On Time

You are invited to the  …. Holiday party …

Wednesday, December xx, 7-9 pm

In Romanian culture, mentioning the end time of a party on an invitation is appalling. I mean, if you’re not ready to go all night long, don’t even bother. Mentioning the end time is like kicking people out of your house. Inconceivable. Rude.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people’s relationship to time, cultural differences, and the impact they have on relationship building.

I recently reconnected with an Indian friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We met for dinner. It lasted 6 hours. We parted ways when we were too tired to keep our eyes open and the restaurant, then the coffee shop, closed, and we had to leave.

I met a Romanian friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years for dinner the following evening. We hung out for another 6 hours or so. Lots of catching up to do. Lots of on-the-spot decisions: walk in the park? dinner? walk me to my hotel? glass of wine in hotel lobby?

Whenever I meet American friends for dinner, after about 90 minutes they get fidgety, don’t pick up on conversation topics, glance at their watches and then out around the room, their eyes projecting their urge to get going.

When we met for lunch or coffee, the same nonverbal behaviors occur like clockwork, after about 50 minutes.

It seems to me Americans have an internal clock that times their lunch, coffee, and dinner interactions, and when a situation occurs that might mess with that clock, they spell the time limits on the invitation. It’s part of this culture, nothing to blame on anyone. But it doesn’t work for me.

I guess I don’t know how to build relationships under these severe time limits. When I relate to someone, when we have fun talking, I don’t see the reason to stop, I don’t have the same internal timer. I can’t help but be slightly hurt by others’ internal timers, though I know they don’t mean to offend me.

When my husband and I first met, we spent the entire night talking.

It takes time and talk to build relationships.

So how do you build relationships?

How do you build relationships under strict time limits?

Does your relationship with time affect your relationships with people?

And what happens when you interact with other cultures, either in interpersonal or public relations settings?

Cause honestly, my feeling is, if this culture’s relationship with time were a bit more relaxed, I’d have more friends.

The Question of the OTHER

This past week has reminded me of this book by Tzvetan Todorov I read back in college (in Romania). It’s an analysis of how people and cultures relate to OTHER-ness. If I remember correctly, when faced with an OTHER who is deeply and radically different, people feel fear. They feel threatened. They feel uncertain. And then they choose one of the following behavioral options:

Todorov

a) they feel superior to the OTHER, they attempt to conquer or make the OTHER their subject or subaltern. That’s how the European conquerors related to the people Native to the (now) American continent. That’s how the Nazis related to Jews.
b) they appreciate the culture of the OTHER more than their own, and they “go native.” They “convert” to the OTHER’s culture and give up their own. Todorov offers the example of one European officer who preferred the Native American way of life.

c) they respect the OTHER as a different and equal partner, and build an ethical and respectful dialogue and relationship. They coexist.

Is option a) how many people in the U.S. relate to Obama, because he is in many ways the OTHER (different from them, and from their idea of a president)? Does this explain the death threats and scary behaviors, the stuffed monkey at political rallies, the black-face parties?

The question of the OTHER also has direct applications to public relations. Many times, the organization or the CEO feel they know better, they’re smarter that the public. “If they knew what I know, they’d agree with me.” The examples when the organization bows to the public and takes their lead are very rare. Do you have  any? And finally option c), is what PR should be, as defined by Grunig’s excellence model, the relationship management approach to public relations, and, in social media circles “the new PR,” or “PR 2.0.”

“Utter bullocks”

I’m amused by this expression used in a comment on a RWW post titled: Study: 93% of Americans Want Companies to Have Presence on Social Media Sites.

I also believe it’s the perfect response to the report of this study, as presented in the RWW post. I don’t know, the study might be brilliant. But that’s the problem, they don’t provide enough information so I can decide if it’s brilliant or not.

Two issues here:

1) understand the data before you make decisions based on it

2) even if the data is good & valid, don’t jump in and make decisions based only on statistics & demographics

1) understand the data before you make decisions based on it

Some questions to ask about these particular results:

  • who are the 93% of Americans? There aren’t that many Americans online in the first place!!! (P.S.: cultural sensitivity issue: “America” includes Canda, and South American countries. Do you mean U.S. residents?)
  • they probably mean 93% of survey respondents, I guess (guessing = bad sign in research)
  • who are the survey respondents? Provide information about the sample:

These are just a few things I’d like to know before I’d spend a dime on a “social media presence”. And, as RWW writer Frederic L. points out, which social media sites? Twitter and Facebook are so different they might as well be two foreign countries!

2) even if the data is good & valid, don’t jump in and make decisions based only on statistics & demographics

My social media mantra is: It’s not about technology, it’s about culture.

Culture (social norms, etiquette, communication practices) emerges quickly around a social medium, and is specific not only to that medium, but also to sub-groups of users. So you can assume there are hundreds if not thousands sub-cultures on Facebook alone (about 100 million users worldwide).

An example: Befriending someone you haven’t met before is perfectly acceptable on Twitter, but creepy on Facebook.

So think about social media as a continent with many different countries and cultures. If you were to go to Romania (my native country), would you start doing PR & marketing armed with just some demographics produced by a poorly designed research study? I certainly hope not! I hope you’d take some time (a couple of years, say) to begin to get a grasp of Romanian culture before you dive in.

Same goes with social media. Start with your surveys, and make sure you understand what a good survey is. But do some ethnographic research, too (focus groups will do) before you spend that dime on your “social media presence.”

P.S.

Since I’m ranting, let me point out that the phrase “social media presence” is also … (see post’s title). It’s not about presence, it’s about engagement & conversation.

YouTube culture

Yes, it’s an hour long. One of the best hours you might spend. Watch this video.

Why?

  • Because you’re immersed in social media or because you’d like to understand it better.
  • Because this video will help you take a deeper look at YouTube culture, and by extension, social media culture, contemporary culture.
  • Because you don’t usually take the time to scratch below the surface, beyond blogger relations, ROI, product promotion. But you’d like to.
  • Because this is your world, our world, and it’s our duty to understand it.

This is the video of a presentation Kansas State anthropology professor Dr. Michael Wesch gave at the Library of Congress.

No, it’s not a boring PowerPoint. No, it’s not boring and academic. It’s funny, insightful, human, and provocative. Who knows, it might even help with that ROI.

P.S. Yes, the lyrics of the “Numa” video are in Romanian.