Purpose: This study aims to utilise key insights from social network theory (SNT) to enhance understanding of overcoming the liability of outsidership as a prerequisite for firm internationalization. Specifically, it seeks to examine the influence of structural attributes of networks on the motivational stance of both network insiders and outsiders in relation to overcoming the liability of outsidership. A related aim is to explore the role of network positions of insider actors in terms of its impact on the speed of market entry.
Design/methodology/approach: The article draws on the extant literatures on firm internationalization, particularly the liability of outsidership, and SNT to identify to what extent SNT can be utilised to deeply understand the process of overcoming the liability of outsidership. We put forward eight propositions linking structural and positioning attributes of networks with overcoming the liability of outsidership.
Findings: SNT provides strong potential for a more comprehensive understanding of the internationalization phenomena through shedding light on the inter-relationship between the liability of foreignness and the liability of outsidership. The paper demonstrates that while the cost of overcoming the liability of outsidership is higher in closed target network as compared to open networks, the expected benefits of an insider position in closed or open network is affected by the outsider firm’s perception of the liability of foreignness in the market it wishes to enter. Considering the differential enabling characteristics of closed and open network in terms of facilitating tacit knowledge sharing as opposed to explicit information flows, we reveal that liability of foreignness operates as a negative moderator for the relationship between network structure and the willingness of the outsider to invest in gaining insidership. The analysis of the paper also shows that the positional attributes of the network insider are relevant in outsiders’ motivation in terms of the speed of market entry that they seek to achieve.
Originality/value: This study theoretically contributes to the internationalization research through integrating SNT with the liability of outsidership understanding of firm internationalization. This is a timely attempt as no systematic application of the conceptual apparatus of SNT in the internationalization research context has been studied. It adds a more coherent inside-out perspective into the overcoming the liability of outsidership discussion which has been extensively dominated by an outside-in perspective.