Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Of cultural barriers and corporate blogs

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 5, 2007

I was doing some preparation for a web 2.0 presentation the other day, and came across the blog of American airline South West Airlines.

At the time, this post was at the top.

It’s titled, ‘The freedom to luv my job’.

What follows is a tribute to the joys of working for South West, written by someone called Shelley. She’s had three jobs in her time at the company, and has loved (sorry, ‘luved’) every one of them.

To me, the post smacks of everything that’s wrong with some corporate blogs. It looks about as authentic as Pete Burns’ lips.

I simply didn’t believe someone would spontaneously write something like this. She was either coerced into it by someone in HR or PR, or – worse – had the post written for her by someone in PR, I thought.

Her message to the world even contains this gem of a sentence: “Needless to say, I learned a lot during my tenure in Compensation, and I grew to LOVE Excel spreadsheets!”

Surely no one LOVES spreadsheets enough to write the word in capitals? Do they? Not unless they’re desperate for a promotion they don’t.

But when I went back to the post today to get the URL I noticed that there are around 25 comments, all from South West employees, all of which are similarly ‘on message’.

There’s not one criticism of Samantha’s rampant enthusiasm. Many thank her for sharing her inspiring experiences.

Maybe, sitting here as a cynical Englishman, I underestimated cultural difference. After all, America is a country in which a giant Mickey Mouse wishes visitors to Disneyland a “magical day” and no one feels moved to vomit into the nearest paper bag.

What happened at the web 2.0 presentation itself got me musing on the same theme. At the end of the talk this morning, in which I’d criticised poor Samantha, I was asked by our client – which has offices all around the world and, crucially, isn’t headquartered in either the UK or America – about the problems of cultural difference.

If they set up a blog or used a social networking site such as Facebook, would they need to have versions in English, Italian, Spanish, etc? If they agreed to use English as the lingua franca, would that in itself create cultural issues in, say, Latin America?

These are good questions, and I’m not sure I have the answers. What I have learnt is not to underestimate Americans’ propensity to act as unironic cheerleaders for their employer – and that American/UK companies sometimes take the use of English for granted.

Time to get the thinking cap on.

[Update: In light of Brian’s comment, I think I need to stress that I changed my mind about Shelley’s post. That was my point, but maybe I didn’t make it clearly enough. I did come to believe that her comments were genuine, and that there was no arm twisting involved. I was trying to poke fun at myself for being blinded by my ‘European cycnicism’, not Shelley for demsontrating her enthusiasm for the job. I’d say she’s a lucky soul to have a job she loves so much.] 

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3 Responses to “Of cultural barriers and corporate blogs”

  1. Brian Lusk said

    Sorry Graham,
    I hate to disturb your European cynicism, but everything Shelly wrote is from her heart, as is everything else our Blog Team writes. No one is coerced into writing anything!It’s probably uncool for you to think that Employees can actually enjoy their work but for most Southwest Employees, that is true. Granted that, with 33,000 Employees, not everyone will think that way, but the vast majority do.

    Also, our blog isn’t all about patting ourselves on the back. This week, we posted a piece on overbooking: http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/10/03/overbooking/, last week a post about how we can delay luggage: http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/09/26/but-i-checked-them-all-together-part-two/, and a post from one of our Captains about mechanical problems: http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/09/24/when-things-quit/. Our Company tries to be as transparent as possible–you won’t find many UK airlines striving for that, and we have tried to make our blog reflect that.

    The next time you are in the States, come visit us and we will prove it.
    Brian

  2. Thanks for the comment Brian. Apologies if my point wasn’t clear, but I tried to explain in my post that I had – on reflection – come to realise that Shelley was ‘for real’ and that the enthusiasm wasn’t fabricated. Maybe it’s because of my previous employment (I was a journalist), maybe it’s because I’m a cynical Englishman, but reading her words for the first time made me suspicious. The fact that so many South West employees chipped in to comment on what she’d said made me eat my words. I shall endeavour to be less cynical from now on 😉
    All the best with the blog.

  3. Hi Graham! It’s me…Shelley (the one who lives in Dallas, TX and loves her job at Southwest Airlines). I actually got a big kick out of your post…my husband accuses me of ‘drinking the kool-aid’ too, but I’ll tell you the same thing that I tell him: I finally found a company that loves (LUVs) me back! Southwest is a great place to work…no, we aren’t perfect, but we do offer fantastic benefits, fair pay, and the freedom to be ourselves. I can assure you that I wrote each word of that blog all by myself with no coaching…I might not want to admit this, but I even shared one of my really embarrassing SWA moments on a previous blog post. The cool thing is that they really do let us write about anything and everything we might have on our minds on any particular day. If you ever make your way to Dallas, please do come visit…we’d love so show you some Southwest LUV. =)

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