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Social media in the supply chain

How to make them work for you


June 3, 2011
by Shawn Casemore

There is no doubt that most of the more popular social media platforms were initially created to increase social interactions and, one could argue, to enhance communications at a personal level. At first glance, it would appear these platforms provide very little value in the business world, particularly in supply chain management.

To date, both marketing and human resources have been pursuing the integration of social media in an effort to broaden their markets. Unfortunately, specific examples of application and supporting quantifiable results have not been widely publicized. The benefit that is clearly recognized is the size of the attentive audience, which creates a tremendous marketplace to promote new products, or identify a broad range of qualified job applicants.

From my research there has been relatively little discussed on how these tools can provide supply chain management opportunities to increase efficiency and improve communications. To remedy this, here are five ways in which social media platforms can become a strategic tool to reduce labour intensity and enhance communications in the supply chain.

The foghorn effect

Finding a means to communicate to a wide audience of suppliers all at once has, to date, been restricted to the written letter, email, or in some instances the use of supplier portals. I have personally experienced challenges in communicating pertinent details of upcoming plant shutdowns to a large number of suppliers in a prompt, reliable and relatively painless fashion. Utilizing a social media platform brings an opportunity to post relevant information for numerous suppliers at the same time. Furthermore, the interaction encouraged by these platforms allows for suppliers to post comments or questions, the answer to which may benefit the larger group.

Level the playing field

It is important to ensure all suppliers understand performance expectations and measurements. Historically, this information has been rolled out in writing or, in some instances, has necessitated a face-to-face presentation. Although I would never advocate replacing face-to-face discussions with other communication, the use of social media offers an opportunity to post changes to performance metrics, provide recognition for supplier achievements and publish blind measurement data to communicate performance gaps and expectations.

Don’t lose track

Tracking of critical deliveries, particularly during off hours, has long been a challenge. I recall tracking an inbound shipment of critical material through a carrier portal and realizing after nearly an hour the driver appeared to be at a standstill. I was unsure whether the driver had stopped to rest, had a breakdown, or if the satellite signal had been lost. After numerous calls to the dispatch I was advised the driver had experienced a breakdown, and a new ETA was provided. When the driver arrived I asked him what the delay had been. He said it had been caused by severe weather and poor visibility—clearly a different story than the one the dispatcher had provided. Use of social media platforms can provide a fast and accurate means of receiving updates directly from carriers to a work or cellular phone, to keep you apprised of progress whether at work or during off-hours.

Promote your achievements

It’s important to build relationships with customers, both to increase the organization’s credibility and to develop relationships that may be beneficial to dealing with future supply challenges.  Similar to a marketing campaign, social media platforms can be used by the supply chain to provide frequent updates to customers in the form of process improvements, achievements, awards, new qualifications and updates on supplier partnerships. There are unlimited ways to communicate successes with customers and build stronger relationships and credibility.

Build a network of peers

Finally, we can use social networks for what they were intended: to gain fresh insights, share best practices and build supplier networks—all within our industry or profession. LinkedIn has already made significant progress in this area; however, there are several other platforms that can provide this value.

As social media continues to gain in popularity, there will be further opportunities to integrate these platforms with new technology. The key to success in supply chain management has always been communication, and by continuing to integrate new communication platforms, we can continue to build on current success.

Shawn Casemore serves on the board of directors for the Ontario Institute of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada (OIPMAC) and contributes to the advancement of the profession through his teaching with Humber College in the supply chain program. His experience in supply chain management includes leadership roles with companies such as Magna International, Arvin Meritor, N.C.R. and Bruce Power. E-mail Shawn with any questions or comments.

About this blog
From basic commodities to complex services, Purchasingb2b’s Procurement Value blog will provide you with best practices and tools to make your purchasing department more cost-effective, strategic and efficient. For more information on contributing to this blog, contact the editor.