In the last decade, social media has evolved from virtual non-existence— who outside a handful of teens and young adults really used early prototypes like Myspace— into an intergenerational necessity for sharing music, songs, pictures and catching up on the latest news. While social media networks have had a visible impact on how we manage our personal lives, these tools seem to be unfairly relegated to the realm of marketing in the business sphere.
Social media actually has quite a bit to offer the intrepid supply chain professional, from better collaboration between suppliers to innovative ideas for logistics solutions that can streamline workflow. With a modest investment of time and effort, even the most status update-phobic supply chain manager can leverage the scope of social media to improve his or her work efficiency.
Keep It Simple for Effort's Sake
The younger the demographic, the more social media channels seem to proliferate. Before you go trudging into the wilds of Instagram, Pinterest or the newest like-and-share widget, however, step back and consider if the peers you're working with are using it. As Deborah Catalano Ruriani of Inbound Logistics cautions, filters are extremely important to avoid social media fatigue. If you join every network, follow every account and broadcast every move, there won't be enough time to process the response into useful, actionable data. Keep both your presence and to-read lists "digestable" and appropriate for the time output you have available.
To further simplify your interactions with social media, appoint a social media-savvy employee to field questions or consumer comments as part of your logistics solutions. The real-time stream of queries, compliments and complaints, once translated by your team member, are easily fed back into your workflow to bolster positive consumer experience percentages.
Connect With Your Current Network
Like a cloud-based Rolodex, social media makes it easier than ever before to connect and remain in contact with your suppliers. From raw materials to packaging and even finished products, chances are at least one representative from each supply node is readily accessible through a popular social media channel like LinkedIn— even in international businesses. In fact, per LinkedIn's own reports in February 2015, of the nearly 350 million users that call the business-oriented social network home, less than a third are US-based.
On the flip side of social media exposure, Supply Chain 247's Joe Bellini notes that there is some managerial resistance in legacy companies. These professionals are concerned about. too much transparency on social media— rivals getting information, customers looking too deeply into inner operations, and so on. Thankfully, the development and implementation of robust, customizable visibility settings on nearly every major social media platform are swiftly mitigating that worry, but it's still a good idea to hash out company-wide expectations and boundaries before striding into the social media pool.
Look, Learn and Use Your Social Media Tools
As you're using social media to connect with supplier reps, there's a good chance they are having conversations with competitors in your field. If any part of those conversations— or reviews, or customer feedback, or any useful information— is available to read publicly, make judicious use of the opportunity. Discovering that a new supplier has an abysmal fill rate or poor support through social media-broadcast complaints could give you valuable time to find an alternative before you're a statistic.
In an article for SupplyChain 247, SupplyOpz points out that social media can be very useful for streamlining supply chains. Properly posted, updates can be used to stay abreast of logistics problems like port closures, communicate shipment and tracking info and even negotiate freight pricing.
Social media can also facilitate idea and implementation flow between marketing's promotional campaigns and DTC shipping. With the use of clickable, searchable hashtags (#) on social media, your backend warehousing and shipment systems can be tied into hashtag code-linked promotions on the customer side as well. If a customer clicks a hashtag-marked promotional link on social media, your WMS can be programmed to recognize these promotional orders and single them out for special attention.
The learning curve for social media may look steep when viewed through the lens of business, but the summit is much closer than it may appear. Incorporating social media into rate negotiations, logistics solutions and workflow streamlining is as simple as connecting with an @ reply, hashtag and a few well-chosen networks.