By Francesca James

A global online networking and marketing platform for Welsh businesses was launched yesterday to promote exports and inward investment.

Wales World Wide uses the digital architecture of social media and online marketing to give Welsh companies a platform to showcase their products, share information and develop contacts internationally.

Its core service is a free-to-use online Meeting Place with discussion forums and member-to-member messaging aimed at linking people with common business interests and a connection to Wales.

“Our aim is for this to become, in effect, an online dating agency through which Welsh businesses make those invaluable contacts that lead to orders and investment,” said Steve Howell, chairman of Wales World Wide.

“It’s all about international networking, connecting Welsh businesses with the vast Welsh diaspora, the alumni of Wales’s universities, and people of all nationalities who have an affinity for Wales through work, sport or culture.

“We believe there are tens of thousands of people worldwide who would gladly open doors for Welsh business given an easy way to do so.”

Wales World Wide has been launched by Cardiff-headquartered media group Freshwater UK with the support of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce and official launch partners Welsh Whisky.

“In order for the Welsh economy to recover and grow, we must encourage Welsh businesses to expand their horizons and take all that Wales has to offer to the world,” said David Russ, chief executive of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.

“We see this as a great platform for Welsh SMEs to showcase their products and services and to develop new contacts. It ties in neatly with the priority the Chamber is giving to promoting international trade and to the support services we offer exporters.”

Wales World Wide has sector-specific forums through which users can initiate and participate in discussions as happens with other online social networks.

“The attraction of Wales World Wide for us is to reach out to premium people in the business market place who we can attract to the brand,” said Stephen Davies, managing director, Penderyn, the makers of Welsh Whisky.

“Having a network of people who are talking business and inevitably talking about other things is very interesting and could be very exciting for us.”

Wales World Wide Ltd was established by Freshwater UK last year and has been consulting with a wide range of businesses across Wales in the months leading up to the online launch today.

“Social media is unique in that the product is shaped by its consumers,” said Steve Howell. “We’re starting a journey where we don’t know the route or destination.

“Wales World Wide will respond to its users — the members will be able to suggest forums and initiate discussions, and it will go where the audience and opportunities take it.”

The launch of Wales World Wide follows economic data that demonstrates both the urgent need for growth through exports and the potential for achieving this.

On the one hand, last week saw the announcement of GDP figures showing the UK economy had contracted for a third quarter in succession.

On the other hand, Welsh exports in the 12 months to the end of March 2012 were up 5% over the previous 12 months - a £628 million increase.

The Welsh Government is supporting and encouraging export growth by organising 10 trade missions in six months, starting with a delegation to Washington and Boston in September.

There are 200,000 SMEs in Wales, of which 70% aim to grow their business over the next 2 to 3 years and 59% aim to do this by exploiting new markets.