We, in Europe, see ourselves as whingers (Britons are supposedly nicknamed “whingeing poms**” by Australians) and on both sides of the Channel, one keeps hearing complaints about this and that and the other. Yet, seen from down under I realised that our image and potential is probably a lot better than we think and that “old” Europe isn’t yet finished. I asked Joanne Jacobs who now leads 1000heads in Australia to share her view of Europe, social media adoption by businesses and also Asia. I have known Joanne for many years now. We met while she was based in England as part of the Like Minds alumni. Not only is she a social media expert but she is also a trained actor, able to deliver a pitch on stage, captivating hundred of people, with a timed presentation and … cracking jokes on the go without losing track! She came back to Australia over two years ago and we caught up with each other through Skype … despite time differences which, as you will see, are far from being abolished.
** “prisoners of her Majesty” for those who don’t know the joke…
Europe? More Internet savvy than we may think, Australian expert says (photo: antimuseum.com)
Interview of Joanne Jacobs of 1000 heads Australia
Now that Facebook is 10 years old and LinkedIn 11 years old, what is your view of the status of social media in general?
We are living through this transition phase but I think that it will change in the course of the next 5 years to 10 years. One will develop some degree of maturity as to what we should be measuring.
You relocated to Australia a couple of years ago what did you find?
I have to say, that coming back to Australia was very hard indeed for me. Never let it be said that technology overcomes the tyranny of distance. It doesn’t. And one of the main reason why doesn’t is that time zones exist. I was not able to communicate as effectively with the people and the networks that had built up in the UK and Europe. So, it was therefore very difficult for me to come back to an environment which was so isolated that it was effectively between 9 and 11 hours difference in terms of time zones. It was quite difficult too because, even though Australia is a technology savvy country, there are serious problems of interconnectivity here, the cost of broadband in this country is unbelievably expensive and the quality of the connections that we get is poor. So in terms of social media, the community was smaller, there is less engagement, and ironically, they are little communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, but we are all disconnected from one another because it takes an hour to fly between Melbourne and Sydney and that’s one of the shortest journeys that we have in this country. So, even inside our own country, we suffer from the tyranny of distance.
You mentioned losing your Twitter following from the UK when you moved to Australia can you expatiate on that?
In many respects, that issue of losing my following was a product of those time zones differences. when you are no longer communicating regularly at least during working hours, with the people that you are engaging with, you will then lose followers because people will not be able to communicate with you any more nor share information nor participate in discussions. For me in particular it’s been really difficult to participate in online events that were happening in Europe or in the UK because they are always happening between 7:00 PM and 6:00 AM my time. By participating in those events, even remotely, you gain a lot of information from various subject matter experts. So, I lost a lot of followers that way and I also lost followers I believe because I started to communicate with other people in other interest areas and I had to communicate with a community locally, and as a result was considered less of an influencer in the areas and the markets and the audiences within my previously connected life.
Australia and Asia: differences in terms of social media adoption
First, I should start with the differences between Australia and the UK and the EU and the US concerning their use of social media. Australia, is interesting because as a Western nation, it adopted a lot of the same technologies that are available elsewhere, but there is a stronger tendency to quote or cite other people without actually producing any kind of critical response. So, people are more likely to retweet and quote someone directly from a newspaper article, from an interview on radio and television, but but they will not offer any commentary of their own in response to that idea. It’s something we observed in our research at 1000heads when we started looking into politics and we were quite curious to see that Australians, as loudmouthed as we are and as opinionated as we are, are reticent to say anything online. There are such rigid conditions, in so many workplaces that are associated with what you are allowed to say on social media that Australians are getting into the habit of not saying anything at all. They only just making quotations, or referring to other people’s words and none of them aee saying anything interesting. This is quite a retrograde aspect of Australian social media usage.
As to Asia, I think this is where we find one of the most fascinating aspects of social media today. For instance, of the global population of 7.1 billion people, 4.3 billion live in Asia! And China alone has 1.3 billion people. Of those, 1.3 billion Chinese people nearly 800 million of them are social media users! A year ago, there were 798 million users of the tencent social network QQ, there were 300 million on Weibo. This is an area which has the biggest numbers of people and the biggest growth in the world is sitting in Asia right now. They are very sophisticated in terms of how the use of social media for business purposes. It’s dominated by absolute personal use at this stage, but it is changing and the companies in Asia are moving on to social networks in order to engage the communities much more. And because the Asian cultural discourse is very much about inclusiveness and about beauty and about sharing great experiences, social networking sits quite well with the local Asian culture. At this stage, there is a great opportunity in that market, because local business people are still unsure as to how to engage without offending their audiences. So, there is a very subtle way of engaging their audiences in Asia. It’s not so much about ditching out a database of email addresses et cetera or about product usage, it’s more of a business optimisation tool in that region. They see social networks as a way to engage with their customers and audiences in a lifelong journey together. And that’s much more of a longer view of social media than just getting their email addresses and getting contact details which is a very Western approach; the eastern approach is probably more appropriate for social networks from a cultural point of view.
How Australians see Europeans?
Australians do not see Europeans as whingeing at all. If anything, we see you guys involved in debate. You are thinking about the outcomes of engagement, the repercussions of various regulations and processes that are adopted in business environments, and I think that this is a good thing. I don’t think that anyone in Australia would see Europe and Europeans as whingers.
I think one thing that we do acknowledge is that you guys have some of the best practices on the planet. You have incredibly high bandwidth connections very cheap very reliable and you have a community of international people who are prepared to commit time and learning in social media practice to produce the best possible environment for you audiences and new markets. In Australia, the issue is being partly a problem with broadband access, and also a reticence to invest in social media in any way other than just fashion and advertising. The advertising sector has such a strong control over the corporate sector in Australia that the use of social media is being very unsophisticated here. Also, when it comes to how the organisation develops itself and how a community is developed I think that Europeans are naturally better communicators than Australians in that respect. You’ve got to invest across different regions and different languages, you’ve got to actually work together collaboratively so you are naturally better at it than people down here. Whilst you might see yourselves as whingers, Australian certainly don’t and we certainly look to Europe in order to see how Australians can improve.