Once again, religion is one of the aspects that influence power distance, but it’s not the only one.

Countries are positioned somewhere on the power distance scale, from fairly egalitarian (Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, and German-speaking countries) to hierarchical (A number of east-Asian, Arabic and Latin American countries).

Respect for a supervisor and obeying orders is naturally important in high-PD countries. In egalitarian countries, it’s more accepted to disagree with your hierarchy openly.

Other visible aspects of PD are how independent children are (are they treated differently than adults — within reason — or not?), how the government is organized (single decision maker vs coalition culture), and whether wealth inequality is accepted.

High PD cultures accept power imbalances in social and professional relationships. One person can be more important than another.

Can this principle be applied to social media, too?

Yahoo Research has investigated power balance in their study Cultural Dimensions in Twitter.

They analysed online relationships by looking at the number of followers of the various users. Is someone with more followers considered more important?

The researchers considered who follows whom, who recommends whom, and who starts to follow whom upon a recommendation.

They found evidence for their hypothesis:

In countries comfortable with Power Distance, a pair of users who engage in any type of relationship is likely to show in-degree imbalance.

The results clearly show that the more PD a country has, the more a user gains popularity when its followers increase.

(I therefore encourage you to follow me on Medium ;))

My encounter with the Genevan police officer shows how communication can be culturally defined.

Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton investigated what the impact of social media would be on communication between professors and students, particularly in Palestine.

They found that social media was “breaking the boundaries of hierarchy and authority.” Students were more at ease when expressing ideas on social media than in the physical classroom.

One educator explains that “they don’t feel the hierarchy that exists inside the class or on the learning management system”.

A drawback of social media is that messages don’t stop after working hours.

In Palestinian culture it is not appropriate to disregard a personal message that someone sends on an informal platform (“it’s like someone is knocking your door”). As a result, they feel obliged to reply to the personal messages, which typically contain requests or questions, after work or during vacations.

The study shows a divide between supporters and opponents of integrating social media into the local education system.

Which option would be better is not so relevant for this article.

The important takeaway is that social media leads to less formal communication, particularly in high PD cultures.

Users can increase their personal brand with a higher number of followers. Professionals can become more respectable with different job titles.
How companies can leverage PD can be observed in the travel industry.

A particularly interesting study is the article “How power distance affects online hotel ratings.”

In the paper, Chinese scientists investigate the relationship between hotel brands and UX. They conclude that people from high PD cultures have more trust in hotel chains than in independent, small hotels.

Hotel chains, like Marriott or Radisson, can rely on their brand name and authority in the industry.


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