One of the things that has struck me in the coverage of events in Iran is how well protestors there seem to have grasped a basic point of effective communications that bizarrely seems to elude many organizations: you need to talk to the audience in terms they understand and in terms that will resonate with a wide audience.
It would be natural for people protesting a national election to carry signs with messages in the national language. I find it extremely savvy that protestors in Iran have translated many of their messages into English, knowing that these images would have a much greater impact when reproduced in global media. This reflects both a self-awareness that we are all tied together by communications technologies today and a strategic intent to build support for the movement from outside Iran’s borders as well as inside. I cannot imagine any French protest involving bilingual French/English signs. (And trust me, anyone living in France has frequent opportunities to test this hypothesis.)
Although I believe the situation is improving, I still frequently stumble across communications from self-proclaimed “global” companies that do not translate their messages into local languages of their employees/customers or, worse, don’t even use a universally understandable form of English. American English is particularly subject to metaphors related to baseball (so understandable only to Canadians, Japanese, Cubans, Philippinos, and a handful of other groups that enjoy that sport), (American) football (an even smaller list of countries), the American education system (e.g. the use of “101” to denote something basic) and other purely cultural references that cannot be understood by fellow English speakers unless they have been steeped in American culture for some reason or another.
Global communicators: take notes from the Iranian protestors on thinking about your audiences when crafting your messages and the means for delivering them.