Effective Social Media in Supply Chain: The Search Is On

For social adoption in the B2B supply chain to expand, capability factors must be addressed


Enabling company focus

Unlike mainstream social media, primarily composed of individual profiles where members can connect with each other one on one, a B2B network should revolve around the company, i.e., companies connecting with companies and buyers connecting with sellers.

Company profiles—not user profiles—should be the showcase. When posting, users are representing their company on a B2B network versus not themselves. As a result, company profiles should highlight products and services, company news and team members. A user’s profile should be built around what that individual’s responsibilities are within the company—let LinkedIn handle the user’s education and experience.

Let’s not forget the social aspect

What is it about the social aspect of the network itself that can provide value to the supply chain? Looking back at a past position I held in the supply chain, I was responsible for 700 suppliers, 5,000 items and over $200 million in annual spend—and it was just me. I had four to five supplier meetings every day and you can likely imagine the number of phone calls and e-mails. Not surprisingly, every conversation had little variation:

Supplier: “We have a new product.”

Buyer: “We have a process to evaluate your new product.”

Supply chains are faced with the problem of being unable to stay up-to-date with all of the key information their suppliers want them to know. In my past role, it was impossible for me to interact and always stay up-to-date with my 700 suppliers through traditional methods as phone, e-mail and meetings.

Imagine if all 700 of my suppliers were in my B2B network and I could target my message to all of them with one post regarding the process to get their product approved at my company. Instantly, all 700 suppliers would be given the same message. Then, imagine if they could comment on my post with additional questions to which I could respond to, and to which all 700 would be privy to. The amount of time that could be reduced would be significant—not to mention there is tremendous value for myself and the suppliers in knowing that they all received the message at the same time, with the same fair method. Now, step into the shoes of one of those 700 suppliers. They likely also have hundreds of customers and a similar goal to get the right sales message in front of each of their customers without having to repeat the same information over and over.

Of course, in some regulated industries like healthcare, there is significant concern and caution regarding how the message is delivered because of their potential liability for false claims. But consider the value if the supplier had all of their customers on that same social network. They could completely control and target their message to all of their customers in simple posts about the launch of a new service; advancement in an existing product; or a compelling news story about their company.

Another benefit to having a social supply chain is the ability to stay up-to-date with each other without formally interacting. Before Facebook, how often did you keep in touch with all of those “online” friends? Most of them you probably hadn’t seen or heard from in years. But with Facebook, you see daily or weekly updates from them and they are able to see the same from you.

An additional value for the social network in the supply chain is the concept of crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. The group, also known as the crowd, submits solutions. B2B companies are often faced with many complex problems or tasks that could greatly benefit from crowdsourcing via a social network.

For example, buyers may say “I need to standardize a specific category of products. What’s the best way to go about it?” They may also question, “Should I in-source or out-source this service? What are some of the best ways to measure success in spend management?”

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