Feature Story

Manufacturing Snapshot: Does Social Media Matter?

by Kerry Doyle

Is the use of social media tools in manufacturing the wave of the future, or simply a pursuit with diminishing returns? We examine why increasing numbers of manufacturers are looking more closely at the use of social media.

Social media continues to play a pivotal role in day-to-day commerce. It offers shoppers valuable resources, from product evaluations and opinions to advice and trends to watch, but what about social media's influence in the manufacturing sector, the source of consumer satisfaction?

According to a recent survey by the Manufacturing Leadership Council, 13 percent of manufacturing executives plan to digitize their design/production processes, and social media tools represent an important component. By 2023, that percentage will rise to more than half (53%).

What's the goal of increased social media-based interactions? Manufacturers want to tap into valuable customer opinions, preferences and desires. They also want to encourage collaborations between employees, partners and suppliers in order to create better end products. 

For example, Frito Lay, the snack food maker, offers one illustration of a manufacturer going directly to its core constituency for critical product feedback. The company collaborated with customers via social media to define and select the most appealing flavor ideas. Such combinations of crowdsourcing—a form of distributive problem-solving—and taste buds represents a novel, and completely different, approach to the use of social media in manufacturing.

At the other end of the spectrum, a range of more industrial companies are beginning to employ social media-driven, collaborative tools for their workforce. Aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, offers partners and dealers a range of interactive procurement portals. These platform-based resources enable suppliers to describe their capabilities to Airbus buyers in addition to exchanging requirements and proposals online during the bid process.

Such social media trends extend even further. Industrial Mold and Machine in Twinsburg, Ohio makes custom molds for plastic bottle manufacturers. The company empowers its workers by providing an iPad-accessible Social Media platform for production-line quality control, design access and problem-solving.

Who said: "Too many cooks spoil the broth?" In this, and similar instances, manufacturers are using collaborative Social Media technology to advance their operations through multiple, diverse collaborations.

These examples illustrate a larger movement that's occurring across a variety of manufacturing verticals. In many ways, trends such as BYOD illustrate that it's more profitable for manufacturers to harness the potential of new technologies than to fight them. A variety of social business platforms, otherwise known as Enterprise 2.0, promise the possibility of company-wide interaction via wikis, blogs and related SM tools.

They offer an equalizing platform for the workforce and leadership to exchange ideas, troubleshoot problems and generally interact to make organization-wide improvements. But as companies try to extract value from social media, questions remain. For example, is it really useful for CEOs to be tweeting about their business trips, products or business strategies?

At what point does it become a pursuit with diminishing returns? There are those who think adoption of social collaboration tools into the manufacturing process is somewhat optimistic. That's because manufacturing generally involves assembly line specifications, designs, chemical/physical property data and production timelines, to name a few.

While social media has found a home in the consumer products market, some think it will be much tougher to meet the kinds of restrictions and cost-effective conditions manufacturing entails. Still, such technologies represent a fundamental shift in how business continues to evolve.

Manufacturers know the only way to play is to get into the game. According to technology research firm, IDC, the Software Applications segment, largely driven by the Collaborative Applications and CRM (Customer Relations Management) Applications markets, showed a strong 5.1 percent year-over-year growth rate.

By 2020, IDC predicts that 80 percent of ICT (Information & Communications Technology) industry growth will be driven by mobility, Cloud, Big Data and social media technologies. For manufacturing, such projections reveal where the next wave of innovation will come from. They consider social media-based solutions as critical tools for integrating data and content with people and systems.  Increasingly, they're identifying ways that these technologies can be applied to a broader range of constituents that include customers, partners and suppliers.

Informed, empowered and demanding. That might be one way to characterize mobile users in 2013. It might also describe the next generation of the manufacturing workforce.


The contents or opinions in this feature are independent and may not necessarily represent the views of Cisco. They are offered in an effort to encourage continuing conversations on a broad range of innovative technology subjects. We welcome your comments and engagement.

We welcome the re-use, republication, and distribution of "The Network" content. Please credit us with the following information: Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/.