Is Social Media in Supply Chain Management a Waste of Time?

That was my opening question to the standing-room-only audience at last week’s mega session on social media in supply chain management at the CSCMP Annual Global Conference. I used the following Dilbert cartoon to illustrate my point:

How many of you share the same opinion as the character in the middle panel, that social media in supply chain management “sounds like something that no one wants and no one needs?” Only one brave person in the audience raised his hand when I asked the question, although I suspect there were others in the crowd who felt the same way too.

However, based on the huge turnout and the interactive discussion we had, the vast majority of the people who attended the session–comprised of both young professionals and seasoned executives–recognized the vast potential for social media to enhance the way people up and down the supply chain communicate and collaborate with one another; improve the way companies discover and analyze real-time information to make smarter and faster business decisions; and enable new, more efficient supply chain processes.

It’s natural to be skeptical. It happened during the start of the Internet era too, and there was no bigger skeptic than Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and one of the pioneers of the Internet, who spoke these (in)famous words back in 1996:

Just replace “Internet” with “Social Media” and “1996” with “2011” and you have a ready-made skeptic’s quote for this era. Of course, Mr. Metcalfe literally “ate his words” a year later, as the Internet continued to transform our work and personal lives.

As I’ve written before, I believe we’re at a similar inflection point today. Up to now, social media has been used mostly by business-to-consumer (B2C) companies to promote their brands and market their products to consumers. The early adopters have been young professionals who already use these tools in their personal lives, and the focus has been largely on enhancing external communication, mainly with consumers.

Moving forward, however, more business-to-business (B2B) companies will use “social networking” solutions (which includes not just public sites like Facebook and Twitter, but also enterprise systems like Moxie Software and Yammer) to enhance external communication and collaboration with customers, suppliers, logistics service providers and other partners, as well as improve internal communication and collaboration between co-workers and across functional groups.

Five years from now, as one of the panelists (Michael D’Angelo from Volkswagen) commented, we won’t be talking about social media in supply chain management–it will just be supply chain management.

I’ll discuss my key takeaways from Terri Griffith’s presentation (which you can download here) and the insights and advice shared by the other panelists, which were in response to the many excellent questions we got from the audience, in a future posting. But my biggest takeaway is that there is enough interest and emerging case studies in this area to have a full track on social media in supply chain management at next year’s conference.

Finally, I will be conducting a series of think tanks on this topic at next month’s The Logistics & Supply Chain Forum organized by Richmond Events. In preparation, I am conducting a short, 5-minute web survey to get a pulse on the current views and experiences of supply chain executives regarding social media. If you’re a supply chain executive interested in this topic, please click here to take the survey. All responses will remain confidential and all survey respondents will receive a summary of the results after the conference.


  1. Adrian,

    I’m sorry I missed this blog when it was originally posted. We also see the Social Supply Chain as a natural evolution step. The lessons that social media has taught us as consumers is the power and value of communication and collaboration. These are necessary elements in a successful business.

    The lacking capability of legacy enterprise software (ERP, Homegrown and Best of Breed) to utilize the more secure sites such as Yammer, Google + ,etc. are no longer a barrier. You know our own efforts to enhance enterprise software has been successful and now includes the ability to leverage the collaboration platforms mentioned in real time. Groups can subscribe to a ‘stream’ of relevant information that they define: i.e. a major account team could choose to know what is happening with their customer regarding backorders, new store orders and short shipments.

    Being able to not only be actively notified about key events as well as interact with others and maintain a repository of activity is infinitely valuable. The capturing of instititutional knowledge increases the intellect of a company as the sum of the parts is greater than the whole AND the departure of a key employee no longer has the gashing effect as their knowledge and experience is captured.

    Again, great topic – and you are right. In the very, very near term this whole solution is going to move from the periphery to the core. Competitive advantage has for too long been dormant in the Supply Chain as companies compete on product differentiation. Process differentiation will very soon become the leading point of distinction for many companies.