Japan and India: Personal Branding Views from Two Cultures – Nov. #1

November Post #1: Do’s and Don’ts of Facebook for Professional Use

For our first topic in November Dr. Amit and I chose to review some cultural implications and Do’s and Don’ts of using Facebook in our respectives cultures.  While Facebook has around 150 million users in the United States, in other countries it’s growth is limited by social, cultural, and political norms.  India currently has around 34 million while Japan trails far behind at around 5 million.

View from Japan:  Peter Sterlacci

While Facebook was launched in Japan in 2008, it was not until the release of the movie “The Social Network” in early 2011 that the Japanese were more willing to try it out. Since then Japan has more than tripled its Facebook user base to around 5 million users, and the rate of growth continues to grow. The launch of a Japanese language “how to” site this past summer called Facebook Navi has also helped to persuade more Japanese to sign up. Yet, even with a potential of about 50 million active online users in the country, penetration in the online population is still low at around 5%. Why are Japanese more cautious about jumping on the Facebook bandwagon? 

Cultural Challenges for Facebook in Japan

Many people attribute this reluctance to the Japanese having a much greater cultural value of anonymity and thus not willing to adhere to Facebook’s real name policy.

Offline social networks in Japan are generally based on complicated levels of duty, obligation, and formality. As Japanese tend to embrace escapism, when they go online they want to escape these complex offline networks rather than replicate them. Facebook is based on the core idea of replicating your real life social network online which is fundamentally counter to typical Japanese internet behavior. This is further complicated in the following ways:

  1. Japanese value harmony and would find it difficult to reject a “friend” request or worse yet reject a request from a superior.
  2. Japanese are more concerned about “bothering others” and as such there is greater worry that what they post on their walls might be irrelevant to members of their network.
  3. Japan is a high-context culture where language, social status, environment, body language, and non-verbals play a huge role in communication. Given this, face to face communication is often valued more.
  4. Japan is a high power distance culture which makes it challenging to share the same content that might be seen by senior coworkers, younger friends, potential managers, and family members. The levels of formality in the Japanese language based on who you are communicating with could potentially limit the public content posted on Facebook.
  5. Japanese tend to spend more time online in the ‘interest graph’ (looking for information) rather than ‘social graph’ (interacting with others or promoting themselves). This explains why Japanese internet users spend more time visiting blogs than any other users worldwide.

Do’s and Don’ts for Professional Facebook Usage in Japan

Personal branding is becoming more mainstream worldwide.  Japanese must undergo an online usage mind-set shift and be more willing to abandon their anonymity to embrace social networks like Facebook that require more self promotion and self disclosure. Here are some quick do’s and don’ts borrowed from my Reach Personal Branding colleague Kirsten Dixson in a 2008 PC World article.

1. Choosing your profile picture

Do: Keep your profile picture professional, or at least neutral. Your photo doesn’t need to be in a studio. It could be outside, for instance, but it has to be fairly even-keeled. This is different than LinkedIn, where photos should be strictly professional, Dixson says.
Don’t: Avoid profile pictures that are “too sexy, cartoonish or that might alienate your audience” says Dixson. A stylized glamour shot, quick snapshot of slicked up hair or low-cut dresss, or worse, costume photos are not appropriate.

2. Publicize your Bio, but be private too!

Do: Post information in your bio that conveys who you are, within reason. On Facebook, you can easily decide what information people can view by altering your privacy settings. For instance, you can set it so every visitor sees that you enjoy mountain biking and Japanese culture, but maybe only a certain group of people see your political affiliations and relationships.
Don’t: The default settings for Facebook make all your profile information available for everyone on the service to see. “Assume from the get go that anything you put in there is viewable on the public internet,” Dixson says. “Go in with that line of thinking. Then go in and say, if you don’t want to make certain information available to certain people, go turn them off with the privacy settings.”

3. Posting content, links, and news 

Do: Post content that highlights your personal interests and your professional areas. Posting personal picture slideshows is fine within reason. Remember that offering contacts a glimpse into what makes you who you are can have business benefits. “It strengthens relationships,” Dixson says. “It really helps establish connections. People like to do business with people they know.”
Don’t: Spamming people will ruin your social capital. While you may feel compelled to share everything with your network, remember that people can only take so much time out of their day. Also, don’t assume they care about every little thing in your personal life.

4. Watching Your Tone

Do: Keep a polite and measured tone on social networks. Say things you’d feel comfortable saying in person, and avoid inside jokes that only a few of your contacts would understand.
Don’t: With a social network that is fairly open, nobody is really going to be impressed when you post inside jokes that they don’t understand; in fact, you run the risk of insulting people. Remember, within most social networks, you can set up private groups where those kinds of exchanges will not only be more appropriate, but also encouraged. “It’s better to be clear than clever,” Dixson says. “Don’t expect people to get it. Be very explicit.”

View from India: Dr. Amit

I really gave a serious thought on the issue, whether Indian culture is truly eastern or we are a mixed bag of east and west. In my opinion, a long British rule and English education has westernized Indian culture to a great deal (especially when we talk of urban audience which constitute majority of active internet users). But the contradiction is that India can be extremely eastern when it comes to some issues like female privacy and collectivist/family values. Keeping this fact in mind I am underlining few characteristics of Indian culture which influence Facebook consumption.

Characteristics of Indian culture influencing Facebook consumption

  1. Many females (especially young) still avoid using photos on internet. It is either discouraged by the family or they feel shy in doing so.  Some females use photos which have been taken from a long distance and their faces are not clearly visible.    Females generally do not accept friend requests from strangers unless a mutual friend connects them.
  2. Formal and polite language is generally used though the young generation can use four lettered words and abusive language with ease. A huge generation gap can exist.
  3. Young generation due to the above reason and other reasons like privacy generally avoids family members as part of friend network on Facebook.
  4. Facebook is generally used for entertainment and at the most inspiration/motivation. Serious stuff is avoided by most of the people.
  5. Young entrepreneurs are now catching up fast with professional usage of Facebook and may sometimes open a separate account for professional purposes.
  6. Educated people of middle age and old age group can also be found on Facebook now.
  7. Since Linkedin has a very poor usage in India (other than just adding connections), Facebook becomes hugely popular among people of all age groups and all social (educated) strata.

Do’s and Don’ts for Facebook in India

(Gender still defines lot of things in Indian culture. But I personally believe, what males and females should do, is a matter of personal choice and I will avoid gender specific recommendations)

1. Adding Friends

Do’s: If you want to use Facebook (profile) for professional purposes, either have a separate account or avoid sharing too much family/personal information.
Don’ts: Whether strangers should be avoided or not is a matter of personal choice. If you are using Facebook professionally, you have two options ; either add people freely giving them benefit of doubt or add only those connections when you have a mutual friend. Another option can be to join groups and make friends there, since strangers may not accept your requests.

2. Choosing Profile picture

Do’s: If you have only close friends/family on the network, you are free to choose any picture you like. Otherwise a formal or semi-casual photo is recommended.
Don’ts: Remember people outside your network cannot save your pictures but the people in your network can. So if you are easy about accepting strangers on your network, adding family photos may be risky in terms of inviting crime.

3. Posting content

Do’s: Remember whatever you write on Facebook is contributing to your personal brand in the long run and at the end of the day, social media is also a media (where an arrow  that has been shot cannot be taken back). Post content for which you want to be known i.e. humor, knowledge, motivation and so on. Understand the privacy settings very clearly.
Don’ts: Remember many people have lost jobs in the west by posting inflammable/wrong content on Facebook. So be careful about what you post, it might appear in Google search results about you. Share personal information via individual messages and not public display of emotion and dirty linen.

4. Bio and Biases

Do’s: It’s good to be honest and frank as long as it does not hurt someone. It’s important to combine honesty with kindness. Let your bio reflect you as a a balanced human being. Try to understand your prejudices and hide them, if possible (eliminating prejudices is a complicated though important task).
Don’ts: All human beings have some biases and it is normal and human to have them. It is also normal to have emotional baggage and political associations. But remember do you want to risk losing friends by openly flaunting them. Be careful about what you share and be ready for hatred to come back, if you send it to someone else.

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About the author

Peter Sterlacci Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer.” In a country where fitting-in is the norm, Peter’s mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. An avid cyclist, he combines cycling imagery with personal branding strategy to empower his clients to shift gears and sprint to career success. Follow Peter on Google+