Make the Social Network Work for the Supply Chain

Social media offer new opportunities, as well as risks, for the supply chain – and supply chain executives


Consumer-oriented social media and social networks have existed since the mid-1990s, but they only entered the broad public consciousness in the mid-2000s. Business use of social networks, predictably, started with Sales and Marketing, which have tended to view the networks as yet another channel for connecting out to customers. But Engineering and Product Development, too, have made use of social networks as tools for gathering consumer feedback on products to detect quality issues or to understand features in demand for future products.

Supply Chain has been slower to embrace social media. But supply chain practitioners increasingly are coming to see opportunities to leverage social networks as another tool for managing the supply base. At the same time, social networking opens up new risks for enterprises and their supply chains. Either way, supply chain executives are finding they can no longer afford to ignore social media or social networks.

Social Media – The Survey

To understand the impact that social media are having on the supply chain, Supply & Demand Chain Executive conducted a quick survey of a slice of its online readers. While only a small sample of 41 readers, the results were nevertheless revealing. The results also might be comforting for Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, which drew the greatest number of users who frequented a social media site more than once a day. The career-oriented LinkedIn, on the other hand, proved most popular of the sites, with nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) visiting the site at least several times a week. (See Figure 1, page 42.) In fact, when asked to name the top three social networking sites they used for professional purposes, LinkedIn came out on top, cited by 76 percent of the respondents. Facebook ranked second at 41 percent, while Twitter “followed” (pun intended) at 34 percent.

We also asked about the primary business reasons for using social media Web sites. Not surprisingly, the most commonly cited reason was “personal career advancement” (cited by 56 percent of respondents). But just over half (54 percent) also cited “interacting with peers to discuss relevant business issues” and “research market conditions or trends” as important drivers behind their social media activity. What was somewhat surprising was that respondents more frequently cited externally focused activities like “external engagement with customers,” “external engagement with suppliers” and “research/search for new suppliers” than more internally focused activities like “cross-functional engagement within my company” or “internal engagement within my department/function.” (See Figure 2.)

The focus on personal professional advancement was evident in responses to the question about the importance of social media to one’s career. While social networking sites are still relatively new, more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents said that the sites were “very important” to their career, and another third (33 percent) said that sites were “somewhat important.” Just 7 percent said that the sites were “not at all important” to their careers. In comparison, 15 percent said that social media were “very important” to performing one’s job, while 44 percent rated the new social tools as “somewhat important.” (See Figure 3.) Those figures are likely to rise in the future in light of the responses to the question, “How do you see your use of Social Media tools as part of your job increasing in the future?” Four in 10 (38 percent) respondents said that their use of the tools on the job would be “increasing significantly,” while 43 percent responded “somewhat increasing.” Notably, no one saw decreasing use of social media for the job in the future. (See Figure 4.)

Tools of Engagement

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