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Socializing the supply chain (Part 1)


This two-part series highlights social media’s role in today’s supply chain organization.

Social Icons 200pxIf you think that social networking is a distraction and serves no other business purpose than to give marketing executives an excuse to tweet during working hours, well, I have three things to say to you: One, you are probably not alone. Two, you could well be right on two accounts. Three, you may still want to reconsider your thoughts on social media and the role that it can play in your business.

Like it or not, social media is an extraordinary phenomenon. With the exception of a few obscure chat rooms, the concept of social media did not exist 10 years ago. Yet, it is now estimated to involve and connect over 1.2 billion people on the planet, or more than 80 percent of the Internet population. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are undoubtedly the leading forces behind the social era. However, a number of other networks are also making a remarkable “social” contribution for supply chain professionals.

Below are examples of these social tools and the benefits they can bring to various parts of your organization:

  1. Your end customer and customer support organization: It is probably fair to assume that a large portion of your customers are active social media contributors. In the last few years, a number of companies have seen that it only takes one influential and dissatisfied customer to damage your brand reputation online. However, this is a risk that can be mitigated. Dell, which relies heavily on its own e-commerce site to sell its merchandise, has recently taken an active step in monitoring what is said about the company via social media.  The company is using a social media monitoring platform called Radian6 in its Social Media Listening Command Center to listen to and analyze more than 20,000 daily posts - and act where necessary to convert negative comments into satisfied customers. Before social media, satisfied or dissatisfied customers would share thoughts with a handful of their friends.  However now in the social era, one unhappy person’s thoughts could be shared with a network of “friends” averaging over 100 people. The good news is that this also creates an opportunity for positive messaging which Dell well understood.
  2. Your channel partners and sales force: Sales representatives were the first people to safeguard and organize their Rolodex through online solutions such as Plaxo. However, these address book alternatives have been outpaced by professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Professional social networking sites  offer value-added tools that allow you to make targeted connections, leverage your extended network to a level never seen before, or just ‘keep in touch’ with more direct contacts than could have been manageable a few years ago. Industry groups and forums on LinkedIn are also becoming a meaningful way of identifying opportunities and gathering intelligence on your market as well as your competition.
  3. Your suppliers and sourcing/procurement specialists: Supply chain professionals have had access to specialized procurement platforms for decades.  But what the Internet has brought is a faster way to access this information with a wider reach. Now brands like Salesforce are incorporating social media to create Enterprise social networks like Salesforce Chatter. Enterprise social networks like Chatter are cheaper and more informal ways of inquiring about solutions, prices or any other type of information that can help streamline sourcing, pre-qualification or even risk-management. This is also becoming an effective way of disseminating information (be it new policies or else) to your supply base and keeping an eye on what is happening with them. Finally, embedded survey tools or more sophisticated RFP (request for proposal) solutions can also help a great deal in making their administration more efficient, and this is also valid for the supplier selection process.

Next week we’ll explore the benefits social media can bring to your workforce, marketing, R&D and even investors relations. In the meantime I’d be delighted to hear your comments on your experience with social networks in the professional context.



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