Social Media make the world global; but global is not equal to standard

Globalisation is not equal to standardization and different cultures need different communication strategies.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall created the distinction between `high context´ and `low context´ in intercultural communications, two interesting concepts to keep in mind when designing communication strategies and relationships in international public relations.
In a HIGH CONTEXT culture, the primary purpose of communication is to form and develop relationships; whereas in a LOW CONTEXT, the primary purpose of communication is the exchange of information and facts.
There is an interesting classification of countries based on this issue (although it is not fair to generalize): in countries with low context the communication is verbal (over non verbal), the business outlook is competitive, the work style is individualistic and the work ethic is task-oriented. Whereas in high context countries the communication in non verbal over verbal, the business outlook is cooperative, the work style is team oriented and the work ethic is relationship-oriented.
Using an example to compare business relationships between an American and a Japanesse manager, this last one said to the American: `We are a homogeneous people and don’t have to speak as much as you do here. When we say one word, we understand ten, but here you have to say ten to understand one´.

These differences could make the most (or the worst) in business relationships and also in PR campaigns. PR is about creation of meanings as well, and culture has a powerfull effect on communication.

For example, in high context countries which emphasize interpersonal relationships, trust is a key elememt before setting up any business transaction. And trust is built not by a contract or preceding agreement, but by a whole made of conversations, gestures, relations and meetings, facial expressions and even the speaker´s tone of voice. They could even distrust a contract if there is a lack of those other elements.

On the other hand, a low context culture values logic, facts and directness (things that in a high context culture could turn out even a bit rude). They are governed by reason and facts, and use concise meaningful words. To agree a business transaction the only thing they need is an explicit contract.

Context relates to framework, background, and surrounding circumstances in which communication or an event takes place. To become a better international communicator, the first thing to do is to know the different cultures and cultural values. Try to know very well your audience.

Social Media and social networking make it more difficult to keep in mind these differencies since you might be addressing to someone who lives in the other side ot the world. To prevent some cultural potential problems, many companies practice a localized multi-country strategy. They establish different brands and different messages for each particular country, and so they avoid the risk of damaging the whole company reputation (if that were the case); but at the same time they do not benefit from cost savings with global strategies.
Dealing with globalisation and networking requires an accurate qualification in PR practitioners.

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Codes of conduct and their effectiveness in PR

The European Communication Monitor 2012 shows that ethical issues in PR are today more relevant than five years ago, and it is partly due to the increase of social media activity. However, only a few professionals make use of codes of conduct to solve moral problems, even if 93% of them agree on the need of having one.
The main obstacle to use professional codes is that the current ones have a low acceptance, and one of the reasons why practitioners ignore them is because they consider the codes need updating.
But which institution could assume this task of updating them? The institution could be chosen among Universities, national or international professional bodies, organisations, or governments.
When asked, PR practitioners point out that national or international professional associations should exert this task, and should update the codes to the digital age.
From an ethical point of view, lobbying and social media are the most challenging areas in PR, whereas international and internal communications are the less needed of moral support ones.
The use of these codes varies among different countries, being Belgium and UK the ones which apply codes most often, and Germany the one which applies them less. Is this data relevant?
Comparing issues between United Kingdom and Spain, when asked about who is more suitable to provide a code, Spain prefers an international organization whereas United Kingdom states a national one.
According to the ECM, codes are more important for PR practitioners working in consultancies; in-house PRs tend to ignore them and keep their own company’s code.
Members of professional associations prefer national codes, but on the contrary professionals without membership prefer international codes. And even in a same country different codes could be found. A unification of this issue is needed.


First codes of conduct were to protect practitioners from external lobbying, to avoid the risk of being accused of manipulation. Later on, with the development of stakeholders and the increased attention paid to business ethics, codes were to safeguard the integrity of the public relations industry. And they were also to show public relations practitioners as honest and upright professionals (a matter of reputation). Now, with the extent of social media practise and the globalisation, codes of conduct should show the way to develop a professional practice where integrity, transparency and ethic are the bases. And because of this, this code should be made by an international professional body.