Finding the “Local” in Global Communities

Rita Reznikova explores the “local” and the “global” aspects of multinational communities.

As an associate community manager on several international communities here at Communispace, I’ve always been fascinated by how people come together online. Can people from countries as diverse as Iran and Ireland really work together and come up with useful insights in one community?

These days, trusty social networks make it much easier to connect with someone 4000 miles away – and it’s just as easy as Facebook chatting up a friend 4 feet away. So is the Internet finally erasing the national boundaries between us?

More like redefining them.

Real-life online communities use social media to organize revolutions, to get the latest news, to exchange opinions, and to find like-minded others all over the world. But today, as the ‘Net goes ‘local’, we use it to better understand our own immediate surroundings. And in some ways, those “lost in translation” moments – or differences among groups – can be magnified.

Sure, there’s one Facebook…

…but there’s also Vkontakte.ru (a FB replica for the former Soviet bloc), Orkut in Brazil, or StuDivz in Germany, to name a few. Each of these large communities has its own national vibe.  They’re discussing what’s happening in their countries. They’re forming groups about their current controversies. But they’re also keeping touch with friends who live abroad.

While the web was founded on openness, it’s become much more intimate as a whole.

In the US, people flock to Groupon, which provides heavy discounts from local vendors. We “friend” our real-life pals on Facebook (whether they live in Boston or Brazil). We meet others using Meetup, which encourages people to pursue common interests, locally, and in real life. Even online dating, no longer stigmatized, is a thriving business – many people go online every day to find that boy or girl next door.

A 2010 Communispace study called Local Eyes discusses the “buying local” phenomenon around the world.  Members who participated in the study said that “local” means having that emotional connection, a sense of community. And interestingly enough, this sense of locality was described by folks from very diverse countries.

That’s why I love working on international accounts at Communispace. Can you imagine a group of professionals from 66 countries discussing something in one room? One of our clients, Elsevier, can boast just that. Even though all communicate in one language, cultural differences can be heard – we have Israelis, Iranians, Russians, Australians, Argentineans, and Chinese, to name a few.

Building vibrancy in a multicultural community

Building vibrancy – finding the “local” – in a multicultural, diverse group can be a fun challenge. Not everyone is a native English speaker; not everyone has access to the same technology; not everyone celebrates winter in January and summer in June.

But every day, I hear new perspectives and diverse points of view on issues that affect all of my community members, like how to balance work and family time. Just as often, I hear the voices of individuals and their preferences, quirks, ideas, and gripes about a product or question that affects their situation in a very personal way. I hear about issues that affect their country, city, or local community, and how those issues relate to their use of the product. Their circumstances – personal, political, cultural – are as different as can be.

And as much as Iranians, Irish, and Indonesians can have commonalities, their differences are ripe sources of insight about reactions to cross-cultural marketing.

We’re all part of a global society.

But these days, it’s the “local” that matters just as much, and that’s what we’re fishing for. As Communispace grows, both locally and globally, we’re excited to be a part of a truly ‘glocal’ phenomenon.