Time differences can alienate your audience

Australia may be among the first population centers to see in the new day but we are often last to get the news. Time differences can play havoc with international – and more local – communication, whether talking to staff or customers.

As a communicator time differences have always been in the back of my mind. Something that should be taking into consideration so as not to alienate any part of my audience. But it wasn’t until I swapped UTC+1 for UTC+10 that I truly appreciated the impact of the earth’s rotation. Rather than being in the “centre” of the communication sphere, I was on the outer rim, asleep when the world was buzzing.

Failing to take time differences into consideration can negate all the hard work you put into your communication activities.

Failing to take time differences into consideration can negate all the hard work you put into your communication activities.

I was out of step with my social media friends, coming into conversations hours after they were finished. My in-box was in overdrive when I had my feet up unwinding after “my” work day. Even readership of this blog suffered as I made updates when most of you were away from a screen when the impulse to browse is at its strongest.

Of course these are my personal experiences, but they apply just as readily to the professional sphere.

Take internal comms as a starting point. Many companies already suffer from a “them vs us mentality”, or more to the point, headquarters against the rest of the company. This feeling of being an outsider is exacerbated when announcements, meetings and the like are timed for those occupying the same city as the CEO.

It may seem a minor point but imagine arriving at the office to learn of a major downsizing initiative not from your manager but an email from a colleague in a country closer to the centre of action, or worse, an announcement on the radio because the press department issued a statement while you were asleep.

To add insult to injury, you will also miss the live webcast and accompanying on-line chat with the executive team because it is scheduled for a key production phase that your entire department simply can’t step away from.

From the external perspective, budget cuts and the trend towards centralisation has eliminated or greatly reduced local communication budgets and therefore staff. But the best results can’t be achieved between 9 and 5 HQ time.

Just a few examples.

  • Customers expect to get information and answers when they need them – are your support staff available on the phone, on your site and on social media during key market business hours?
  • Media will ignore your announcement rather than be last with the news – do you know the local deadlines of your target outlets?
  • Engaging customers means communicating when they are listening – are your social updates being lost in the buzz or buried in time lines?

If you aren’t part of an international company with staff and clients spread around the planet, you could be excused for thinking time differences don’t apply. But they do.

In Aus, a relatively small country of 20 million people, we currently have five time zones. Yes, five! For half of the year there are three, covering the west, central and eastern regions. But come summer and daylight saving it all goes wrong with two states refusing to participate putting them out of step with their southern geographic equivalents.

I can’t imagine what the situation in vast countries such as the US or China is like.

Whether an international conglomerate, a country-wide operation or a local business, it’s worth giving time zones I thought every now and then rather than alienating a chunk of your audience.

Editor’s note (Jan 14): regular reader Oliver Gee (@TheUppsalaKoala) points out that China only has one time zone. Who would have thought it. 


Time and Date is a great tool for checking time differences

Other Mich-communication posts you might enjoy:
Analyse your audience with the 5 Ws
Choose your words carefully in cross-culture communication

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