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BUSINESS WEST – CONNECTING BUSINESSES inspire


Get connected to the world and reach your full potential


By Nigel Barker, Digital Trade Adviser at Business West


“I’ve got my guitar with me. Does anyone fancy a jam at lunchtime?” The year is 1992, and I have just made my first ‘social media’ post. It wasn’t called social media back then.


Marketers hadn’t created a PR friendly dynamic brand identity, but the mechanism was the same. The online bulletin board we had at Digital Equipment Corporation connected the major offices across the globe and our department had just been given access! I guess this small, insignificant message now


makes me a veteran of social media. It certainly seems that since that moment there has rarely been a day go by that I haven’t posted some part of my life, whether it be business or personal for an audience to see. Skip forward to today and it’s easy


to believe, in this ever-expanding social eco system that Facebook and Twitter ARE social media, and while Facebook may (just) be able to lay claim to that title with its reported two billion users, it isn’t the whole picture. Take China, for example.


China holds the record for both the highest number of Internet users (>700 million) and the highest number of internet pages with almost a quarter of all pages being in


Chinese. Yet you try and find Facebook or Twitter over there. OK, users that know their way round a VPN system can get access but in China the market is dominated by WeChat, often wrongly described as The Chinese Facebook. WeChat itself boasts 963


million active users (well in excess of Twitter’s 330 million active users) and China’s Twitter equivalent, Weibo’s 313 million monthly users means it is certainly knocking on the door of the blue birds nest. WeChat itself feels like a cross between What’sApp, Facebook with a bit of Instagram thrown it but in many ways but it is so much more. E-Commerce is an integral part of the


Another country that has retained its own


‘Businesses have WeChat Shops within the application’


social identity and not completely fallen under the spell of Facebook is Russia. While Facebook has a presence (between 13 and 20 million depending on which report you trust) Vkontakte demonstrates that a well structured social platform can still serve the local population. On the surface of it Vkontakte does look a lot like Facebook and Instagram rolled into one, but there are a few differences that really set it apart. The embedded mp3 player and


playlist tool for example is certainly worth investigating for anyone involved in


platform and businesses have WeChat Shops within the application. Users even pay with an in app digital payment system called (predictably enough) WePay. With live streams and


gamification more embedded than it is in western platforms users rarely leave the WeChat environment to live their lives. Incidentally WeChat is


owned by Tencent who also have the instant messaging app QQ, which has over 838 million active users meaning that they aren’t THAT


far behind Facebook in the overall audience.


the music industry and, with access to 90 million active monthly users on the platform, it feels like a potential seam waiting to be mined. So how can UK brands establish a presence


on these platforms and ensure that they are reaching the markets that they want to reach? Well, as with all things in life, the first thing you need to do is join the community. If you want to move into a new neighbourhood you take a walk around to get a feel for it. It’s the same for social. Start by downloading the apps and have a wander round the neighbourhood. Yes, there may be a language barrier, but it’s incredible what a bit of Google Translate will do to help you read the digital road signs. As with all new neighbourhoods, when you


look around you discover all sorts of new opportunities, and as always, being nice to people you’ve just moved in next door to goes a long, long way.


The power of having an online presence


For small businesses, social media and e-commerce capabilities have been invaluable tools in driving growth. Research from FedEX2 says that over 63% of


British SMEs are now exporting, boosted by the ability to reach out to new customers via social media and eCommerce capabilities - more than eight in ten SMEs that export generate revenue through these means. Two local female entrepreneurs who have


taken advantage of social media and the support of Business West’s digital and international trade services are Gloucestershire-based Beth Hill and Lucy Gatt of Beb & Ooo, (www.bebandooo.co.uk) a children’s clothing range. Beth and Lucy’s business was inspired by


their quest for bright, colourful clothes for their young children. They launched in 2016, and just 18 months on, they are thriving and have recently secured their first international order. Beth said: “Once our two boys left the tiny


baby stage, we found that clothes came in a pretty limited palette, mainly blue, grey and green. And the selection for girls seemed


equally restrictive, with lots of pinks and pastels. “The only place we could find the kind of


clothes that we liked were from online retailers, many of which were in Scandinavia. I’ve always enjoyed making clothes and began coming up with my own designs using fabric sourced online.


“We received so many compliments that Lucy


and I began to think that maybe we had the basis for a business.” Beb & Ooo were recently approached by an


online retailer in Canada, Modern Rascals, which specialises in ethically made and gender neutral children’s clothing. Fiona Parnell, digital trade adviser at Business


West, said: “Social media and e-commerce is by far one of the most cost effective ways of reaching new customers both here and abroad. The increasing sophistication of eCommerce platforms and the phenomenal growth of social media over the last few years mean that it is easier than ever to look well beyond your own doorstep for business. We are seeing smaller businesses take advantage of the opportunities on offer to sell to overseas markets. If you would like to start your journey overseas, join us for one of our social media advertising workshops where you can learn to effectively target overseas customers.”


Visit: businesswest.co.uk/social-media-advertising JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 insight 15


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