Is Social Media a Tool for Small and Medium Enterprise Market Expansion?

Small and medium enterprises are often deemed as a major contributor for local economies. However, a recent study has found that small and medium enterprises have the ability to expand internationally if they utilize social media.

A study by Barclays focusing 500 UK small businesses found that 72% of these businesses solely use their social media platforms to market their products in the local markets, thereby overlooking customers in global markets. The study further found that while 66% of the businesses utilize Facebook to market their products locally, the figures almost halves to 31% when looking at businesses that use social media to market their products internationally.

The study further cited that one reason behind the lack of interest of small businesses towards internationalizing their social media platforms is that they believe what works in their country will work internationally. Additionally, the small businesses had stated that as they believe that they are effectively communicating towards the international audience as they use the international language of English, therefore stating that there is no need to further need to internationalize.

“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. Worse still, by not understanding your target market you could even be putting off customers through unintended translation or currency errors.” – Steve Childs, head of international at Barclays Business


Integrating social media into your communication strategy is an important step towards expansion. However, this does not mean that social media remains at its traditional role of brand communication. Small businesses need to expand beyond this view and take into account the potential it possess in market penetration and export. When using social media platforms for market expansion, it is important to remember that the popularity and the number of users of each social media platform varies according to each country, therefore utilizing the most effective social media platform would be a determinant of your success. For example, while most countries use LinkedIn as a professional networking site, a study by Pew Research found that Xing is the best performing professional network in Germany.

“If your goal is building a brand in a new market and generating sales in that region, then the first thing to do is choose your platform.” – John Wilkins, head of marketing at European Automation


In terms of the Sri Lankan small and medium enterprises, it can be seen that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has recognized the need to improve foreign trade, and has often taken measures to create a more conductive environment. For example, the GoSL have actively taken steps in encouraging exports by introducing small and medium enterprises to financial intermediaries, providing several training and technology transfer programmes, and the GoSL has further entered into trade agreements to bolster the export market of Small and Medium Enterprises. With this foundation being laid by the GoSL, the export opportunities small and medium enterprises in Sri Lanka has greatly improves, and a social media strategy can help increase their reach internationally.

Going International

When looking at exporting goods internationally, it is important to first study the compatibility of the products in the countries and/or markets you plan to offer. Once you narrow down the countries you wish to market to, identify which social media platforms are frequently used by the locals. For example, if you are planning on expanding to China, it is best to keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, and the most popular social media platform in the country is Weibo , a micro-blogging website which is often deemed as a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter.

There is no doubt that small and medium businesses are a crucial part of any economy, this is evident through its contribution made to the Sri Lankan GDP of more than 50% and they also account for more than 80% of the registered businesses in Sri Lanka. However small and medium businesses in Sri Lanka, and globally, should look at integrating social media into their communication strategy, as it possesses the potential to help business expand internationally.

“A website or Instagram page can be your shop window to the world, delivering growth and bigger market share with minimal costs.” – John Wilkins


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