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5 Ways Social Networking Can Boost Your Supply Chain Operations

While social media has been employed widely in business-to-consumer applications for a number of years, its use as a tool in supply chain management has been slower to take hold. To date, many businesses have simply been too hesitant to divulge supply chain information with competitors or the general public.

As the scope and number of social networking tools continue to evolve, however, companies are increasingly recognizing their value in logistics management. In business as in personal contexts, social media can be harnessed to communicate, network, and build relationships—all highly useful in overseeing supply chain operations. In fact, firms that aren't engaging in these channels may now be disadvantaging themselves—because their partners, suppliers, competitors, and customers are.

Social media encompasses far more than the obvious examples of Twitter and Facebook. They include in-house social media platforms, such as Home Depot's "The Warehouse," enterprise social network software, such as Yammer and Hexigo, and enterprise resource planning applications with social media capabilities to track and process interaction data.

Plugging into the networks that your supply chain is connected to can boost logistics operations in a number of ways:

1. Improve Operational Efficiency
Today's global supply chains can be lengthy and complex, with numerous plants, distributors, and suppliers. Relying exclusively on traditional communications techniques such as phones, emails, and facsimiles can be slow and cumbersome, particularly when responding to sudden disruptions in the supply chain.

Twitter can provide a platform from which to provide quick updates about weather conditions, road closures, accidents, and other events that can affect shipments or deliveries. Information can be broadcast to a wide network, feedback gathered, and solutions determined and disseminated with potentially far greater speed than via traditional communications.

2. Enhance Communication with Partners and Customers
For supply chains to work effectively, businesses must be able to communicate easily with partners, vendors, and customers. Social media provides an avenue through which these parties can stay in touch, build relationships, and provide feedback on each other's quality of service.

Customers won't always call you if they find fault with your product or service quality; they may prefer the relative anonymity of social media. Engaging on social media allows you to discover and address these types of issues and potentially improve partner relationships and/or customer retention.

3. Gain Business and Market Intelligence
Social media gives you the chance to learn more about what your competitors are planning—whether a product launch, use of a new technology, or market expansion. Survey and collect useful ideas from these sources to help enhance your own operations and services.

A host of companies and software now mine social network data for insights into market sentiment and product demand. For example, if favorable coverage of a product is posted online and shared widely, managers may be able to anticipate by boosting stock levels at particular points along their distribution channels.

4. Boost Supply Chain Transparency
Today's marketplace puts an ever-increasing premium on transparency of supply. Customers, shareholders, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders want assurances that materials are not counterfeit, substandard, or sourced from conflict regions.

The social network Sourcemap allows you to "find out who supplies your suppliers." Sourcemap uses database technology and visualization algorithms to model and map supply chains from the unit level to the company level—with the goal of ensuring that sustainable practices are followed from one end of the chain to the other.

5. Source New Talent
Social networks are logical and essential sources from which to scout for new supply chain talent—whether personnel or companies. LinkedIn, for instance, gives access to almost 500 million individual users and 1.5 million "groups"—professionals in the same industry or with similar interests who can share content, post and view jobs, and make business introductions and contacts. Company pages and individual profiles listing skills, industry focus, and experience make the network a goldmine for procurement and supply chain managers looking to expand their talent pool.

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