This week, Supply Chain Matters attended the CSCMP’s Annual Global Conference 2011 in Philadelphia. Today, the last day of the conference, we attended a very informative and interactive session discussing the current and future use of social media across supply chains.  Because the session was so interesting, we decided to dedicate a separate blog commentary.

The panelists represented a cross-section of industry and academia, and included Con-way Inc., Trendset Information Systems, Wal-Mart and Volkswagen.  Professor Terri Griffith of Santa Clara University, author of a soon to be released book, The Plugged-In Manager, kicked off the session with some observations on the state of social media use in business, professional and supply chains settings, along with the explosive potential of these tools.  Adrian Gonzalez, principal contributor on the Logistics Viewpoint blog served as moderator and did a great job of facilitating discussion on a number of important topics related to current and future social media use.

Topics discussed included the reality of how social media use remains blocked by policy in many corporate settings but those companies that are effectively leveraging these applications are finding benefits. Social media overcomes barriers of time and can empower people to view a broader picture of trends and events.  Many of the panelists spoke of the enormous business potential for social based systems and much of the discussion focused on the front-end product demand aspects for social media use such as monitoring customer reactions to products, promotions or service.  Wal-Mart utilizes social media tools to anticipate future sales as well as to gain more knowledge about customers.  Also noted was that communications among internal Wal-Mart operational teams are facilitated by an internally deployed social media mechanism. Volkswagen has just experienced the power of social media in the pre-launch of the very popular Passat super bowl ad featuring the Darth Fader child, which has exceeded over 80 million views.

Panelists also discussed the potential of social media on the supply side of value-chains including status of suppliers, sharing of best practices, or assessment of employee safety in times of natural disaster. Our point-of-view is that benefits on the supply side will continue to increase with further adoption, and will bring with it the means to connect the entire end-to-end value chain.

Some helpful guidelines shared by the panelists included:

  • Focusing ‘tweets” (use of Twitter) on subject-based vs. social topics.
  • Focus on the work enablement opportunities rather than use of social tools. What aspect of work can be improved by leveraging social media?
  • Social media is by nature, a data-rich environment, perhaps too rich.  Plan accordingly with tools for filtering and channeling.
  • These tools bring a natural fear of the unknown and many companies rely on skilled specialists to help with planning, deployment and guidelines for effective use.
  • Always have a social media use policy.
  • When considering that an audience may reside in an emerging economy, ascertain the current state technology profile and plan accordingly.  In some countries, mobile texting tools may predominate.
  • Don’t forget that you have your “day job”.

Overall, it was an informative session and we would like to encourage more of these types of discussions at future educational and professional conferences.

Bob Ferrari