Cross-Cultural Blunder On Latest Facebook Change

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This morning I woke up to some unexpected news. Facebook made a change in how you can set up your business page.  You used to be able to set up your Business Page so everyone who was not a fan or had not hit the “Like” button would land on a specific tab or “landing page” whenever they visited your page.  Businesses used this to:

Well this morning it appears Facebook took away this landing page capability. Now, this literally just happened and I still need to read something official from Facebook, so if you are concerned by this news, please read up about it on Mari Smith’s blog or the Social Media Examiner Facebook Page. I’m sure they’ll keep you informed.

At the time of writing this post, there is a question about just what this new change means and what will happen to the Facebook Business Pages currently using “welcome” tabs and other landing pages.  There is speculation this may be happening in phases and still no official news from Facebook.

But I want to share some cross-cultural insights on the impact of what happened in these first few hours because there are a few things worth noting and one of them is about how timing and communication is perceived by different cultures.

Latest Facebook Change

First, the short story…

Following the thread of how this news broke on the Social Media Examiner Facebook page, it appears a group of Facebook developers found they could no longer set up accounts to get new visitors to land on the customized tabs they had just created for their clients. And in this developers forum Facebook informed them that Facebook had changed their rules and Facebook users would not be able to do this unless:

  • You are a Facebook authenticated business which means you have over 10,000 fans
  • You asked your “Facebook representative” to do this for you, and this means you are an advertising client of Facebook where minimum monthly purchases are in the 5 figure range.

Businesses Losses

Again, I have to say it’s very early on and things may not be as they first appear. But if this is true, this change is particularly troublesome for businesses who are currently running a Facebook ad campaign. Their links are no longer going to their landing page as planned. Apparently at least some of them were not informed of the change the moment it happened.

This does not send a very good image of what it’s like to work with Facebook.  In fact, it could put a big dent in Facebook’s credibility from a business perspective. These new changes make it clear Facebook wants big business bucks, but this incident shows they don’t know how to play the big business game.

Cross-Cultural Losses

Unfortunately things get even worse when you consider this from a cross-cultural perspective.

Credibility. Different cultures use different frameworks to process credibility. It’ll be interesting to follow the different reactions from businesses in different countries.  It’s not going to be easy for Facebook to manage the loss of credibility across such a diverse set of followers.

Although businesses are adopting social media at a greater rate this year in North America, the climate is very different in other countries where businesses are still wondering what social media can do for them.  And I know many of the businesses around me here in France will have a good little chuckle and put the whole social media question aside to get on with “real” business.

Respect. The worst insight of this whole incident is the lack of respect Facebook shows towards their raving fans. They’ve put mud on the face of two of their own fan groups:

  • The Facebook developers who sold Facebook services to their clients
  • The businesses with ad campaigns linking to landing pages which are no longer working

Respect was lost because Facebook did not inform these two groups of fans in an appropriate manner at the appropriate time.

In some cultures this is very bad and should not be ignored by Facebook. People just don’t want to be associated with businesses who treat their own close “fans” with such disrespect. This is a “deal breaker” in many cultures.

Trust.  With the loss of credibility and the lack of respect there is a loss of trust. Trust is always very precarious in cross-cultural relationships. It’s very easy to lose trust between cultures, and much more difficult to build it up.

So businesses need to make an effort to lose as little trust as they possibly can. Clear upfront communication is one way to do this and it’s absence leads to mistrust.

The Impact Of Time On Cross-Cultural Damages

It’s interesting to look at how time and timing impact your communication from a cross-cultural communication perspective.  You see there are two things to look at:

  • No matter what Facebook does from hereon in, the fact that this happened without informing people at the time it happened will mean a loss of credibility, respect and trust for many different cultures. And in cross-cultural relationships these take much more effort to build back up.
  • No matter what the real situation is, Facebook needs to respond quickly because different cultures have different appreciations of time and of what has just happened.  There is only a narrow window to do this and get it right for a wide international audience at minimal cost.  Many cross-cultural mishaps become outright blunders simply because there is a lack of response within an appropriate time frame.

Immediate Reparation Of The Damage

Please remember, I’m responding to this news only a few hours after it broke and things may not be exactly as they seem.  But if all of this is indeed true, it’s not going to be easy for Facebook to find the best response for their wide international audience. Both the response itself and the timing of the response is critical.  Here’s what I suggest their response has to be:

  • Elegant enough to repair some of the damage. Some cultures will respond well to a sincere apology which shows empathy towards them.
  • Thorough enough to build up a bit of the trust  lost within the business community. This will take time and the next steps Facebook takes will be scrutinized.
  • Very clear information to get this across well to a multicultural audience. And because many people believe their communication to be clear when it isn’t, this should proofed by someone with the right international communication skills.
  • Within at least the first few hours of their head office opening today Facebook should at least give an acknowledgement that they will respond more fully within a maximum of a couple of days. It’s bad publicity when you put your clients in a situation where they lose business because of your actions. This is probably what happened to some of the people in the 2 “raving fan” categories above, and all businesses will be watching to see how Facebook responds.

Getting Beyond This Unfortunate Communication Incident

Because I’m writing this very early after the first incident, it’s important to note things may not be as they seem.  A close look at this situation, in this early phase, makes it’s easy to understand why you need to quickly respond with clear communication.

If Facebook is indeed changing the way how you can set up your landing page,  they will need to work on building trust.   Of course, businesses can still use URL redirects to drive people outside of Facebook towards specific Facebook tabs or landing pages because all tabs have a unique URL.

But Facebook should also try to show businesses a solution, or the path they see for businesses to use Facebook, and not just the big businesses who can afford Facebook advertising. Facebook needs to acquire a bit more of the social media mindset and come down to meet all of their business users. It’s important to have trust built at this level in an international environment.

Otherwise they will lose a part of the “raving” element of their “raving fans” because part of their international audience will not be able to connect with them in a strong way. This leaves a door open to competition. It’s hard to evaluate the cultural impact of “raving fans” from other countries because many cultures don’t really fit into this description. The image changes from one culture to another.

And this is probably where you can bring in parallels from traditional international marketing with the 5 different steps to becoming an international business. The idea being you need to learn how to create relationships with one country first, then a few different ones, and it’s only by acquiring these international skills that you can become a “global” business, like Nike for example.

With this is mind and if all of this is true, it looks like Facebook just showed it’s limitations. Despite the massive presence worldwide, it hasn’t yet learned the skills it needs to communicate with a global audience.

That’s looking at Facebook, but it doesn’t take into account the users. And Facebook’s future will depend on how their users will want to use their platform.

On a side note, I’d like to bring up one other thing.  Unfortunately working internationally you see a lot of people trying to cheat systems to make money. And my second thought to the Facebook change was this:

  • The minimum amount of fans businesses need to be authenticated is 10,000 = too many for most businesses to realistically attain.
  • The minimum amount businesses can spend to advertise on Facebook is 5 figures = big money most businesses cannot afford to spend on Facebook.

This probably means an onslaught of people figuring out ways to sell businesses large quantities of “fans”.  And this will probably mean people on Facebook will also have to deal with an increase in spam related issues. Will it all be worth it? Will this change the Facebook environment enough to make people leave?  Will this leave a big enough opportunity for another social media platform?

Now It’s Your Turn

  • What other cross-cultural perspectives do you see in this incident?
  • Do you think this incident will impact how businesses invest in Facebook?
  • Does this incident make you want to invest more in your own blog or website?

Please leave your comments below.

Need Help?

If ever you need help in figuring out how to respond to a communication incident across a broad international audience, contact me and I’ll give you a quote.  With over 25 years in developing international markets, I’ve played a pivotal role in diffusing many a business crisis in cross-cultural environments.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Cindy King
My name is Cindy King and I help businesses with cross-cultural marketing, international sales and strategic international social media networking.

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