Interview with Laurel Papworth, who participated in the 2016 Leaders Programme
The Australian Leaders Programme 2016 included four Australian journalists specialising in different areas who visited Spain in November to gain a greater understanding of Spain as a country. The Council Foundation, as part of its active communications policy, is publishing interviews with them monthly.
Laurel Papworth (SilkCharm) is an expert in social media and communication and was named by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s Top 50 Social Media Influencers. She manages massive gaming and online communities and forums for reality TV shows such as Junior Masterchef and Big Brother. She is one of the top 10 bloggers for Australia.
- Had you ever been to Spain before? If so, how is this experience changing your view of the country?
I had been to Spain several times, I find it fascinating. But when you visit a country as a tourist, backpacking or when you travel for one or two days to attend a conference, you don’t get to see it in depth. One of the things I’ve been able to do thanks to this wonderful programme is to appreciate how mature the Spanish business world is: sophisticated products and services, distribution systems, airlines… I didn’t know that about Spain. My previous experience of the country was that of a tourist: flamenco, paella (laughs)…
Obviously, there’s so much more to the country than that. Thanks to the Programme, I can now appreciate the level of innovation and technology in Spain.
- As an expert in social media, do you think this sector is similar all over the world (meaning Western culture) or are there big differences between countries?
In many countries, people think that social media is about opening a Facebook page or creating a coupon with a special offer. In fact, social networks are a communication infrastructure for every person to participate and give their opinion on a whole host of aspects: sports, business, politics, etc. This is a much more profound view of social media.
I am not familiar enough with social media in Spain to be able to give an expert opinion, but I would say that, as a rule, people use them in a very natural way. Politicians, companies and organisations still need to learn how to use social media in a more meaningful way beyond selling products or raising funds.
- There are several major Spanish companies with business activity and interests in Australia. How would you say they should go about corporate communications there?
I think that any company coming to Australia from another country should do what we always do: understand the culture and understand that people in their native countries tend to be rather lazy when it comes to facilitating that understanding. Spanish companies in Australia must therefore make a greater effort to enhance that mutual understanding between the two cultures. When a company starts operating in a new country, it can be quite a challenge to understand what people are really saying: they seem to be saying one thing, but they actually mean another. That happens in every country.
From what I’ve seen of Spanish companies, they usually do well when it comes to finding local people specialising in building rapport beyond sellers and customers: industrial organisations and government institutions, for example. They all make great efforts to adapt to every country. It’s different in the case of big countries. For example, American companies coming to Australia want things done their way. I don’t see Spanish companies making that mistake.
- At the meeting with Spanish journalists you discussed the crisis of traditional media outlets and the rise of new media linked to new technologies. Is the situation the same in Australia?
The meeting with Spanish journalists was fantastic. Unfortunately, as I don’t speak the language, I can’t read Spanish papers to see how different they are from Australian papers, but I think that we should all be able to separate meaningful, sharp content involving a lot of research from more urgent, less meaningful ones. The challenge global media currently faces, including Spanish and Australian media outlets, is that people tend to go for shorter articles, known as clickbait, over more thorough features. There’s the debate around to what extent media outlets are linked to political parties and candidates, which has intensified ever since Donald Trump won the election in the US. The impartiality of the press is a similar challenge all over the world. I understand journalists’ concerns around this; I actually think we should all be worried.
- Regarding the Australian Leaders Programme, which part did you find most interesting?
I must admit, and I’m not proud of it, that I thought I’d compare Spain and Australia and think of the areas Spain could improve. Instead, I’ve learnt that Spain is ahead of us in many areas. The logistics we saw at Inditex, the military breakthroughs showcased at Airbus… Things that will take two, three, five years to get to Australia are already in place in Spain, which is amazing.
Also, things I thought would be boring turned out to be very interesting. I’ve never been interested in military affairs, and yet the technology we got to see the other day [the visit to Airbus’s facilities in Madrid) was fascinating.
I also think it is hard to understand the nature of a new country. It’s been very interesting to see how the Spanish think differently from Australian people. I really enjoyed the meeting with the Ministry of Economy, seeing how macroeconomic data is being received with optimism, and then seeing at other meetings, like the one we had with Spanish journalists, that the situation might not be perceived the same way by everyone. You can’t simplify it and say it’s all going well or the other way around: there are a lot of factors, different sectors with different ideas of what works and what doesn’t… That’s what makes a culture interesting, and I think that thanks to this experience I’ve been able to see how deep Spanish identity runs, even if I’ve barely scratched the surface.