The promotion of SME (Small and Medium sized Enterprise) internationalisation has been a major policy objective of most governments for the last 50 years or so. The underlying rationale has been based on three main propositions:
- Having a strong base of SMEs competing in international markets is critical to national economic prosperity and job creation – especially in an increasingly global and inter-connected world
- SMEs face a range of internal and external barriers or obstacles when trying to expand abroad (e.g. lack of resources, time, knowledge; fear of the unknown; product/service suitability for foreign markets; export paperwork and documentation; risks; tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade etc)
- As a consequence, public sector support is required to help overcome these barriers
Based on the above, most nation states have implemented a range of Export Support Programmes aimed specifically at SMEs. However, having worked in this area for over 25 years (see International Market Entry and Development book published in 1989), it is our contention that most Export Support Programmes are stuck in a pre-digital, pre-social time warp. At best, they pay lip service to the new opportunities and threats presented by the Digital/Social Media Revolution.
Used effectively, digital technology and social media can help to overcome many of the traditional barriers to SME exporting leading to the more rapid internationalisation of the sector. However, few SMEs are exploiting the full potential of digital/social for ‘going global’. Our 'State of Digital Scotland Survey' showed that only 10% of SMEs had a well-defined digital/social media strategy to support their international expansion. Given that SME globalisation is a major policy objective, it is very surprising that more support is not being provided in this area.
In our view, there is an urgent need to digitise and socialise Export Support Programmes to equip SMEs with the digital/social media knowledge, skills and confidence for using emerging technologies to support globalisation.
We suggest below ten major elements that should be included in a Digital/Social Media Supported Export Programme:
- Use of digital and social media for export knowledge and export market research
- The importance of setting up a Social Media Listening System to support export growth
- Using ‘Hub’ communities (knowledge and relationship based)
- e-Marketplaces for direct online selling in international markets
- Use of digital and social media for supporting Trade Missions: making the right connections before you go
- Proactively developing and implementing your own Digital/Social Media Supported Export Strategy (web site, web site marketing, social media channels etc)
- Implementing a Content Marketing Plan for international markets (Inbound Marketing)
- Internal use of social technology to improve business processes, productivity and competitiveness
- Digital/social collaboration with overseas partners
- Strategy and Performance Measurement
We would very much welcome your thoughts on the above. Do you agree? What other areas do you think could be covered? Is there specific support that you need to improve your export performance?
We are thinking of developing a free online course around these topics. Is this something you would welcome?
Jim, Alan and Vincent
PS: Many of the issues raised in this article are being explored further in the ‘2013 Scottish Export Survey’. If you haven't done so already, we would very much welcome your contribution to the survey.