Sep 01 2008

Using Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions to Study Social Media Usage in BRIC Countries

We felt that it will be useful to start our study on the BRIC model of social media by doing a deep dive into the area of cross-cultural communication — how national cultural nuances mediate communication.

Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions

Perhaps the most important model to study cross-cultural communication is the one developed by Prof. Geert Hofstede 1. The Geert Hofstede framework defines national cultures using five dimensions — Power Distance (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), and Long Term Orientation (LTO).

– Power Distance (PDI) describes the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Small power distance cultures are more consultative or democratic while large power distance cultures are more autocratic and paternalistic. The Power Distance Index does not reflect an objective difference in power distribution but rather the way people perceive power differences.

– Individualism (IDV) versus Collectivism describes the the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. In individualist cultures the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. In collectivist cultures, people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

– Masculinity (MAS) versus Femininity describes the distribution of roles between the genders. Masculine cultures value competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and the accumulation of wealth and material possessions, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.

– Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) describes a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of uncertain situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth. People in these cultures are more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. Uncertainty accepting cultures are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People in these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

– Long Term Orientation (LTO), based on Confucian teachings, describes a society’s “time horizon,” or the importance attached to the future versus the past and present. In long term oriented societies, values include persistence (perseverance), ordering relationships by status, thrift, and having a sense of shame; in short term oriented societies, values include normative statements, personal steadiness and stability, protecting ones face, respect for tradition, and reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts.

You can see the scores for the five cultural dimensions displayed on a world map2Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation.

Geert Hofstede Scores for BRIC Countries

The Geert Hofstede scores for a country are useful even in isolation, but become really interesting when seen in comparison with other countries. For instance, a comparison of the Geert Hofstede scores for BRIC countries with USA and the world average yields some interesting insights (see original spreadsheet and chart) —

– The Power Distance scores for all the BRIC countries are much higher than both the USA and the world average scores.

– The Individuality scores for the BRIC countries are generally lower than the USA and the world average scores (with India being the minor exception).

– The Masculinity scores for the BRIC countries are in the same range as the USA and the world average scores.

– The Uncertainty Avoidance scores for Brazil and Russia are much higher than the USA and world average scores while the scores for India and China are much lower.

– The Long Term Orientation scores for the BRIC countries (and especially China) are much higher than the USA and the world average scores.

Geert Hofstede Scores and Social Media Usage in BRIC Countries

Given that most of the social web have been designed around the US cultural context, these differences have profound significance for social media usage in BRIC countries. Specifically, it’s probably useful to ask if a social web designed for highly individualistic cultures that organize around the principles of consultation and reciprocation based on more or less normative rules is really relevant to collectivist, paternalist and status-oriented BRIC cultures.

I don’t know how a collectivist, paternalist, status-oriented and relativist social web will look like, but here are some ideas to help you start thinking about it —

– What if the social web subjugated individual profiles and activity streams (high individualism) to group affiliations (high collectivism)?

– What if the social web parsed and displayed relationships between two users based on their status relative to each other (high power distance) instead of treating everyone as a “friend” (low power distance)?

– What if the primary relationship on the social web was “becoming a fan” (long term orientation) instead of “becoming a friend” (short terms orientation)?

– What if the complex relationships between users automatically changed over time and across context (low uncertainty avoidance) instead of staying the same until it is proactively changed (high uncertainty avoidance)?

I do know that whatever shape such a social web might take, it will probably look very different from Facebook.


1 The original study was conducted between 1967 to 1973 with over 100,000 respondents from IBM subsidiaries in 50 countries and 3 regions. Subsequent studies validating the earlier results have included commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, ‘up-market’ consumers in 15 countries and ‘elites’ in 19 countries. From the initial results, and later additions, Hofstede developed a model that identifies four primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance – PDI, Individualism – IDV, Masculinity – MAS, and Uncertainty Avoidance – UAI. Hofstede added a fifth Dimension after conducting an additional international study with a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers. That Dimension, based on Confucian dynamism, is Long-Term Orientation – LTO and was applied to 23 countries (via Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions).

2 Clearly Cultural: Making Sense of Cross-Cultural Communication.

7 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Using Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions to Study Social Media Usage in BRIC Countries”

  1. klara on 16 Sep 2008 at 1:08 pm

    interesting thoughts re the network. please, if u havent done it and i overlooked it, could u state your exact source for the scores given? which book of hofstede (title, year, publisher, page) contains them completely (i.e. including russia)?

  2. Lydia on 22 Oct 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I’m excited to find this web cuz I’m working on my thesis for master degree now. Its title is cross-cultural comparison of SNS use between American and Chinese college students. I cannot able to get access to a larger poplulation for this quanttative study, so I choose to control my sampling in a small size. I doubt Hofstede’s frame will be well-suited to explain the cultural differences and I’m working on questionnaire design. If you are interested, I can send e-copy to you and hope you could give me some advices. In addition, it will be even greater if you could help me to locate sampling from your home country to make this study more reliable.

  3. Ben Turner on 27 Oct 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Lydia, yes, please, send your copy over!

  4. Victor Yanev on 12 Nov 2008 at 8:24 am

    Do you think that only Hofstede’s model is connected with cross-cultural communication? I am writing a dissertation now comparing communication styles of different countries and I have some problems with identifying how models of Hofstede and Trompenaar can be linked to communication…

  5. Umar on 14 Nov 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Interesting thoughts and I really like the set of questions you’ve set out.

    I’m currently starting a research project with another colleague to look at how cultural dimensions such as Hofstede’s and Hall’s can be juxtaposed with models of technology adoption and use to be able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors underlying the continued use of Social Networking Sites.

    That being said, we’ve adopted the approach where we’re treating these cultural dimensions as individual difference variables rather than macro variables that apply to the natural culture. This is to alleviate our concern of committing ecological fallacy by applying macro scores at the micro level. This is pretty much in line with the types of questions you’ve posted.

  6. lisa on 15 Feb 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Interesting. It to me begs to also ask if the cultural dimensions also play some sort of economic role. For example, the BRIC countries are strong rising economies not from the US expected free market democracy. What are the dimensions that have helped them grow? What are the ones that may hold them back? Is is also necessary to also look at the N11 and their cultural dimensions?

    Just some additional thoughts and questions.

  7. Nicole on 15 Mar 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Really interesting. I am currently writing my MA thesis and am comparing 12 cultural dimensions (from Hofstede and others) of emerging market countries (EMCs) with the US. I have found similar findings to what you have listed for the BRIC countries. It’s amazing to me that for almost every value dimension the majority of emerging market countries have similar scores or preferences towards the same value orientation. For example, 70% of EMCs are polychronic; 70% are relationship-oriented; 77% are high-context. The scores of the US for each of these dimensions is quite different. I wonder what else this tells us?

    Good luck with the research!

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