As Japanese companies gear up for another round of overseas acquisitions, an additional integration need for 21st century M&A is going to become apparent – alongside the usual headaches of trying to integrate HR systems or IT or procurement across newly acquired companies – the integration of corporate social media activities across the globe.
Social media is deceptive in that residents of the Anglosphere usually mean Facebook or Twitter or Linkedin when they talk about social media, and assume that these social media networks are inherently global, as they are globally accessible. Yet my observation of social media usage in Japanese multinationals leads me to believe that most people’s social networking, corporate or private, is still actually very local.
This shouldn’t be surprising really, as the point about social media is that we use it to connect to people like ourselves. And for most of us, that means linking to people from the same culture as ourselves.
Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook are American companies of course, and their success must surely be in part due to starting in such a large English speaking market, and then being able to access the rest of the Anglosphere from that base, without having to adapt too much.
I am not sure whether American companies are more naturally accepting of social media because of American cultural preferences, or feel more comfortable because the big social media networks are American in origin.
Recent research from Clearswift, a UK based communications security company, shows that US headquartered multinationals are the most proactive in allowing their employees to use social media, but American employees also show the greatest blur between their work and private lives – leading to pressure from employees to access social media from work and also to bring their own personal devices such as smartphones, into work.
Japanese companies, by contrast, showed the least blurring between work and private life amongst employees, so there is less pressure from employees to access social media from work and employers are more reluctant to allow employees to bring their own devices into work. Japanese employers also showed the most concern about data security and least trust in their employees to use social media responsibly. German and Australian employers are more restrictive towards social media use at work than Japanese employers, however.
I believe that Japanese multinationals actually have a great opportunity to develop an alternative global model for corporate social media use. Instead of the giant hub with multiple spokes that US multinationals tend to adopt, not just for social media but for almost any other supposedly global system imposed on their overseas subsidiaries, Japanese companies should think about encouraging the development of multiple hubs of employees using social media.
Each hub would be closely attuned to local customers and local social media networks, facilitated by multilingual employees who are capable of translating messages from Japan headquarters or elsewhere in the network and transmitting them in the way that is most appropriate to the local market.
This article by Pernille Rudlin originally appeared in the 19th September 2011 edition of the Nikkei Weekly
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