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Trompenaars Theory of Specific/Diffuse as Applied to the Social Media Platforms of Spanish and American Students

Jordan Hohlfelder CRS 400 Professor Gibson 29 April 2014

2 Alfonsus Trompenaars provides his audiences with seven distinct dimensions, which culturally divide the human species based on culture. He introduces the concept of specific and diffuse cultural tendencies, which divide subjects based on their aptitude to involve family members and friends in their professional spheres. Specific individuals strive to keep these spheres separate and by keeping the involvement of the two at a minimum. Contrastingly, a diffuse individual will integrate the two and view them as interrelated. By applying this dimension to various social media outlets belonging to two different cultures, it can be seen that the specific and diffuse dimension is clearly defined through the posts, tweets, pictures and statuses that are produced by these individuals. Trompenaars produced his seven dimensions of culture prior to the worlds integration of social media. In an era when individuals express themselves freely on the Internet and other platforms, these profiles can be viewed with Trompenaars lens in order to further explore a specific culture. According to Constant D. Beugre, The dimension specific-diffuse refers to the extent to which life is compartmentalized or diffused. Specific cultures refer to cultures in which life is compartmentalized and people play different roles in different situations. Diffuse cultures, however, are cultures in which roles are blurred. This pretext supports the idea that people decidedly either include or exclude their family and friends from their professional worlds, namely specific individuals, and diffuse people dont see any boundary between the two. According to Trompenaars in his book Business Across Cultures, these two dimensions can be applied to differing cultures.

3 Spanish and American cultures represent this dimension at its extremes. The Spanish culture upholds drastically diffuse characteristics, whereas American culture exemplifies a strongly specific dynamic. Specific individuals in America tend to obtain different behavioral tendencies based on the role they are playing or the individuals they are interacting with; in turn, forming relationships with people upholds little threat because it applies to that specific role (McFarlin 2014). This applies to the American workforce. According to a survey placed amongst American college students age 19 to 23, only one individual had worked with a family member in her lifetime (Appendix A). This upholds extreme contrast to the same survey given to Spanish college students of the same age in which only one individual claimed of having not worked with family, suggesting that the home and work life are interchangeable (Appendix B). One way to observe the specific/diffuse tendencies of individuals aged 19-23 of these two cultures is via their social media profiles. According to around 98% of people age 18-24 years old use social media world-wide. It is due to this number that the data provided by these profiles is so relevant to the daily lives that these individuals live. It is through the lens of the most prominent social media platforms, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that one can analyze whether or not these individuals show signs of specific and diffuse dimensions. To first analyze the profiles of the Spanish students one had to look at each platform individually and then gradually piece together how the results related to one another before comparing them to the results of the American students. Twitter

4 showed extremely relevant signs of diffuse behavior. Only one individual out of the six analyzed for this study obtained two Twitter accounts, which meant that all content, both professional and personal were published under the same Twitter handle (Appendix B). Tweets about soccer, family, friends along side retweets of professional businesses and responses to current events suggest that these individuals are upholding the same persona and role regardless of who they consider their Twitter audience to be. Facebook expressed a strong integration as well, posts and pictures alike representing the Spaniards lives on a broad stroke rather than being focused to appeal to one audience. Less posts about work and business outside of boasting about a summer internship implies only where their priorities may lie; however, the simple fact that they place a picture of their family beside a post about a job update expresses diffuse characteristics (Appendix C). Due to the fact that Instagram is a newer platform and until recently was used as a mainly recreational rather than professional source. However, as Michael Templeman of AlleyWatch suggests, In todays Internet- and social networkfocused world, personal branding is an essential activity. Therefore, Instagram has become a platform on which one reveals how great we are. Apply Trompenaars to the equation and one should be able to view the tendencies of one to produce content that includes work and play as a cohesive group rather than work with certain people and play with others. The Instagram posts produced by the Spanish students were as integrated as their other platforms if not more so. Though they didnt post about specific jobs they are doing they posted about brands they enjoy, places in which they hope to live in the future and projects they are working on in

5 their classes. Many of their posts include the same people, mainly one core group of friends, which suggests that regardless of what they are doing throughout their day they dont feel the need to change roles according to their environment. In comparison, the profiles of the American students proved to be drastically different. The Twitter accounts of these individuals nearly doubled in comparison to those of the Spaniards. All but one student obtained two Twitter accounts, which is extremely indicative of specific attributes. Writer for the Huffington Post, Pamela Poole, an American, explains her reasoning behind having two Twitter accounts, One of the reasons I created a personal account, some time later, was that I just didn't think all the people who follow my pro account, mostly tech and business types, would necessarily be interested in the more personal or wacky stuff. This suggests that Poole feels the need to play one persona in order to adhere to her professional following and another to her personal followers, representative of specific Americans. All content viewed on the professional Twitter accounts adhered to furthering themselves and their personal brands. In contrast the personal Twitter seemed to adhere more so to those who they can be candid with. Similarly, Facebook seemed to be solely dedicated to building their personal brands. As suggested by Forbes, Facebook and other sites like it are becoming the digital proxies for our real world selves. Our profiles on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, et. al. reflect our likes, dislikes, personalities, and best photo angles, and are likely more useful to employers in seeing what we might be like to work with than a short interview. It is due to this stigma that Facebook profiles of American students are becoming more about getting a job than expressing thoughts and posting

6 pictures of friends. This is entirely represented in the profile of the American subjects used for this research. With the majority of their posts about products, Buzzfeed articles or current events there is little evidence of personal life outside of pictures that seem merely to prove that they are still living like 20 somethings and dont live under rocks (Appendix D). Surprisingly, the Instagram accounts of the American students proved to be very similar in characteristic to those of the Spaniards. With posts of a variety of subjects including family, friends, products and places, it appears that the purpose of Instagram for these young people is simply to express themselves in a fun and respectful way. They dont post things that would get them in trouble and are aware that every post is indicative to who they are as a person. This is exactly in line with the content that is produced by the Spaniards and, therefore, on Instagram these individuals appear to be producing content more closely related to diffuse cultures. Overall, when comparing these two cultures solely based off of the three main social media platforms used by these twelve individuals today, Trompenaars rings true. American young people are producing content based on one or another group of people they associate with and editing their content to adhere to this specific group of people, which indicates their specific nature. Spaniards of the same age produce content in which they do little editing based on their audience and therefore integrate the various groups of people they interact with on a daily basis. Instagram proved to be the platform that allowed for a variety of posts in both groups which could mean that Americans are simply more diffuse when it comes to posts on Instagram, or the platform itself is so new that individuals are only recently

7 understanding how to cultivate their accounts in ways that portray certain aspects of their lives. The social media platforms of today are arguably the most indicative forums for study of the young people of the world and as they become even more prevalent they will become sources, which can be studied to further prove theories such as Trompenaars Dimensions of Culture and the like.

Appendix A Survey Americans 1. Do you consider your work and personal lives to be interconnected? Alex- No Amber- No Amanda- No Daron- No Paul- Yes Abby- No 2. Have you ever worked with or for a family member? Alex- No Amber- No Amanda- No Daron- No Paul- Yes, a cousin Abby- No 3. How many Twitter accounts do you have? Alex- 2 Amber- 2 Amanda- 2 Daron- 2 Paul- 1 Abby- 2 4. What do you think are the benefits of keeping the personal and work life separate? Alex- It makes it easier for me to move on in life. I dont feel like Im stepping on peoples toes because I dont get close enough with my colleagues. Amber- I enjoy having two separate groups of friends. I know it could come off as living separate lives but I would never integrate the two because I simply dont think they get along. Amanda- I enjoy commiserating with my work friends about work and my personal friendships about those stresses. My friends at work wouldnt understand the stresses of my personal friend group and visa versa. Daron- I am very adamant about leaving the stress of work at work. I wouldnt want to bring the work stress to my friends and family because they dont need to carry that stress either. I just think its healthier. Paul- I enjoy being a professional. I enjoy getting ready for work and going and being productive. And then I get to come home and relax with my family

9 and friends and not talk about all of the work stuff. Its just a more relaxing environment to live in. Abby- I dont have to worry about hurting anyones feelings or add the stress of pressure from a family member along with the pressures that work delivers already. 5. Do you live with your parents in America? Alex- No Amber- Yes Amanda- No Daron- Yes Paul- Yes Abby- Yes


Appendix B SURVEY SPANIARD INDIVIDUALS 1. Do you currently live with your parents in Spain? Carolina- Yes Gonzalo- Yes Valeria- Yes Jose- No, Aunt and Uncle in Barcelona (Parents in Madrid) Juan- Yes Ivette- Yes 2. Have you ever taken a job in which you worked with or for a family member? If so, how many? Carolina- Yes, 2 Gonzalo- Yes, 2 Valeria- No Jose- Yes, 3 Juan- Yes, 3 Ivette- Yes, 1 3. Would you consider your work and personal lives to intersect? Carolina- Yes Gonzalo- Yes Valeria- No Jose- Yes Juan- Yes Ivette- Yes 4. Explain the benefits from working with or for a family member or relative. Carolina- I get to spend twice as much time with the people I love. Gonzalo- It gives me the opportunity to learn the trade more closely because my family members are willing to take the time to make sure I get the most out of the job itself. Valeria- I enjoy being close with my family but as I havent worked with them before I cant say. Jose- I cant imagine not working with them. All of my family members run a business and for me its always been about working for the family. It is beneficial to me because it gives me something to strive for because I constantly want to better for my family and make the business the best it can be for them. Juan- I have lived with my family for my entire life, they offered me a job that pays well, why wouldnt I want to do that? Its different working for my Uncle and cousins than for my dad, which I wouldnt want to do as much. I have a

11 closer relationship with members outside of my immediate family. It just makes the whole work/family dynamic run smoothly. Ivette- I feel so secure in my work life. Though sometimes it does get hard to be constantly surrounded by 15 loud Spaniards, I never have to worry about not having a job when I graduate. I guess Im just lucky that my family has a prosperous job base that then gives me bigger opportunities. 5. What are some negatives about being involved both professionally and personally with your family? Carolina- I want to kill them half the time!! Gonzalo- I dont think I make as much of an effort to branch out and make connections outside of my family because its simply so easy. Valeria- I just think I want to make more of a life for myself rather than letting my family do it for me and riding on their success. Jose- There is a certain pressure that you put on yourself from not wanting to disappoint say your parents or grandparents. Its not much more of a Juan- I hate messing up. Its really hard to not be harder on yourself simply because you don't want to fail your family members. Ivette- I think I take advantage of the fact that my family wont fire me if Im being honest. I know they wont leave me out to dry so as hard as I work for them, I dont feel terrible about calling in sick. 6. How many Twitter accounts do you have? Carolina- 1 Gonzalo- 1 Valeria- 1 Jose- 1 Juan- 1 Ivette- 2

12 Appendix C

13 Appendix D

14 Works Cited Gutterman, Alan. Trompenaars' and Hampden-Turner's Seven Dimensions of Culture. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. <>. Hill, Kashmir. "What Employers Are Thinking When They Look At Your Facebook Page." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 06 Mar. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. "The Importance of Building Your Personal Brand." AlleyWatch RSS. N.p., 26 Apr. 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. McFarlin, Dean. International Management: Strategic Opportunities & Cultural Challenges . N.p.: Routledge, 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. Poole, Pamela. "Twitter: Should You Have Multiple Accounts or Use Lists?" The Huffington Post., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. "Social Networking Statistics." Statistic Brain RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.