Social Media & Supply Chain Management: Don't Copy. Be Inspired

Social media has the potential to help solve Supply Chain's latency challenge.

Recently I have read some heated discussions about the use of social media in supply chain management. "Is using social media in the supply chain just science fiction? Is it a fad? Or is there some definitive value for supply chain management?" These are the major debates.

From my perspective, simply copying or using existing social media such as Facebook and Twitter as tools in the supply chain can only result in more problems (some serious) than benefits. But rather than weighing the pros and cons of social media, I have been thinking about how we can tap into the value of social media while also fixing the problems with it to make it applicable to the supply chain. How can we get inspired by social media and use it to create a useful supply chain tool?

Consider one of the biggest macro challenges in supply chain management today: Higher and higher levels of complexity cause lower and lower levels of visibility and speed. Now consider that one reason social media are so popular and necessary in our information-intensive society today is that they allow information to flow and spread with incredible speed. Social media would seem to be the perfect tool for solving supply chain's information latency challenge. But some argue that information must be shared in the supply chain only on a "need to know" basis. We can actually address this concern by taking the social media "tag" function a step further, only granting access to responsible parties while, by default, excluding all other, irrelevant parties.

Let's look at an example of how this sort of "corporate social media" tool might work in the supply chain. Imagine the head of purchasing at a Fortune 500 multinational manufacturing company finds out from a supplier that the supply of one raw material will be delayed, which will affect 10 production departments and 20 distribution offices of the company. So he posts this information on his "corporate social media" page and "tags" 10 responsible staffers within the purchasing department. These staffers edit and re-post the information on their own pages based on their needs, and they each tag two relevant production managers within their sphere of responsibility. These 20 production managers know how the delay will affect the distribution departments, so they each edit the information, re-post it, and tag, say, 10 sales representatives from each distribution office under their management, totaling 200 representatives. Does the supply delay also effect financial and marketing departments? If so, they can be tagged, too. Meanwhile, with each post, the tagged parties can discuss and update information freely and collaboratively on a continuous, real-time basis, and they can take the necessary steps to respond to the delay. If suppliers and clients also have access to this "corporate social media" tool, they, too, can be brought in to help address the issue.

Imagine how much slower this communication process would be if it relied on e-mail exchanges within a large, ever-expanding group. E-mail exchanges among any more than five people already feel overwhelming and exhausting.

Feeling a little inspired now? So what else can supply chain do with a "corporate social media" tool? Can it be applied to the areas of Change Management, Operations Management, Facility Management, Knowledge Management, and so on? No doubt. But your first step is simply understanding that the new social media tools can – and will – have a dramatic impact on the supply chain.