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


Takeaways:

  • Social media use for business purposes is expanding, so don't wait to get started
  • Leverage social media for new kinds of supplier/competitor intelligence
  • Put departmental or enterprise policies in place governing staff use of social media
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By Andrew K. Reese

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. In fact, do a search for "year of the social network" on Google and you can find one source or another suggesting that every year since at least 2004 was, in fact, "The Year of the Social Network." Of course, 2004 was the year that saw the launch of Facebook, arguably the most successful of its breed to date — and the site that inspired the very movie "The Social Network."

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 Illustration 1 — click here to open in new window/tab.) 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 followed at 41 percent, followed by Twitter (34 percent) and industry blogs (32 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 Illustration 2 — click here to open in new window/tab.)

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