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Crisis Management Across Borders: Cultural Nuances in ORM Practices

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Crisis management cannot be isolated within national boundaries. Historically, corporate communication focused primarily on one-way message dissemination. But the advent of technology has altered this dynamic, shifting our role into active dialogue facilitators, and emphasizing the importance of interactive ORM practices.

Corporate communicators are now learning to steer through the intricate world of Online Reputation Management (ORM), which stretches across various cultures.

Recognizing and respecting cultural subtleties could be our compass and greatly improve the success of our ORM tactics and crisis management as a whole.

The many faces of culture

Japanese culture tends to value subtlety and context over directness. In a crisis, a clear commitment to preventing future incidents may resonate more than a straightforward apology. In India, the culture is the same as in Japan, where relationships and harmony are valued. When faced with a crisis situation, an aggressive or overly defensive response may damage the company's reputation. Instead, it may be better to acknowledge the problem, express sincere regret, and emphasize the remedial steps being taken. A well-crafted response should also demonstrate respect for stakeholders and show the company's commitment to its Indian audience.

Conversely, the Swedish business culture emphasizes egalitarianism and consensus. In a crisis situation, openness and willingness to involve stakeholders in the problem-solving process could be appreciated. Transparent crisis communication, inclusive of the company's immediate response and long-term corrective measures, is likely to resonate well with a Swedish audience.

The corporate melange

However, when navigating crises across cultures, failing to consider these differences can cause a manageable situation to escalate into a reputational disaster.

To elucidate this point, let's look at Mcdonalds, an international fast-food chain. They launched a promotion in Argentina, based on a wordplay that was a hit in their home country, the United States. Unfortunately, this pun carried a negative meaning in the local Argentinian dialect. The outcome was a provoked audience, a damaged reputation, and a social media firestorm to control.

Similarly, In 2012, IKEA opened its first store in Thailand. However, several of the product names, while seemingly innocuous in Swedish, had sexual connotations in Thai. This sparked a social media frenzy and left the company scrambling to change product names and issue public apologies. Further, In 2018, the luxury fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana faced a severe backlash over a promotional video that was considered derogatory and stereotypical by the Chinese audience. The crisis was further aggravated by alleged racist comments from one of the brand's founders. The incident led to calls for boycotts on social media, and the brand had to cancel a major fashion show in Shanghai.

In each of these cases, a failure to understand and respect local culture led to a crisis that damaged the company's reputation.

So, how can corporate communication leaders better navigate this global terrain? The answer lies in cultivating cross-cultural literacy – an understanding and appreciation of how our global counterparts perceive and interpret messages.

Here are three pivotal steps to develop your cross-cultural ORM strategy:

Diversify Your Team

Hire professionals with varied cultural backgrounds and experiences. A diverse team broadens your perspective and enhances your ability to understand and adapt to different cultural contexts.

Continuous Learning

Encourage your team to continually educate themselves about the cultures they are dealing with. This extends beyond national culture to corporate culture, industry culture, and even individual customer culture.

Leverage Technology

AI and machine learning can help to analyze data from different markets, identify trends, and predict potential issues. Use these insights to design a more robust and responsive ORM strategy.

By expanding our view to encompass these cultural nuances, we open a door to more effective and empathetic communication. It propels us from simply managing crises to building lasting relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. This approach will change the industry, shaping it to be more inclusive and adaptive, fostering stronger connections with stakeholders across the globe.

The transnational approach to crisis management is more than just a necessity; it's an opportunity. It is an opportunity to build bridges, foster understanding, and cultivate an international community of trust and respect. Embrace the cultural nuances, diversify, educate, and leverage technology. And in doing so, you'll be setting your business up for a future of strong relationships and resilient crisis management, regardless of borders.


Psst! This blog was made with 💕, lots of teamwork and edited by a human with some help from Generative AI. We’re not ones to steal credit. #PuttingItOutThere


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