Social Media and Collaboration: Not for “Serious” Manufacturers? Think Again.

Many people consider social media as a set of tools for communicating with others and/or entertaining themselves and collaboration as a characteristic of business processes and workflows that allows employees to work together to be more efficient.

In reality though, both social media and collaboration can help employees communicate and share information, and thus work more efficiently. In addition, the success of any social media and collaboration initiative heavily depends on the tools used and the way they are integrated with the activities of the company.

Social media and collaboration are also not industry-specific, and they can bring advantages to any company mainly concerned with the satisfaction of its customers. This post analyzes the impact of social media and collaboration on manufacturing companies, an industry sector that is still very reluctant to adopt them. Several misconceptions account for this.

“Social media is not for serious companies”

At the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit I attended recently, several analysts shared some personal experiences they had with companies seeking to understand how social media and collaboration can impact their business activities. Of interest, they mentioned that manufacturing companies tended to take a cautionary approach and think as follows:

• Social media is a form of entertainment, and our business is not to entertain customers.
• We don’t need social media, and our customers would not react well to such an initiative.

These statements are based on assumptions that are not necessarily true—e.g., consumers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) (toiletries, soaps, cosmetics, shaving products, detergents, and non-durables, such as batteries, paper products, and plastic goods, etc.) are interested not only in the quality of the product, but also in the buying experience of that product. They are also based on non-verified facts, such as the opinions of individuals—if you search the name of your company on Google, Facebook, or Twitter, you will probably find that people are already talking about your company.

“We already do collaboration”

As manufacturing companies need to manage complex processes, they have to find ways to enable individual employees and entire departments to work together. But this is usually done through a mix of rigid business processes introduced by management and informal habits created by people to compensate for missing or weak workflows.

Unfortunately, employees in manufacturing companies usually see collaboration as just another aspect of the job or a way to make one’s life easier—and not as a strategy and culture that benefits everyone (including business partners and customers).

Not Convinced Yet?

Let’s take a closer look at why social media and collaboration are important to medium and large manufacturers:

• Social media is not only a popular and widely used forum, but also a great source of information that can prove to be extremely valuable to manufacturing companies. From end-user communities to unstructured data that can be found on Twitter and Facebook, feedback can be gathered regarding the products and services companies provide. This feedback can be used for several purposes: improving the quality of the products, designing new products, enhancing the customer service experience, and staying current of changes in customers’ purchasing behavior.
• Collaboration can be the differentiator between a successful company and its lagging competitors. Extensive collaboration can empower a company to produce more innovative products, run the business with better processes, and make employees work more efficiently. A culture of ideas and information sharing, along with the right tools and processes in place, can enable employees to contribute to the enhancement of their activities, which can have a huge impact on the success of the organization. Collaboration may include partners, and even communities of users and customers (existing or potential).

Also, manufacturing companies can and should use both social media and collaboration—a very good example of the combination is the Procter & Gamble Connect + Develop innovation strategy, an initiative that gathers feedback and ideas from customers to create new products or improve existing ones.

Now that you know this, what do you do?

Medium and large manufacturers should take advantage of both collaboration and social media tools to improve the overall business performance of the company. But, as any major initiative, this should be done cautiously. Do not jump onto the bandwagon without first understanding what this initiative would mean to your company, and stay away from experts who promise you fabulous results over the short term.

Instead, start small—there is surely someone in your company who would like to get involved in a social media initiative. You could have this person try and see how such an initiative would work within your company. For collaboration, encourage informal relations between not only departments, but also your company and its business partners. And for both social media and collaboration, allow employees to use tools (which are free most of the time) to share information (with other employees), communicate with peers or customers, etc.

And if you fear that you’re going to lose control over what’s being said about your company, you should know that this has already happened, or it will happen soon—and there is nothing you can do about it! The idea is not to control people, but to give them the environment and the tools to work better as a team and contribute to the growth of your company.

If you’re a medium or large manufacturer, I’d like to know what you think. Take the short poll below.

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