Saturday 01 October 2016

What This Canadian Learned in London

This post was originally published on the Edelman Canada blog.

I recently transferred home to Toronto from a two-year stint in Edelman Digital in London, UK. Along with an incredible scrapbook, a few catch phrases and a more eclectic iTunes collection, I’ve also gained the invaluable experience of working with colleagues around the world.

At my busiest, I was an online community manager with one of the world’s leading consumer mobile brands. My team oversaw 10 countries in the EMEA region, and I quickly learned how committed Edelman was to keeping a global lens. I worked with a Canadian in our Dubai office, an American in Moscow, an Aussie in London, and the list goes on. Despite visiting nine European countries in my short time away, my colleagues taught me more about the world than my travels.

My biggest learning was there is no such thing as one “global” perspective. There are fundamental differences between North Americans and Brits that I had only begun to understand. (From an American angle, Allyson Stewart-Allen, who has been in London for years, had some really good insights into the cultural differences between the UK and the US). I overheard a few times in London British people describing certain approaches as American; whether it was a Christmas card with a posed photo, a YouTube video with an American voiceover, or the common “ize” spelling rather than “ise”. There are linguistic and cultural subtleties that bar any one communications approach from applying to the world at large. Working with people on-the-ground in other countries means bridging these cultural gaps. When building communications and social media strategies across Europe, below are a selection of things I learned to consider:

  • Mobile usage – I found it mind baffling to learn that in India, there are more cell phones than toilets. Similarly, I was also surprised by the mass adoption of texting in the UK, where confirming appointments with doctors, letting agents and banks was as simple as SMS. Further, it was no shock to call a continental European country on a mobile.
  • Digital adoption rates – Not every country has widespread Internet penetration, nor are they adopting social media at the same pace. Russia is the largest Internet growth market in Europe, for example, and infrastructure is evolving. They may be trialling 4G networks, but they’re still a cash-based society, which has implications for how things are marketed both online and off.
  • Social platforms – Facebook is tops for social networking in both Canada and England, but despite its stronghold in both these markets, some countries prefer more local networks. Russia’s number one is vkontakte, Brazil’s is Orkut, and local networks are still hugely popular with Tuenti in Spain and Hyves in the Netherlands, for example. Even country usage on each platform is different. A colleague let me know that Facebook fans in Brazil are more receptive to multiple brand status updates a day, for example, while our French colleagues shared that Twitter users there are often journalists and “techies.” This means when considering outreach, there should be no assumptions.
  • Time zones – Time zones and time of day/week/year are top of mind when planning anything from conference calls to seasonal content. Doing an international announcement on a Friday won’t work in the Middle East, when the country begins its weekend. Similarly, seasonal content such as Christmas greetings aren’t alike everywhere – as Russia celebrates January 7th.
  • Cultural norms in one country can be a no no in another – Gestures are also highly regional – for example, when a client from Saudi Arabia was working in our office, we were advised not to shake her hand, as touching a woman is considered in poor taste. I also had many an awkward moment trying to gauge the European air kiss. (Once? Twice? It’s all so complicated!)
  • Legal systems – Just as sweepstakes are more complicated in Quebec than the rest of Canada because of Régie, there are parts of Europe that have similar regulations. In Spain, for example, contest hosts must pay a fee to a regulatory authority based on prize values.

So what does this all mean? Chances are that if you’re working on a campaign or project and asking questions, someone has gone before you to find solutions to similar ones. When you’re connected to 63 offices around the world, clients and employees alike have the resources available to ask and answer questions, finding tried and tested solutions to build upon. In my time as an expat, this network made communications easier and helped erode cultural and geographic barriers. Personally, the world has become a smaller place, and that’s an invaluable thing.

Image credit: Anirudh Koul

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