Social Media and SME Exporting

Exporting and Social MediaAs stated in a previous post, ‘Social Media and SME Internationalisation’, our main research and teaching interests, pre-Internet years, were Export Marketing and International Business with a specific focus on the internationalisation of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Our previous post argued that effective use of social media could help to overcome many of the perceived barriers to SME exporting leading to the more rapid internationalisation of the sector.

It was with great interest, therefore, that we read ‘Britain Open for Business’ – UK Trade and Investment’s recently published five-year strategy for promoting growth through trade and investment published in May, 2011.

UKTI LogoThe document lays out detailed plans for supporting SME exporters, including the use of Social Media. Indeed, UKTI claim to be one of the leading users of Social Media in UK Government. Key initiatives already underway include: a UKTI Blog providing a ‘rich source of personal trade and investment experience‘; Linkedin community for online networking with over 8,200 members; Corporate Twitter channel with over 11,000 followers; and a Youtube Channel providing a ‘wide variety of material including sector showcases, opportunities in specific markets and ministerial speeches‘.

The strategy document also mentions a major new initiative to develop an online peer-to-peer self-help community for UK exporters – to be piloted with technology companies in late 2011 with a wider roll-out to follow in 2012.

UKTI are clear on the business benefits being derived from their various social media initiatives – reach and interact with new audiences; provide answers or contacts for enquiries; receive feedback on services provided in real-time.

While these initiatives are to be very much welcome, it is not clear from the document what support, advice or training will be given to UK SMEs to develop and implement their own social media supported export strategy.

SME Social MediaAs argued in our previous post, a wide range of public support measures have been put in place to encourage ‘non-exporters’ to become more international in outlook; and for ‘passive’ exporters to become more ‘pro-active’ in their approach. These include participation in overseas trade visits; strategic audits of ‘readiness to export’; country screening and export market research help; finding suitable agents and distributors; advice regarding export documentation, logistics, finance; and so on.

The UKTI Five Year Plan further develops this support with two main ‘products’ being launched for potential exporters (Passport to Exporting) and experienced exporters (Gateway to Global Growth). However, apart from UKTI’s own initiatives, little is said about the critical role that social media can play in SME export success. Is this a major ‘gap’ in public sector support for SME exporters given the global market potential of new media?

As usual feedback and comments are very welcome. Is there a need for a major training programme to encourage SMEs to more fully utilise the power of social media for overcoming barriers to exporting? In our experience, most are only scratching the surface.

Jim, Alan, Vincent

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