Global supply chains by definition are very large and include a number of vendors, distribution centers, suppliers, buyers, manufacturing plants, logistics service providers, etc. If social media is embedded in the supply chain, the supply chain can gather information from a broad base of different sources. This collective intelligence can be used to uncover evolving trends or for better-informed decision-making. One such tool to gather and disseminate information throughout the supply chain is social media.
Studies show that 1.5 billion use social media on a global basis with seventy percent of businesses using it. Of Fortune 500 companies, seventy-seven percent use Twitter, 70 percent have an active Facebook page, and 69 percent utilize YouTube. Companies are not using social media to socialize; rather they are using it to grow their business and bring value to their company and their customers. It is estimated that the potential value of social media across the value chain is more than $1 trillion annually. (1)
Social media benefits the supply chain industry in many ways. Companies can enhance communication with customers, generate demand, reduce operating costs, mitigate risk, increase productivity, and enhance marketplace intelligence. If companies aren’t participating in social media, they could be at a disadvantage because most of their customers, suppliers, and competitors are.
Social media can help companies generate better ideas for improving supply chain processes and solving existing problems by tapping into the collective insights of supply chain trading partners.
How Can Social Media Be Used in the Supply Chain?
Social media is about building relationships, and it can be used in a supply chain to build and grow relationships among trading partners. Information and knowledge gathered from the use of social media by supply chain partners can provide insight into various issues of the supply chain, industry, competition, etc. It can also be used to build relationships and determine key performance indicators, such as on-time performance of a carrier or slow payments from a shipper. Some companies use social media to solicit information from their customers as a platform for making recommendations for improvement.
The supply chain operations reference (SCOR) is a process reference model developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) and endorsed by the Supply-Chain Council (SCC) as the cross-industry de facto standard diagnostic tool for supply chain management. In the SCOR Model, there are five key events: Plan, Make, Source, Deliver, and Return. Social media can be used to capture information associated with various supply chain events.
Social media allows supply chain participants to monitor supply chain events and transactions to keep everyone up-to-date with current situations, such as a delay in shipping or a carrier failed to pick-up a shipment. Twitter messages can indicate the arrival or departure of a shipment from a particular warehouse. Twitter can be used to communicate the need for shipments of a particular type or to alert drivers to accidents and road closures. Social media can provide companies with more timely and insightful information about risks and events, enabling them to make corrective action sooner and thus minimizing the impact of a supply chain disruption.
Examples of Social Media Uses in the Supply Chain:
- Send social media posts to indicate the arrival and departure of a shipment from a particular distribution center or warehouse
- Information about accidents and road closures can be issued that affect delivery times and can be used to re-route deliveries
- Search for the need for shipments of a particular type
- Search for carriers which address a certain territory/area using a certain mode
- Report weather conditions that might affect shipments
- Coordinate supply chain shipments — if you have room on your truck for more shipments, broadcast this info out through the social media to find additional loads
- Facilitate responses to supply chain disruptions via social media
- Post performance information, such as whether a carrier picked up and/or delivered an order on-time
- Gain knowledge by discovering influencers and thought leaders
- Analyze trends, such as number of shipments lost or best day for expediting a shipment
- Monitor your suppliers and vendors reputation
- Gain information about different vendors/suppliers, such as the advantages and disadvantages of each
- Capture and communicate best practices
- Share supply chain risk identification to uncover vulnerabilities and to mitigate risks in the supply chain
- Share global regulations and compliance factors to avoid non-compliance
- Collect and prioritize continuous improvement ideas and initiatives
- Research and find new suppliers, business partners, vendors, carriers, and customers
The use of social media is expanding, even in supply chain management, to improve communication and collaboration among supply chain trading partners. Social media brings businesses closer to their customers, provides a platform for communication and building thought leadership, and when executed properly it can help drive business and provide a significant return on investment. Businesses that ignore social media forgo these opportunities and miss out on potential business development opportunities.
Social media can be an invaluable tool for supply chain professionals looking to identify new innovations, understand commodity and pricing trends, capture best practices, and collaborate with stakeholders, peers, and suppliers. It can improve existing processes, mitigate risk, and increase efficiencies. By tapping the collective insights and knowledge of supply chain participants, businesses can drive innovation within their supply chains, which leads to continuous improvement and business growth.
Ed Rusch is vice president of corporate marketing at Elemica.
Elemica’s Supply Chain Operating Network is designed to give clients greater control over their global supply chains. Capturing transaction data, across all trading partners, and translating it into actionable information is key to driving value out of the supply chain. By combining powerful SmartLink business process applications with a robust QuickLink Network, Elemica solutions improve operational efficiency, lower costs, and decrease working capital. For more information, visit www.elemica.com.
(1) The McKinsey Global Institute