Opinion

Take a firm grasp of digital export trend if you have global growth goals

5 min read

15 August 2016

Former deputy editor

Visiting a company’s website, only to discover it possesses no social media channels, can be frustrating and bewildering in this day and age. And for firms looking for global growth, the trend of digital export is one that should be grasped with two hands.

Studies have previously shown that British SMEs fail to engage customers with social media, which is strange as so much evidence points to the wild success that can be achieved through the online channels.

Of course, social media won’t necessarily be a must-have for companies depending on the sector they operate in, construction perhaps, but any B2C outfits should surely have accounts on Facebook and the like good to go.

Thankfully, for the purpose of this article, British firms are taking to social networks to make operations known across the country. But what about the bigger picture? The desire many companies have to go global? Well, that’s a different story entirely.

If you want your products to sell overseas, you’ll have them exported. So if you want brand awareness abroad, you’ll surely look to promote the business internationally, right? Apparently not, Barclays has discovered, as 72 per cent of British SMEs do not market goods abroad through social media.

For domestic marketing online, Facebook was the most popular route to reach customers with 66 per cent. That was followed by the company website, Twitter and LinkedIn at 43 per cent, 36 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. Instagram was the least popular with just 16 per cent – that may change, of course, as the platform has introduced new tools for companies, including the launch of business profiles.

These figures decline considerably, by a rate of half on average, when respondents were quizzed on whether they are open to “digital export” practices of using social media to engage with overseas customers. For the globally-minded outfit, this is a huge expansion opportunity that’s being overlooked.

With international customers in mind, just 31 per cent of SMEs use Facebook to communicate overseas. The rundown order for international is the same as domestic, but the usage fell to 28 per cent for website, 17 per cent for Twitter, 12 per cent for LinkedIn and ten per cent for Instagram.

“A website or Instagram page can be your shop window to the world, delivering growth and bigger market share with minimal costs,” said Steve Childs, head of international at Barclays Business.

“With more consumers shopping online, business owners are missing out on sales if they aren’t using or tailoring their digital platforms and targeting international e-marketplaces to attract customers abroad.”

Read more on social media for more insight on how you can channel digital exports:

The study found there are five key reasons SMEs claim they avoid digital exports:

(1) The UK is my biggest market
(2) What works in the UK will work just as well overseas
(3) I have no interest in exporting abroad
(4) There is no need to as English is an international language
(5) I have never thought about exporting abroad

Given the discovery of these attitudes, Barclays and the Department for International Trade (DIT) have launched two online courses to help SMEs develop an international strategy with digital support. The move is in line with the government’s Exporting is Great programme.

Childs continued: “Worse still, by not understanding your target market you could even be putting off customers through unintended translation or currency errors. Our Digital Wings online training offers key guidance to help avoid such pitfalls and maximise your international potential online so that your digital window can shine the brightest.”

“We want to help more businesses start and succeed with exports, which in turn will boost the UK economy.”

It’s been made clear how important social networks view businesses – with advertising the main bread and butter for these digital giants, they’re eager to meet the needs of SMEs.

Instagram now has 200,000 advertisers and 500m users globally. Seems like it’s high time businesses hold social networks in an equally high regard in order to get a slice of the pie.