simply cannot survive in international business if you do not embrace diversity. Cultural differences pop up to challenge you all the time. You cannot let these cultural differences create barriers. You can only thrive in an international environment when you accept these differences.
Some people assume that “embracing diversity” means accepting other people’s values. This is not what “embracing diversity” means. See the next point for more details
In social media you get to know people up close. And we are all different. If you are not in the right mindset of embracing different people, these differences can:
- Irritate you on a personal level
- Create barriers to connect with people
- Impact your business
7 – Understand Yourself First
The first 6 points above are outward-looking people skills. They are important, but there is a hitch:
- You can only use these people skills successfully if you have a deep understanding of yourself.
You need to look inward and learn more about yourself before you can develop strong cross-cultural and international skills.
The most successful international professionals are the ones with the clearest understanding of their own values, cultural baggage and general self awareness. You need this self knowledge to not fear the differences or let any personal issues get in the way of connecting to people with different cultures.
This is something I have always been strong at and do not even think about.
Throughout my 25 years in international sales & marketing, I often noticed how my stronger self knowledge was a key factor in successful international business negotiations. You see, when you know exactly where your personal limits are, the personal boundaries you have and the value you put on your personal baggage, then it is very easy to communicate strategically with others.
It is through a lack of self knowledge where I see many business people fail in using social media:
- Personal baggage/hangups/agendas/issues get caught up with the business objectives
- Strong, strategic communication on social media becomes jeopardized
Social media brings you into contact with people on a more personal level than in an office or a store. It is easy to respond as a person, on a personal level… and in many ways you need to, to make the connection on social media.
But problems crop up when you bring in your personal baggage or do not know where your personal boundaries are. The result is fear, paralysis and inappropriate attitudes.
The confusing thing is that we all have different personal baggage and different personal boundaries. I know mine fairly well, but you cannot adopt the ones that work for me. They are different to the personal baggage and personal boundaries of other people.
You need to operate on social media within clear personal boundaries.
This inward-looking personal aspect also has an impact on a business level. Businesses need to provide clear guidelines that employees can understand and adopt on social media.
Now, imagine the specific skill sets needed by businesses to connect with their particular market… and it is easy to see why businesses need to spend time to develop the right social media strategy to work for their business.
- You need to know yourself well
- And you also need to know your company’s profile in a social media environment.
Businesses that are successful with social media have both the right people and the right business approach and both are adapted to their markets.
This represents a good volume of clear self knowledge and business intelligence. I do not think it is easy to measure this self knowledge for ROI purposes. Many people will label this as “talent”, some will call it “luck”. However you label it, when you get this right you will have a killer social media strategy.
Maintain The Balance
This scenario is similar to what you find with successful international businesses. They have people learn how to use both strong cross-cultural skills at the same time as strong business skills. And they adapt this to different markets.
Flexibility and adaptability are key to finding the right balance.
I often hear marketing managers ask how they can use social media for business. I hear them say that the popular success stories are not suitable for their business… ”Their business is different”.
The trouble is that they are looking at the wrong end. You need strong people skills, or “soft skills”, to be able to find the right social media strategy for a business. When the questions you are asking are not getting the right answers, your perspective is wrong. This is fundamental in cross-cultural communication. And it is also true in social media. That is why these 7 steps might be able to help you develop strong social media skills.
What Do You Think?
Please share your thoughts below.
- How do you think cross-cultural skills are similar to social media skills for businesses?
- When do you think cross-cultural skills can help improve social media strategies for business?
- What other similarities are there between cross-cultural skills and social media skills?
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: cross cultural social media
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