Why Companies Aren’t Using Social Media for Supply Chain Management

I’m on way back from The Logistics & Supply Chain Forum where I conducted two workshop sessions on the role of social media in supply chain management. I’ve been doing these workshops for the past couple of years, discussing the topic with hundreds of supply chain executives, and my main takeaway is that we’re still in the “early observer” stage when it comes to using social media technologies to improve supply chain processes.

There are many reasons why most companies are still on the sidelines, but if I had to distill them down to a few, here are the main ones:

The word “social” creates the wrong (a non-business) impression. “We don’t go to work to socialize,” explained one executive at a workshop I conducted last month, “we go to work to get our jobs done.” When supply chain executives hear the term social media, what comes to mind is Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and as a result, they view “social media” as a medium to socialize (take water cooler conversations online) instead of a new type of communication and collaboration tool (see “Supply Chain Executives Define Social Media Too Narrowly”). Simply put, “social media” has an image problem in supply chain circles. The term comes with a lot of baggage, and other names being used, like “enterprise social software,” aren’t much better.

How do you get people to change the way they work? Just because you deploy a new technology and tell people to use it doesn’t mean that they will. “By the time I figure out how to do something this new way, I could have done it five times my way,” is how many people react when confronted with new technologies and processes. We are creatures of habit, and getting us to change is not easy, especially if we believe that our way of doing things is better (easier and faster) than the new way being proposed. Yes, this is classic Change Management 101, so companies will need to take a refresher course as part of their social media deployment strategy.

Why is using social media better than how we’re working today? This point is related to the one above, and it boils down to quantifying the business value of using social media technologies (in the broadest sense of the term) to power supply chain processes compared to the way those processes are managed today. How much money will we save? How much more productive will we be? Most companies can’t answer these questions yet, which is why getting buy-in from workers (and upper management) is difficult. It’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to answer these questions until you try it, but it’s hard to get approval to try it without having these answers.

Social media is too generic for supply chain use. Said differently, social media technologies lack supply chain context. For example, Facebook’s status prompt — “What’s on your mind?” — is as generic as you can get, and it reinforces the image of social media as a tool to socialize, not to get work done. So, something as simple as configuring status prompts to be more supply chain and logistics specific (like “What loads are uncovered?” for a transportation dispatcher to post and execute a spot tender with carriers) would go a long way in helping supply chain executives see the potential value of these solutions.

Executives don’t have the time or desire to access yet another information system. To paraphrase what I regularly hear from executives: “I barely have enough time in the day to get through my emails and voicemails; how do you expect me to use yet another system to keep track of discussions and status updates?” Simply put, executives view social media as more work, which is true if companies just tell employees to use these new tools without also changing the underlying work processes, and if social media tools and functionality remain generic and aren’t integrated with the supply chain and logistics software solutions employees use to get their work done today.

I am convinced that this whole discussion about “social media in supply chain” will be irrelevant in five years, if not sooner. The use of social media technologies to manage supply chain processes will simply become the norm, just like the Internet and Web became the norm more than a decade ago. But we first have to recognize the hurdles that exist today and figure out ways to overcome them…to get more companies beyond the early observer stage and into the early adopter one.


  1. I think you need to put some more meat in this post.

    For example, if you claim “Social Media” is an inappropriate term for the technology. Okay what should it be? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

    Your remaining points don’t tell the reader what we could do with social media if we only overcame our objections and used it. Just that supply chain professionals don’t get it, or that I am stubborn and stuck in my old ways. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. But if you are going to claim that social media will become the norm for supply chain execution in 5 years or less, you need to show how the technology will make businesses more money. Then you have my attention (and an ROI).

  2. Wouldn’t you consider Linkedin a form of social media? I suppose you could argue that any networking site is a form of social media and maybe even some business networking sites have social aspects. “Social media” is just another label for a lot of these parts of the invisible parts of the internet I suppose.

  3. I would agree that the term social medial is broad and turns many people off. In my experience I’ve found most executives don’t support social media because they don’t see the benefits and they are worried about the “risks”. However, many times these executives are the ones who are looking for ways to lower costs within their supply chains or find industry updates quickly on key legislative issues. I wonder if they knew that these were available in communities, blogs, LinkedIn and even Twitter they might be more willing to adapt. It would be interesting to hear stories from executives that changed their process and tried using social media as a way to communicate and found it to be successful. I have to believe they’re out there. Social media has really impacted the health care industry, I wonder if examples from that industry would help people within our industry.

  4. Thank you all for the comments.

    Matt, yes, this blog posting is missing some meat. Blog postings, which ideally should be around 600 words, are meant to put forth ideas and questions to start a conversation, not to provide an in-depth analysis on a topic (that’s what whitepapers and other mediums are for). So thank you for getting the conversation started.

    You can find some additional “meat” in the various other postings I have written on this topic the past 2 years. See archive at:


    There are already examples of companies using “social media”-like capabilities in supply chain processes. See my past postings on:

    – TEVA Pharmaceuticals and how it’s using social media technology to improve its manufacturing operations and collaboration with suppliers;

    – How Home Depot has deployed an internal solution called “The Warehouse” that “store and DC associates, as well as corporate store support center, use for internal communication and knowledge transfer of innovative ideas and best practices for just about any issue impacting the business”;

    – How Manhattan Associates has integrated Yammer within its labor management solution “to enable collaboration between supervisors and associates including two-way feedback, recognition, praise and sharing of information to provide continuous operational improvement.”

    – How CH Robinson is using a social media platform to enable its customers to engage with one another (enhanced CRM), and how Con-way is using Twitter to broadcast available loads to carriers.

    – MercuryGate and its Freight Friend offering, which enables shippers and carriers to share available loads and capacity with “friends”–i.e., trusted partners.

    – The recent market entry of Volerro, which is taking a social media approach to supplier relationship management, procurement, and other supply chain processes. I am aware of other startups that will come to market soon.

    But in general, the vast majority of companies out there are standing on the sidelines, so there are relatively few examples to highlight.

    Your last point underscores the chicken-and-egg problem that I described. You want me to show you how the technology “will make businesses more money” so that I can get “[your] attention (and an ROI).” But the only way to actually prove the value is to do it (preferably on a small scale to minimize the risk).

    Again, thanks for getting the conversation started and for sharing your viewpoint!

  5. I do agree with the concerns that social media brings in the supply chain management industry. But when we look at the benefits, I believe they outweigh the negatives by a long margin. As I have always said social media is still in the early stages, when its full potential is realized it will be an integral part of all the supply chain management systems. You are welcome to download my recent article “Social Supply Chain – The Future of Supply Chain Management” from http://bit.ly/K5cJeE

  6. I just wrote a blog on social media and international trade and tried to highlight the effectiveness it has when it come to marketing, find new leads, as well as a way to connect with customers. Having worked in the supply chain field for many years, I remember some small freight forwarders had reluctance to have a web page in the late 90’s, while we dialed in file transfers with our headquarters. We have technologically come a long way, and I don’t think people realize that this is now how the world communicates, from China to UK and everywhere in between.

    This are fantastic examples with companies like Con-way and CH Robinson that Adrian listed. Feel free to visit my blog breemanrhodes.wordpress.com

  7. Adrian,

    Thanks for the feedback from your meeting. Valuable for me personally. Social media has demonstrated the power of collaboration. Companies have been clamoring for, and unable to attain, collaboration for decades. That a group can form quickly and effectively with consumer technologies (Facebook, Twitter, et al) should only whet the appetite of Supply Chain executives.

    But, rightly so, they aren’t worried about anything other than results. The supply chain is all about the underlying processes. How efficient, accurate and visible those processes are dictate whether or not a SC Exec meets his objectives.

    Vendors, Employees and Customers all execute their respective processes in relative isolation today. Vertical enterprise systems (ERP, WMS, etc.) have only exacerbated their isolation. The next generation of Supply Chain systems, regardless of what you call them, collapse the barriers and foster actual collaboration. Perhaps Collaborative Supply Chain is a better name…a supply chain of disparate companies, legacy enterprise systems and processes acting as one.

    Baker FootWear Group deployed a Social/Collaborative Supply Chain solution and reduced their in transit times by 38% and their in transit costs by 35%. Their contract manufacturers, 3PLs, shippers and parcel companies all leverage a single solution made available to them by Bakers. It tracks and manages the entire process of international sourcing from the creation of a PO, to booking, pick up, receipt, labeling, loading, shipping, landing, carrier and destination. I will make Charlie Kantz, VP Logistics at Bakers aware of this conversation and encourage him to share his knowledge with your group.

    So other than the name (Social v. Collaborative v. SC2.0), the results are measurable, immediate and revolutionize the Supply Chain. Getting past the barriers of IT, budgets, internal politics, risk and disruption has also been achieved. Your five year forecast is on target from my perspective.

    Steve Christensen

  8. Adrian.

    I completely agree with your article. However I really think that one of the reasons why Manager or Director don´t like the social media in the Supply Chain is also because they have a classic idea of supply chain, if you think that Marketing and Customer Service are also a part of Supply Chain and in fact is becoming more and more important, in my opinion they have to think a social media strategy for their supply chain.

    And it’s at that point when you can start to think about benefits.

    Thanks for your article.

    Frances Cabrera.