A quantitative approach was deemed adequate for the purpose of this survey-based study. This research focuses on one European country (Switzerland) and one Latin American country (Colombia) which have rarely been compared in a humanitarian communication context. The main criteria for sample selection were cultural dimension (high vs. low) and active presence of the ICRC. The Red Cross conducts key operations and interacts with a wide range of beneficiaries both in Switzerland and ColombiaFootnote 1 which differ considerably in terms of contexting. Drawing on Hall’s context theory (Hall 1976), Switzerland and Colombia are often regarded as being LCC and HCC, respectively (Kittler et al. 2011; Richardson and Smith 2007; Cardon 2008). In this paper, we follow the similar classification: Switzerland is expected to be a lower context culture than Colombia. Regardless of this general classification, we assess the individual context scores in sampled countries to verify empirically the cultural classification.
Overall, 170 respondents (Swiss, n = 73; Colombian, n = 97) participated voluntarily in this comparative survey-based study. Taking into account the cultural diversity in sampled countries, especially Switzerland whose regions (German-speaking, French-speaking, and Italian-speaking regions) are differently ranked in terms of cultural context (Hofstede et al. 2010), the survey was distributed merely between the Swiss in German-speaking regions and the Colombian in Bogota and Medellin. The majority of respondents fell within the age range 21–30 years (47.6%) with the second highest group in the category less than 20 years (18.8%). Precisely, half of the total participants were female (50%).
In order to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the effect of context culture on humanitarian behavior intention, two implicit posts were selected from the Facebook and Instagram official pages of the ICRC. An implicit post refers to a post with different levels of verbal and non-verbal implicitness.
The ICRC has an active presence on different social media platforms: inter alia, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. In a humanitarian context, “deciding on your ideal platforms depends on your country and target audience” and you should meet your audience where they are (Lüge 2017). Facebook is by far the largest network and the mostly used SNS both in Switzerland and Colombia (Statcounter 2020a, 2020b). Social media scholars emphasize on the significance of cross-platform studies in comparison to single-platform studies (Rogers 2018). In other words, it is better to analyze a phenomenon across different SNSs, rather than one single platform. Therefore, Instagram was selected as the second platform to be used in this study because of its growing popularity in the world (Alhabash and Ma 2017) and the similarity between the objectives that the ICRC pursue with the use of Facebook and InstagramFootnote 2 (Sala Rigler 2020). Other criteria such as post format in terms of equal verbal and non-verbal content, as well as better access to data, were also considered.
For the purpose of providing participants with contents that varied in implicitness, two social media posts (Appendix 1) with distinct humanitarian ideas were selected. The Facebook post targeted donation behavior by informing about nutritional level in South Sudan and illustrating two hand palms insinuating a request. And the Instagram post dealt with the importance of aid workers’ security by informing about this issue and depicting the bullet marks on an ambulance.
Due to the difference in presented humanitarian topics, and to avoid possible negative effects of this difference on participants’ responses, the author determined taking any kind of humanitarian action regarding the specified issues (e.g., even sharing the post) as the aimed humanitarian behavior. Having this explanation in mind, the participants were asked to answer the questions about the humanitarian behavior intention after viewing each post.
It is important to note that neither of the posts promoted explicitly the expected humanitarian behavior and both fell on the i-continuum proposed by Yus (1999). Regardless of the distinction between their verbal or non-verbal implicitness, this study focuses specifically on the reaction of the Colombian and the Swiss to ICRC’s implicit social media content. As previously mentioned, humanitarian values are transferred through different messages (Sala Rigler 2020), but humanitarian agencies are not always aware of the possible impacts of the way they communicate.
This research had one-factor design. Social media posts with implicit humanitarian ideas were presented to participants with Swiss or Colombian nationality (between-subject design) and each of the respondents opined about the posts in the same order.
Measurement items for the survey were based upon and adapted from literature. Items for personal preference of high-/low-context culture were derived from Richardson and Smith (2007). In total, seven items with 5-point scale (mean reliability: α = .71) were selected. Three examples of items were “It is more important to state a message efficiently than with great detail,” “Intentions not explicitly stated can often be inferred from the context,” and “A speaker can assume that listeners will know what they really mean” (all seven items are in Appendix 2).
The behavior intention items were derived from Ajzen (1991). Based on the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), respondents were to reply to four items with 5-point scale (mean reliability: Facebook: α = .72; Instagram: α = .78) regarding behavioral beliefs, normative beliefs, control beliefs, and intention. The TPB is a theory that links one’s beliefs and behavior. The theory states that intention toward attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control together shape an individual's behavioral intentions and behaviors (Ajzen 1991).
In terms of humanitarian behavior, once exposed to the humanitarian messages published by the ICRC, the audience may accept the humanitarian belief after being influenced by the message and acquire the intention. The extent to which the audience is persuaded is debatable, but are people from different cultural contexts affected similarly? In this sense, the role of cultural difference in the perception and acceptance of humanitarian messages gains more importance.
Two examples of the items regarding behavior intention were “For me to take an action regarding the poor in South Sudan on a regular basis is difficult/easy” and “For me to take an action regarding aid workers on a regular basis is valuable/worthless” (all four items for Facebook and Instagram are in Appendix 3).
The questionnaire ended with items on nationality, gender, age, and education. The number of social media accounts and social media daily use were also questioned, but did not lead to any significant results.
Procedure and statistical tests
The survey was conducted over a period of 2 months (March 15–May 15, 2020). To evaluate the cultural difference between the Swiss and the Colombian according to Hall’s context theory, this study compared the mean score of participants’ PCC (H1).
Since the content of selected social media posts varied, for each respondent, a mean score for behavior intention was computed based on Facebook and Instagram post, individually. This separation also enabled the author to conduct a cross-platform analysis and compare the results. The mean scores for behavior intention were submitted to regression analyses for the direct effect of nationality on behavior intention (H2).
For the indirect effects of nationality through PCC on behavior intention, the author used bootstrapping as mediation technique (H3). To do so, this study drew on the bootstrapping approach proposed by Hayes (2009).