Could social media be the key to helping companies and students overcome the challenges of working in different business cultures? This is the premise behind a new body of research carried out at the University in conjunction with seven European partners, called Passport to Trade 2.0.
The project has been designed to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) looking to expand into foreign markets, as well as students wanting to take work placements or jobs abroad. It provides an extensive and free guide to business culture in 31 European countries, and covers social media etiquette, advice about online and face-to-face networking, and tips for trading in these countries. By exploring the ways in which business is carried out in different countries, the guides are setting out to demystify business etiquette and protocol, explains Dr Aleksej Heinze, from the Centre for Digital Business at the Salford Business School.
“We want to give businesses and individuals the knowledge and support they need to succeed abroad,” he says.
The project has been funded by the European Commission and evolved from an earlier project, which looked at business culture in 25 European countries and offered online business support for SMEs interested in developing links with companies in other EU countries. The project team is now working with universities and companies from around Europe to precisely map out the use of global social media networks in Europe.
The research is based around interviews with over 240 SMEs and nearly 1,400 students, and focus groups with the survey covering the issues and obstacles they face when trying to trade or work abroad. All country guides produced are peer reviewed by students and companies from the countries being studied. Based on this research, a European Mobility Framework structure has been developed, which highlights key elements to be considered for businesses and students who wish to be successful in other European countries.
This Framework highlights country-specific attitudes to punctuality, business meetings, business negotiations, use of social media networks and student placements, amongst others.
More than half the SMEs that responded to the survey reported using social media as a way of generating leads and developing business partnerships, a figure which greatly encourages social media-based innovations and business development. The predominant use of social media networks across Europe is for increasing customer awareness of the business. A top tip for any business is to set up basic social media monitoring to survey comments that are published about their business. For example, any establishment that has reviews on TripAdvisor has to reply to any negative comments and take actions where needed.
Around 99% of business within the EU is carried out by SMEs but just 8% of these companies are involved in the, often lucrative, export markets. The team suggest that harnessing the power of social media could help to radically change this because social networks increase the potential for international collaboration by making the whole process faster and simpler. Their research can help SMEs to develop new social media strategies and provide them with the social media marketing tools and techniques they need to effectively engage with new business opportunities and expand into new markets.
The research also highlights that although there are some common social networks amongst businesses, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, other country-specific networks are also popular, such as Xing in Germany and Vladeo in France.
The vast majority of students, on the other hand, use Facebook. “Social media can help to play an important role in fostering mobility and breaking down cultural barriers,” says Aleksej. “For young people, traditional country borders are no longer obstacles when it comes to developing their networks.”
Further details about the project, including the social media guides and details about the various European partners, are available at: www.businessculture.org. Aleksej recently presented the project at the monthly Research, Innovation and Enterprise Exchange, powered by PechaKucha, and the slides are available online at: www.slideshare.net/unisalford.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.