As we covered in a previous blog post, social media has expanded beyond our personal and private lives and into the professional sphere. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the potential to share information, or contact companies and individuals alike at the click of a button, was utilized in business. While this is all very interesting, what about in less obvious instances; does social media have practical applications in say, logistics? To find out, we, along with the help of the German logistics magazine LOGISTIK HEUTE (Logistics Today), conducted an online survey of 102 professionals from the logistics departments of German firms from July 3rd to September 27th 2013.
68% of those surveyed are in small and medium-sized companies, employing around 1000 members of staff. Furthermore, they were logistics professionals from companies working in the following industries: automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, electronics, wholesale trade, consumer goods and retail, the machine and plant construction branches, the metallurgy and textiles businesses, as well as haulage companies. A portion of those surveyed, also work in consulting, services or in the IT departments, for the companies’ logistics divisions.
Responses to the first question (“Do you already implement social media solutions in your company”) were initially promising with 68% of companies indicating that they use social media, and more than half (58%) even for external processes.
In terms of applications however, the predominant use for social media with 45.9% was as a supporting measure in Sales, Marketing or PR: as a tool for improving customer relations management or for recruitment. In contrast, only 34% of firms make use of social media for logistic processes, such as supply chain management. Unsurprisingly, 51% of survey participants admitted more could be done to integrate social media in their corporations. Furthermore, around 60% consider social media important to indispensable; only 2% claiming social media is totally unimportant.
Opportunities and Risk
The primary results revealed a mixed response towards utilizing social media in logistics. What then is the biggest barrier hindering its potential? Of those surveyed, 33% indicated that they lacked faith in the platforms, as well 23% having security doubts. Are these concerns unfounded? Most internet activities carry a certain degree of risk, but are so marginal that unless poorly managed, the benefits to be gleaned from social media would appear to outweigh any risk. Andreas Kuhlmann, General Manager Purchasing & Product Management at ASWO, a household appliances and entertainment electronic spare parts distributor specialist, notes that social media offers logistics “quick, goal-orientated information spreading and sales support. For this purpose, first line business platforms like XING or LinkedIn are ideal. A huge plus is being able to find and contact the right person in the right division, which in large corporations can otherwise often prove to be difficult.”
Prospects for the future
When asked what was perceived to be the greatest potential uses for social media in three years’ time, retail logistics (24 percent); courier, express and parcel services (23 percent); as well as contract logistics (16 percent), were named by participants. Yet what should be done to bridge the gap between wanting to integrate social media, and having the necessary means to do so; what should the optimal social media tool for logistics look like? When given the opportunity to describe their ideal solution, the majority of survey participants described a platform which allows information about logistic tasks and processes to be exchanged both internally and externally. They also mentioned that they would like a chat feature to communicate with service providers and customers as directly as possible and thus greatly accelerate business processes. A further recommendation participants made was related to knowledge management. For instance, the participants wished they had a professional forum in which they could present law amendments and new developments as well as research results and professional talks, independent of particular corporations. Last but not least, data security was highlighted as important.
On the whole, the survey revealed that social networks have the potential to be used effectively in logistics, but the most pertinent platforms have yet to be developed. Dr. Marco Schmitz from the wholesale company Reyher, based in Hamburg, sums up the topic succinctly. He believes that it is a sensible idea to utilize social media in some form:
“First, one should check whether implementing social media is appropriate for the corporation, in order to reach the relevant target audience. For our company, I see its potential in internal rather than external use, for example with interdepartmental projects. Through using social media, information can be exchanged quickly and provide a good overview of the current state of affairs.”
Now for your opinion: do you see much potential for using social media effectively in logistics and do you agree with the opinions of those surveyed?