Tweeting Logistics- will social media play a role in the future of supply chain management?

Social media in supply chain management - The logistics Business UK

On a social level, networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have certainly caught the imagination of the younger generation- teenagers are now regularly updating their mates about what time to meet each other in the pub, or discussing their plans for dinner later that night!

But, in the case of Twitter especially, it should be noted that the BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston is now a regular user (or ‘tweeter’) and updates his loyal followers with various thought pieces and links to his editorials. And he’s not the only high profile journalist- Evan Davies is another prominent user. It’s therefore become clear that Twitter must be taken seriously as a potential tool in the business arena. But will it have an integral role in supply chain management of the future?

The potential is certainly there. Third party logistics providers could use Twitter to send quick, simple updates to clients about their facilities and company developments. The functionality for this is already built in. As a communication tool it could also be used quite efficiently to send delivery status updates to and from hauliers, carriers and 3PL’s to organise pick-ups and drop-offs. Maybe it’s not the best solution right now for high-volume transactions (that may well create a complex, unfathomable web of tweets!), but it could be a significant improvement on the way some smaller volume orders are managed today, through a barrage of faxes, telephone calls and emails. This would also enable analysis of real-time performance,  creating a number of easily traceable tweets (or updates!) on the status of parcels etc and keeping the client continuously informed at the click of button. This could conceivably improve supply chain traceability.

Another example are charities that use a specific app, such as the widely used JustGiving Twitter app, to streamline the flow of donations and volunteer applications through one manageable source. The Red Cross are also using Twitter to allow people to exchange information about their latest work around the globe, urgently needed supplies and transportation, streamlining the effort to receive goods and informing a wider audience.

Twitter could also be used to reenergise old ideas, for example as an application that could enable 3PL’s to fill capacity. When a lorry is travelling from point A to point B with only half a load, Twitter could conceivably be used to send out notifications, prompting suppliers in the area to respond to fill the capacity. Tweets could then be filtered to find the most relevant and workable goods in the area; easy to manage and quick response times. In its initial stages the idea was complicated and poorly run- small brokerage operations that sold off space- and the idea never got off the ground. But Twitter’s potential as a real-time application could conceivably bring this idea back to life.

The question now is how long before this potential is fully realised? I imagine it may well take some time for the vision to become a reality- research shows that there does appear to be a distinct line dividing opinion. Some logistics professionals are very much in favour and view it as fundamental to expansion and moving forward and engaging a younger generation of consumers, while others are very much against a potential ‘new dawn’, feeling the use of such social media blurs the lines between personal and professional use and could spiral out of control. This is understandable in a way- sending such potentially secure, confidential and personal information about deliveries etc via Twitter, while so many social users are following and linking in with their own tweets, could open up a can of worms that is difficult to manage. I’m uncertain as to whether the security of Twitter has been rigorously tested for professional or business performance.

A number of companies in the logistics sector are already using Twitter and Facebook accounts for certain functions, such as marketing and profile, but whether they will eventually use it to transmit and update information (such as the ideas outlined in this article) and use it for specific business functions is another thing entirely. It would certainly take a leap of faith by many logistics and supply chain professionals. But it is perhaps a leap worth considering in time.