2014-05-August-Life-of-the-Party.jpgForget sharing your results from all those surveys on Facebook. You know the ones: they determine where you should actually live, or which character you would be in Downton Abbey, or even how bitchy you are (New York, Matthew Crawley and none of your business). Business leaders now appreciate that social in the workplace isn't about any of this. What it comes down to is being able to collaborate to make better decisions.

While every industry can benefit from social technology, there are some distinct differences in the patterns of adoption. Many early adopter stories we share are about marketing leveraging social media, but social technologies are also becoming more of an operational tool and that makes them interesting for the supply chain.

What is the current state of meaningful social application in business? Here are some of the most notable industry trends and a real world example of social application in the manufacturing sector.

Industry Adoption Trends

Early research into enterprise social media adoption discovered that sectors such as financial services, government and retail were paying attention to the emerging technology, with retail leading the way. In its 2012 trends study, IDC concluded that "Industries that are consumer focused are spending a larger percentage of their IT budget on social media as it is easy for them to make the shift to adopting the way consumers communicate.

For retailers, social media has become a mandatory part of their go-to market strategy, gathering insights and driving sales. In the Financial Services sector, Accenture found that social media was helping advisors to retain clients and increase assets under management. Government adoption of social has been constituent oriented. For example, emergency response for disasters like Hurricane Sandy used social media to disseminate information and respond to citizen questions when phone service was down.

In its look at adoption in Europe, IDC predicted that sectors with a higher level of larger companies such as telecom and oil and gas would have a higher propensity to invest in social media. Within manufacturing; however, IDC found that adoption was lower overall than in other sectors as “most manufacturers still perceive that social media is of low value for the very nature of their business, erroneously identified as being driven by one to one relationships.” It saw differences in manufacturing adoption at a segment level though with computer and electronics, automotive and aerospace, and brand oriented manufacturers in apparel or furniture moving faster than others.

The just published MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte global survey found clear evidence that companies across industries are creating value with social business, and are moving beyond marketing. In particular they found that maturing social businesses are not simply "doing social.” Nearly 80 percent analyze social data and 67 percent integrate it into systems and processes to improve business decisions and drive social business endeavors.

From my perspective one of the most telling trends was an IDC finding a few years back that “companies are not taking full advantage of the communications aspect of social media and are using it more as a one-way method of communication for gathering feedback or pushing brand messaging to a wide audience rather than collaborative communication as the medium was intended.”

There are recent indications of change though. In the social business collaboration study from Aberdeen Group, conducted late in 2013 and published earlier this year, it found that over the past 12 months adoption increased for the “leaders” in their study, and they reported an increase in operational efficiency and improvement in the time required to make key business decisions related to social business collaboration, though perhaps a direct cause and effect is yet to be proved.

Social Holds the Cure for Supply Chain 'Disjointedness'

While the manufacturing sector might be slower than others to adopt enterprise social capabilites, social can make a big impact for companies who compete on the basis of their supply chain. Supply chain leaders’ holy grail is the pursuit of the “perfect order” -- the right product delivered in full, on time, every time. While automation has helped to improve order-to-cash and procure-to-pay cycles in the supply chain, managing supply chain disruptions and exceptions remains a throny problem that requires collaboration.

Social media champion, Tony Martins, says the challenge of “supply chain disjointedness” will drive supply chain executives to use social media and social networks in their jobs:

The hardest thing for them to do is to synchronize all the parts of that chain, the various organizations and teams that the material flow goes through. You can see this problem between companies: suppliers that are late, stockouts, excess inventory, and so forth. You can see this problem inside manufacturing operations as well: materials not ready for production or quality assurance waiting for documentation that isn't ready.“