Making the most of social media in international trade


If you think that social media is a “jolly waste of time”, you might be right. However, used cleverly, social media is a great tool for international trade, on many levels, and not only for B2C but also in B2B. Rather than getting into an academic discussion of interconnectivity, collaborative consumption and branding, let me go straight into discussing how you can make the most of social media to trade internationally, giving you specific examples across different social media networks.


So when you think of social media you often think of Facebook and Twitter, right? How about YouTube? Just silly videos from all over the world? Not at all, think again!

YouTube can show, sometimes even without words (hence no need to worry about translations), what many pages of text just can’t. For example, one of my UK-based manufacturing clients produces cleats, which can hold cables together even in the case of a shortcircuit. Not convinced? Well, you watch a video with the cables flying all over the place during a shortcircuit, and you will see why you need to buy these products. We have shown the videos to electrical engineers across Latin America who just go “wow” and want to show the video to colleagues. Very few things are as powerful as an image/video.

So that was product information. How about company information? Are you looking for a distributor in an overseas market? How will you gather their attention? Tell them about you, show who your people are, show them your factory/offices/premises. People do business with people. The style of the video can be as funky/formal/chatty/rigid as you want it to be, just make sure it represents you. It can be done in English and subtitled, you can dub it, or you can just use very few (written) words. Suddenly, you are not that far from those people you want to work with on the other side of the planet.

You can see now that the possibilities are endless. Here are just three very personal suggestions:

  • Company anniversary or achievement? Send your distributors worldwide a video. It’s all about loyalty, team building, communications...
  • Been to a trade show or about to exhibit? Circulate a short video (filmed at the show) showing your stand, your products, your people. Send to current and prospective clients.
  • Are you an expert (even if just in your home country) on a particular issue and trying to sell this expertise worldwide? Share the information on a short video. For example, I have my own youtube channel to share information but also marketing videos.
  • How about a client testimonial? Here’s an example, and from the very Institute of Export!

If you want a bit of support to start working on YouTube, I found the one-day YouTube course I did at Quest PR in Yorkshire invaluable.


Now, this is definitely NOT my favourite social media channel, but it s extremely important if you are working business-to-consumer. A lot has been said about this, and there is plenty of information online to help you work out how to reach international consumers through Facebook (whether you are selling from the UK, have an office in the country, or have a distributor/partner). When I work with B2C companies, as part of my distributor recruitment methodology, I always ask the question to the potential distributor: “how will you use social media and, in particular Facebook, to maximise the exposure of my clients’ products?”. And I always check what activity that distributor is already undertaking on Facebook, mainly through other brands. You might even want to make social media participation part of your distributor agreement, since it is one more marketing effort.

And I always like to see what market leaders in overseas markets are doing on Facebook. It gives you a lot of clues...

Now, apart from that known role, Facebook is fantastic for researching a new market. For example, I was recently researching the gluten-free market in Colombia for a Scottish client, and I engaged with Celiac Groups across the country. The information you can find on those discussions on Facebook are great. They won’t be statistically reliable, but they will make you see things that you can’t find out in any other way. For example, I was fascinated by a particular online store but there were constant complaints on Facebook that stock was always low... So I had something very specific to discuss with the retailer!


One of my favourite channels! Why? Let me first tell you what my business has achieved on twitter:

  • Yes, I have won business directly through twitter, and I’ve had enquiries that have resulted in business for me directly as a result of my activity on twitter. I can monetise my efforts, but this channel is much more than about selling...
  • I have “met” some people that have really enhanced my working life on twitter, people who to share information and ideas with – internationally.
  • Twitter has been great for generating PR interest. Many journalists are on twitter looking for experts on particular topics or interesting news. Most of the media exposure I have generated for my business has come from twitter. This is because my tweets are focused (follow me on @UKLatinAmerica and you’ll see why!) – although some random personal tweets are great; people want to see you are a human being, after all! Back to the “people do business with people”...

What’s more:

  • You can follow clients, competitors, suppliers... whether B2B or B2C
  • Ask! If you want to find out how to greet a business acquaintance in Venezuela, tweet your question! I never rely 100% on the replies, but it is a good place to start. And what is the best restaurant near that hotel in Lima? Can anyone tell me if they can buy the FT in their country? Does anyone know a German-Japanese translator? If you engage enough, people will want to help. And remember to help back!
  • Targeting a specific overseas market? Follow a national newspaper (or many), sector publications, and all sorts of people and organisations on twitter that will give you information and immerse you in that reality. You can always unfollow if some prove to be a waste of time!
  • Many exporters are now realising the importance of learning a new language, or at least having some command of it. Social media is a great way to learn and practice those words of French you learnt at school or that bit of Spanish you learnt for holidays – but within a business context. Let me give you an example: I follow on twitter many Brazilian business publications, which means that almost without noticing, I am being exposed to Brazilian Portuguese on a daily basis. It also means that I am up-to-date with business news so that when I travel to Brazil, I am more confident and people can see you have made an effort.
  • Don’t forget that Google is watching what you do on social media and your SEO can benefit from social media activity...

As someone completely new to twitter when I started by business, the outstanding Ten Days of Twitter course by Reach Further was of immense value to me. Delivered on twitter, it is all you need to get started and make the most of it – from a business perspective.


Probably the most business-focused network, I seriously recommend using it. For international business development, it is a great tool, but also for international market research. For example, I recently contacted doctors in various South American countries to find out what they thought about baby bottle sterilisation (as part of market research for a client). They all got back to me within a day, with some clever thoughts and ideas, and were keen to share their expertise and experience. It would have taken me hours to reach them on the phone, and direct emails don’t usually work in many markets!

Some advice and a word of caution...

One of the main reasons why people individually or businesses are reluctant to engage in social media is the time it takes. I personally agree that being on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and even more channels can be resource-intensive and end up being a drain on your time. The key here is to have a strategy. What do YOU want social media to achieve for YOUR business? How does it fit with your overall aims? What image do you want to project? Who will be in charge? Never do social media because it’s trendy or because “you have to”. Return on Investment can be tricky to measure, since social media is usually part of a wider (research/marketing/branding/etc) effort but social media has to have an end in itself.

And I leave you with the views of an exporting British SME – Mama Tea, on social media and international trade (HERE)...

Enjoy – and connect!


(you can follow me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, enjoy my Pinterest boards, and watch me on YouTube!).


Written on 2nd May 2013 by Gabriela Castro - Fontoura, S&H LLP Associate Director at Sunny Sky Solutions (

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