Social media transforming logistics
January 11, 2012
Social media, in general, has the potential to transform supply chain processes in unimaginable ways.
One way to understand the potential is to think beyond the narrow definition of platforms and
technology and view the media through the prism of a business case, focusing on grabbing opportunities
to improve business processes.
More than the commonly recognized Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and WordPress, social media also
includes Enterprise 2.0 sometimes called enterprise social software. These platforms are deployed
internally to improve communication, facilitate collaboration between business groups and staff,
suppliers, customers, external partners – all in a private, secure environment.
For instance, Home Depot uses an internal social media site called “The Warehouse” for internal
communications, knowledge transfer, developing innovation concepts and best practices. The ability to
capture and manipulate the knowledge the site provides lets Home Depot analyze and create solutions to
the problems its employees are facing.
Another company, TEVA Pharmaceuticals, uses their internal social media site to reduce manufacturing
cycle times and to reduce lead times from suppliers. Ideally suited to highly-dynamic supply chains with
a fair share of exceptions to the processes, use of social media – people-to-people communication – lets
TEVA increase speed at a faster and greater level than by attempting to connect systems. TEVA
believes it works because information systems and structured processes rely on predictable things, but
when things are unpredictable those systems can’t respond fast enough. TEVA turns to people and the
capacity that people have to respond with flexibility and speed to emerging situations.
Another way to view social media in the business environment is to focus on the work that needs to be
done. For example, wikis serve as great places to store knowledge and to have knowledge available for
quick update; as well as for collaborative interaction as knowledge changes. They are a perfect data
warehouse for policies, statistics, procedures and processes. In addition to the random, yet useful, bits
of information that need to accompany those documents.
Instead of finding and connecting with friends using social networking tools, agencies can use those
same platforms to find and connect with suppliers, customers, service providers, distributors, and others
involved in the daily work of logistics. These human touch connections establish and maintain business
relationships, helping keep those associations transparent and healthy.
What about blogs?
To maintain their edge, today’s organizations are looking for opportunities to stand above their
competitors. Traditional media still represents a solid vehicle to spread the organization message, but
evolving trends in communication constantly present new platforms over which enterprises have better
and more control. Worldwide, businesses are beginning to see the potential in blogging, which provides
an ability that much of traditional media lacks – a direct connection to targeted internal and external
From a business perspective blogging lets current and potential audiences match a brand with a face and
corporate personality, bridging the gap between the two entities. It offers a human side to the audience
experience, providing a place to tell the organization’s values, beliefs, philosophies and direction in a
personal and direct fashion. Blogs set up for two-way communication show that the organization cares
about the individuals’ thoughts and opinions, giving a much-needed, informal way to receive feedback
Blogging – meaningful blogging – can position an organization as a thought-leader in its field, help in
reputation management and crisis communications, build brand awareness and loyalty, while increasing
visibility and e-traffic to other organization sites.
One of the most momentous results of blogs and blogging is the effect it is having on traditional mass
media as we have understood it since the creation of organized media. Blogging is removing the
“middle man” from the news cycle, essentially giving the power of mass communications back to the
Bloggers become their own station owners, publishers and broadcasters – all without the filter of a third
party transmitter. A clear example of this is the impact blogs are having on the political process, where
new experts, commentators and pundits are feeding armies of readers. Some political blogs have well
over 100,000 site visits daily. Two prime examples of this are The Daily Kos by Markos Moulitsas and
The Drudge Report by Matt Drudge.
This role reversal presents an unprecedented opportunity for organizations to reach large audiences with
their own message in their own words and without waiting for a reporter to decide whether to accept the
pitch thrown by the company media specialist.
Blogs are also breaking ground with their ability to handle emergent or crisis news in real time and with
multiple formats which include audio, video and photos. For example, during the tragic events of the
Japanese tsunami last December video footage of the damage and reports from the area surfaced on local
blogs before news media reached the crisis.
What Makes a Blog Meaningful?
The ability to communicate without the lag time of traditional media, to push information to audiences
while receiving their feedback opens untold new opportunities for organizations willing to invest in
blogging as a meaningful channel of communication.
Meaningful blogs provide value to their readers; that value is what keeps the audience returning. Value
comes from the blog content and might stretch from discussions of services an organization provides all
the way to practical ideas for improving work and daily life. Determinations of value are also based on
the organization’s field of endeavor. For example a gaming company blog could include new game
reviews or tips on beating the latest version of a much played game, while a government agency might
provide insight into changing government regulations. A logistics organization might blog about the
launch of new eServices or give advice on acquisition management and fiscal stewardship.
Another element of value is consistency. Bloggers who post consistently increase readership, two-way
discussion and subscription more quickly than those who blog sporadically. Followers check in daily,
reading and responding to the blog becomes part of their routine. This added value draws increased
audience numbers as people notice the blog, become regular readers, recommend it to their friends and
link to it. The more value a blog provides readers the more popular it is likely to be.
Building a blog.
While value is the most important part of successful blogging, it is by no means the only requirement.
Popular, durable organization blogs have senior leader buy-in on two key assessments:
1) That the enterprise is suitable for a blog. In other words, the organization’s audience, or a large piece
of its audience, is social media savvy and engaged, and
2) The organization is willing to invest in a blog. This includes setting goals and objectives, devising a
plan, training bloggers, allocating manpower hours for blogging, customizing the blog design and a
dozen other resource expenditures.
Once the decision is made to create a blog, the most frequent, impulsive ambition is to metaphorically
“rule the Internet.” But, the thinking blogger quickly realizes he should actually be looking at the
takeover of a discrete, well-defined piece of the playing field. The way to achieve that end is through
careful, well thought-out planning. This also ensures that the key players are aware the organization is
launching a blog, the purpose behind it and gives those leaders a strategy that increases their willingness
to support, and if needed, contribute to the blog.
Plans start with a defined intent that describes the expected end state of the concept. That intent is filled
out by reasonable, broad goal(s) and, in turn, is defined by logical, considered objectives. In this way
the blogger has a clear idea of what he is working towards and an idea for getting to that conclusion.
For example, if the goals are community building, engagement, loyalty and thought leadership; then the
objectives might be split between physical and emotional.
Physical objectives could include:
Achieving a specific number of followers, blog posts or guest posts
Attaining a place in the top percentile of like blog sites
Meeting a certain number of daily visitors or frequency of posting.
Emotional objectives could include:
Increasing awareness of the organization’s mission
Raising curiosity and excitement about enterprise capabilities
Engendering a feeling of reciprocity for value-added to specific functions
Being perceived as a thought leader in the field of endeavor
All of these objectives are tied to the goal(s) and to specific themes and messages created by the
organization to support its communications. They also connect to a timeline that provides some
flexibility but helps the blogger obtain his desired conclusion in a reasonable period of time.
In addition to goals and objectives, a successful blog plan has certain generally accepted tactics:
Find a working formula and stay with it – the overabundance of information on blogging (how
to, what to, when to) can be distracting. Once the preliminary research is done, the goals and
objectives decided, the plan written and executed, the blogger should give the plan a chance to
work – six to nine months – before considering any changes.
Targeted and timely posts – targeted posts are those which belong in the nook the blogger is
attempting to dominate, each post should focus on and apply to the goal(s). It’s fine to blur the
lines sometimes to cover a special event or thought-train, but in general it is best to play to the
strengths of the organization. Timely, in this instance, isn’t talking about meeting a deadline; it’s
about knowing what’s hot in the field of expertise and then putting the blogger’s voice in play on
that subject. Timely allows the author to get ahead of the pack. It isn’t necessary to be the
“breaking news” blogger (though that doesn’t hurt), but it is necessary to strike at a time when
the post will achieve maximum effect.
Shake it up now and then – sometimes the blog needs a B-12 injection to stir things up. One of
the best ways to do that is by brainstorming a series of posts on a happening topic or a sequence
of posts on related topics. Write the full series and release them quickly. Not six in a day, hit the
market shrewdly by building excitement around the first one, then before that dies release the
next and so on. Follow them up with a mini-marketing effort.
Meet the deadline, use an editorial calendar – getting and keeping the energy to produce on
deadline is half of running a successful blog. It isn’t fun, but it is necessary to make time to
produce regular content. The very real reason for that is the more content in the blog, the higher
the chance of being noticed. Also, blogs that don’t post regularly bleed readership. The easiest
way to manage this is by creating an editorial calendar. This removes some of the strain of
digging up ideas and establishes a release timeline. The editorial calendar lists all upcoming
events, product and program launches and associated post ideas. As a note, no matter how blank
the page is the blog should never be used to regurgitate press releases and white papers. That
type of post goes against best practice and removes much of the personal feel to the interaction
between writer and reader.
Self-promote – The easiest way to self-promote is to use both social media and traditional
vehicles. A link on Facebook, a tweet on Twitter and a personal email can do a lot to draw
attention to the blog and to individual posts.
-Spread the Labor.
Even using the tactics above, it can still be tough to crank out the daily or weekly post. Time is limited
and the possible topics and opinions are vast. Sometimes it makes sense to remove some of the weight
of blogging by spreading the work among a group of bloggers. Within an organization there are multiple
opportunities to band together with others who have the same perspective or who may come at the
message from a new or different angle. These fresh voices can energize the readership and provide even
more value to everyone concerned.
For example, Cisco, HP, and Intel have multi-authored blogs. This is a good strategy to take when an
organization has many products and services in its portfolio. It provides the opportunity to get several
subject matter experts speaking and providing their knowledge on a variety of topics. In that way, the
enterprise has coverage in all of the areas the audience might find interesting.
Whether a blog is written by a senior leader, a single subject matter expert, or a group of individuals
depends on the goal of the blog. Take that into consideration before making a decision on which
individual or group of individuals authors the blog.
- Train and Set Rules.
Before turning the newly selected blogger loose on the blogosphere, it makes sense to train. Anyone can
write a blog, but only a gifted few do it well right out of the gate. Corporate bloggers don’t have the
luxury of learning by doing, they represent the organization. That means their product must be good
from the beginning. Training should include blogging best practices and writing tips, as well as a
review of the company social media policy with emphasis on what is and is not allowed in the blog.
Another point to embrace in training is retaining the individuality of each writer. Keeping each
blogger’s voice unique will help keep the blog interesting, as well as real and personal.
In addition to training, organizations should have stated rules for their bloggers. This, again, helps
ensure everyone understands what is and is not acceptable to the corporation. It reduces the pitfalls
bloggers may encounter as they work to provide useful, value-laden content while maintaining
organization confidentiality. Some simple rules might include:
No criticizing other organizations or other organizations’ products and services.
Blog posts don’t necessarily need to represent the organization, but when they are personal
opinion then the blogger must state that the post is his/her opinion.
Bloggers should consult colleagues or the blog manager if they think a topic might be
Proprietary information must remain confidential.
Customers or partners should have the chance to approve or agree to posts that mention them.
Some things have no place in the organization blog; personal opinion posts on highly
provocative topics like politics, race, and religion are a few of those.
- Manage and Edit.
Successful blogs involve the company’s PR department, not as the blog authors but as its manager. The
PR department normally has people knowledgeable about blogging best practices, the enterprise social
media policy and has the needed writing and editing experience to assist in crafting interesting posts.
Civilian companies like Cisco and Intel do not require their bloggers to submit their posts for editing
prior to posting, but for government organizations it’s best to set up an editing process. This ensures
that concerns like operations security, classification and others are addressed. The editor can also help
with formatting the post, finding complimentary graphic elements, pushing the post, updating or
adjusting the editorial calendar and follow-on marketing.
Every attempt should be made to keep the editing process simple and quick. For example: Blogger
>Editor >Publish (optimum) or Blogger >Editor >Blogger >Publish.
Social media platforms are built around the concept of two-way communication. They are intended to
start a discussion, not serve as a stage for soliloquies. The best corporate social media – blogs included
– share conversations between the enterprise, its employees and, on external platforms, its customers
and stakeholders. Allowing readers to share their opinions builds the audience; encouraging bloggers
and employees to take part in those conversations keeps the dialogue going and increases the value of
There is a risk associated with encouraging reader interaction – readers may say negative things about
the organization. But, each instance along those lines must be judged independently. In most cases the
members of the reader community speak up and provide clarity and ground truth on the subject. In
some instances the organization leadership steps forward to address concerns. Naturally, corporate
blogs have the right to restrict the use of obscenity or other inappropriate comments.
- Promotion and Marketing.
Even the best blog doesn’t automatically attract a readership. Once the blog is on its way, equipped with
good content and an interesting, interactive format, the next step is promotion. The blog can’t reach an
audience if that doesn’t know it exists. One of the easiest ways to promote the blog is to have the
blogger assist in building the community before the site is launched. They can do this by becoming
involved in other social media platforms like Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook and by reading and
commenting on other blogs in their subject arena. Once the blog is launched bloggers need to respond
to relevant comments on their posts. Using these measures, linking them together, bloggers can build a
network of readers. Those readers in turn reference and recommend the blog to others, increasing its
Registering the blog in the top blog directories is another good way to market. Technorati, Blogopedia,
Bigger Blogs and others all draw large audiences looking for blogs on specific subject areas.
Enrollment in these combination data warehouse/search engines can optimize reader exposure. They are
both cost effective and easy to implement, effortlessly increasing exposure opportunities.
A few key metrics should be established and numbers gathered on those metrics monthly. These might
include: number of comments, subscriptions, or backlinks to the post. For beginning blogs the
acceptable number should be quite low. One comment to one post or two new subscriptions weekly are
perfectly suitable measurements. These numbers provide insight into which posts worked and that
information is useful both in spurring future blog posts and building the reader community.
Blogging has its own set of logistic requirements, simple but necessary to the smooth operation of the
blog. These include:
A reliable host to ensure the blog server can handle spikes in traffic as well as respond quickly to
any system failures or quirks
A caching solution to improve the efficiency of blog delivery. A cache can serve a cached page
quickly to those readers only interested in viewing the blog and not commenting on it. The
cache can also provide the blog reliably, even when the originating server is swamped or its
network path congested.
A good blog design to make the blog visually interesting and reader friendly.
After the new wears off, most bloggers hit a slump and run out of ideas for posts. That is where the
editorial calendar comes in. The calendar can keep the blogger on point and the ability to look ahead
and see what is coming up lets the author produce and store future posts as inspiration hits. If that
doesn’t work, call in the blogging team and brainstorm for motivation or switch up with another team
member who’s creativity is flowing.
With good content and good luck, one day the organization blog will make the front page of one of the
big content sharing sites like Digg.com or Delicious. If the blog is operating according to plan and all
the logistics requirements were met the organization can sit back and enjoy the influx of new readers.
To keep them coming back the blog should include a way to easily subscribe, something like RSS, email
subscription, or other methods.
Once established, organization blogs should be reviewed on a scheduled basis to ensure the most is
being made of opportunities to improve and optimize. Depending on a number of variables - staff
assigned to the operate the blog, readership gains, site redesigns, third party pick-ups or other factors –
the blog should be assessed at least twice yearly and perhaps as often as quarterly or bi-monthly. That
provides the chance to look at what is working, what isn’t working and what can be changed to make the
blog more appealing. These reviews should cover everything from page design to writing. When an
area that needs improvement is found it is the perfect chance to experiment by trying new ideas and
recommendations generated during the review posting cycle.
The blog author(s) and managers should set milestones for the site and work towards achieving them,
promoting the blog along the way and continuously working to build the reader community. Above all
the blog must be flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions, take advantage of opportunities and
minimize losses from unforeseen circumstances.
References and Reading List
Amy Porterfield, 5 Tips for Creating Shareable Blog Content, SocialMediaExaminer.com ,
November 16, 2011
Mark W. Schaefer, 10-best-corporate-blogs-world, Socialmediatoday.com, January 5, 2011
Technorati.com, Five Reasons Why Corporate Blogs Fail, Tom Johansmeyer, March 09, 2010
Debbie Weil, The Corporate Blogging Book, Penguin Group, 2010
Stephen Baker, The Inside Story on Company Blogs, Bloomsburg Business Week, Feb. 14, 2006
Anne Jackson, JoAnne Yates, Wanda Orlikowski, Corporate Blogging: Building community
through persistent digital talk, Proceedings of the 40th Hawaii International Conference on
System Sciences – 2007
Marshall Kirkpatrick, What 10 Years of Blogging Has Taught Heather Armstrong,
ReadWriteWeb.com, Feb. 25, 2011
Erica Swallow, 10 tips on corporate blogging, Mashable.com, July 20, 2010
Russell Beattie, Jeff Boulter, JR Conlin, Jeremy Zawodny, Yahoo Personal Blog Guidelines 1.0,
Cameron Chapman, What Can You Learn from 7 Awesome Corporate Blogs?,
blogkissmetrics.com, Oct. 2010
Gregory Ciotti, 12 Essential Tips for Revitalising Your Blog in 2012, ProBlogger.net, Jan. 1,
Christopher Barger, The Social Media Strategist, McGraw-Hill, Dec. 2011
State of the Blogosphere, Technorati.com, Dec 2011
Kelly Watson, How to make a blogging business plan whether or not it’s a business blog,
www.problogger.net, March 2, 2011
Michael Schmidt, Social media for supply chain innovation, E2Open.com/blog, Nov. 18, 2011
Adrian Gonzalez, Supply chain executives define social media too narrowly,
logisticsviewpoint.com, Nov. 16, 2011