Like most professionals in technology fields, I’m a bit fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg. Really, who could have predicted the meteoric rise of Facebook twelve years ago when it was just started? He’s not one to build the same wisdom-drenched following like Richard Branson or Guy Kawasaki. But the day he put his newly acquired Mandarin Chinese on display at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he had my full attention.
China doesn’t even allow Facebook access for its citizens. And here was one of the titans of American technology industries not only speaking Chinese, but using all of the Chinese cultural savviness of a well-coached leader. As I watched this video for the first time, I thought of three things:
- I had clearly underestimated Mark Zuckerberg as a world-class business leader.
- Facebook would eventually enter the Chinese market, breaking down communication barriers on its way.
- I needed to double up my efforts to master Mandarin Chinese.
Impressive as this interview may be, China still doesn’t open its doors wide to Facebook or other social media platforms that aren’t easily censored. It’s a political issue and one that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. Why would Chinese citizens allow this censorship to continue? Why would they allow themselves to be ruled by a small group of unelected party officials? There are several reasons, but the main one is rooted in Chinese culture: harmony. But I digress away from our topic.
Speaking of difficult to understand… just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg was speaking at the Mobile World Congress and he told about Facebook’s recent ruling in India’s courts. Facebook wanted to offer free Internet to Indian citizens. But the courts saw it differently. Facebook was not allowed to charge different pricing for services, even if one of those prices was nothing. The Indians felt that there was a price – preferential access to Facebook and their partners’ sites. It became a net neutrality issue.
If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that I give what I hope is helpful advice to small and medium-sized companies expanding into global markets. My focus is on providing tips and tools to help companies avoid the most common and costly mistakes. Facebook is by anyone’s definition a massive company with extensive financial resources beyond 99% of all companies.
Here are the International Business Lessons for the rest of us:
- “Every Country is Different”. That’s actually Mr. Zuckerberg’s exact quote about the Indian court ruling. That may sound incredibly obvious, but every week I talk with at least one company leader who finds this basic fact incredulous. Recently a sales VP I talked with couldn’t imagine that since various countries negotiate differently that he should raise his prices in markets where locals would expect to negotiate a larger price discount. International business is a pattern of learn, adapt and move forward.
- When it’s important, take the long view. Facebook will never give up trying to access the Chinese market. That said, they will also never hopefully give up their stance on freedom from censorship.
- Creative problem solving is a core international business skill. If at first you don’t succeed, it’s time to stop, regroup, figure out what went wrong, and then figure out another way. That’s what Facebook is doing in India and in China. That’s what successful companies of all sizes do to win new global customers and grow to their full potential in world markets.
- Cultural understanding matters. In the video of Mr. Zuckerberg’s interview, the reaction is clear – his Chinese audience is both surprised and delighted. I’m sure he would have had a great interview had he delivered it in English. They would have even appreciated his answers had he not been coached in Chinese cultural etiquette. But in one interview, he captured a nation’s attention for all the right reasons. This goodwill will shorten the time it takes to enter this market. Few of us have time to learn Mandarin. But we can learn a few basic phrases in any language. We can either research or hire a coach to show our cultural respect to our future customers.
I look forward to seeing what Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team do next to continue to influence culture and technology. And I look forward to the continuing evolution of international markets for the rest of us. Onward & upward.
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