5 ways manufacturers can deploy social technologies across the value chain for strategic business advantage.

From shrinking product life cycles and complex global supply chains to the ever-increasing demands of connected and empowered customers, the manufacturing industry faces a number of significant challenges, along with the worsening global economic slowdown.

However, the emergence and dramatic adoption of social media now offers manufacturers an entirely new host of opportunities to effectively manage crucial levers and to efficiently address strategic challenges.

Having worked with the global manufacturing industry for over seven years, following are 5 ways that I believe manufacturers can deploy social technologies across the value chain in order to gain a strategic business advantage.


  • Crowd-source Product Design – Manufacturers are able to engage customers to design, configure and modify products leading to a broad range of design alternatives, increased customer satisfaction and ultimately, enhanced customer loyalty. Social technologies help make this collaboration faster, cheaper and more effective.


  • Operations– Manufacturing is a capital and knowledge intensive industry. Manufacturers that have global operations can use proven social tools and methodologies to break down silos and to foster teamwork. Social technologies can be used to connect departments within a particular location as well as to connect teams and enable collaboration across geographically dispersed units. Thus, overall improving the organizations operational efficiency.


  • Supply Chain– Manufacturers are able to develop a social grid to connect its multiple tiers of suppliers. In addition to enhancing cooperation, social technologies can also be used to increase visibility and to ensure accountability across their entire supply chain. The grid can also be extended to encompass the network of dealers. This will ensure a smooth flow of product and customer information, as well as transparency across the ecosystem.


  • Marketing and Sales – Understanding shifting consumer needs and buying patterns is crucial for any business. This fact is even more critical in an industry characterized by short product life cycles and easy availability of alternatives. Manufacturers are able to utilize social analytics (to compliment traditional methods) to obtain customer insight and forecast demand. Social platforms can also be employed to engage customers, run targeted campaigns, and to generate qualified leads for its products and related services.


  • Customer Service – Given the growing complexity of products and services, manufacturers are able to deploy social tools to enable better knowledge management. This helps service engineers identify, locate, and bring the correct knowledge and expertise together in order to provide a customer with the most relevant solution. Building an online community around a product allows customers, experts and enthusiasts to answer queries and to help one another. Communities also generate useful insights that can be fed back for product development as well as upgrades..


While the manufacturing industry has traditionally been conservative in adopting new technologies, leading manufacturers have already started experimenting with social tools and techniques, and they have seen marked results with quite a remarkable success. Ranging from Dell’s IdeaStorm community for crowd sourcing ideas to ‘The Fiesta Movement’ campaign by Ford, the number of manufacturing industry social success stories continue to grow exponentially.

A word of caution: due to the nature of the industry, manufacturing executives must avoid getting fixated on simply deploying the latest social tools. Instead, the focus should be on addressing the major changes that occur in the culture. This change will be required at every level in order to successfully transform into a manufacturing organization with a social business model.

The list of opportunities for manufacturers to deploy social technologies for business benefit is endless. Feel free to add your own initiatives and ideas to the list.