Can Social Media Improve Profitability of Your Manufacturing Operations?

A strategy for testing whether and how social media can help improve manufacturing operations.

Manufacturers have wasted millions of dollars on ERP systems and automation. Some, however, attained profitable growth leveraging those tools. Equally ubiquitous, social media spending is a waste of resources for some and a contributor to profitability in others.

The distinction: Strategic thinking about if and how this set of tools can accomplish challenging objectives in your operations.

The marketing side of social media is well demonstrated. But how on earth can it improve manufacturing operations? That all depends on the struggles and opportunities you face. As with ERP and automation, it is appropriate for some and not for others. And tossing money willy nilly is never the right approach.

But don’t casually cast it aside as child’s play. Remember RIM/Blackberry, who made the mistake of saying their phones were for serious business while smartphones were toys. Social media isn’t just updates on what a person had for dinner and wasting time. It can provide connection and communication options vastly superior to many previously available.

Consider this process for operations-based analysis of social media as a potentially valuable tool:

  • Identify simple low-investment pilot candidates with built in value; e.g.,
    • reducing time sinks of valuable resources
    • simplifying repeated messaging, both incoming and outgoing
  • Discuss with a social media resource which platform(s) is easiest, most responsive, effective, and the least labor for each of those challenges; e.g.,
    • YouTube videos can be used for training or showing the nature of work effectively, but likely don’t make sense for one-time use
    • Snapchat has a different audience than Facebook or LinkedIn
  • Design and test a low-risk pilot

Two common time sinks for manufacturers are employee turnover and technical support. YouTube can be leveraged to greatly reduce the precious resources you spend in each.

One cause of turnover is failure to understand the nature of the work before accepting the job. Three easy steps to piloting the potential of social media to reduce this problem are developing videos of the work being done, of both short- and long-term employees discussing the pros and cons of the work, and a self-assessment of “will you like this” based on what you’ve discovered from your most successful employees.

These videos can be public or private–your choice. Invest a very few hours in creating this, then point candidate new hires to it. Follow up to learn their reactions. This simple pilot can help you understand the potential for reducing hiring misfires through use of social media.

Videos of how to use, maintain, and repair equipment are already common on YouTube. In fact, many people already search YouTube for videos before reaching out for technical support. This is an easy way for you to help your customers help themselves, and to make very clear when they should call you for assistance. It’s also an easy way to train your employees on the same issues.

Sharing best practices within and among operations can easily be facilitated via several social media platforms. And if you are concerned, remember that most social media platforms have privacy options that can keep the general public or your competition from tripping over your materials.

Texting is already in common use by delivery services like UPS and FedEx. They tell me when to expect my package, and I can tell them to change the delivery time or place. My pharmacy texts me about refills. Repeat messaging is often better delivered via smartphone than email or telephone calls and can easily be interactive. How could you reduce the labor required while increasing the timeliness and reliability of messaging with employees, customers, and suppliers?

As you move your operations into the Internet of Things (IoT) world, you will be generating and gathering data exponentially. It is important to be aware of options for effectively collecting and distributing the information contained. Twitter hashtags built into your IoT logic is an example of using social media to quickly inform the right people.

Will social media improve the profitability of your manufacturing operations? I certainly can’t promise it will, but with the suggestions above you can easily find out for yourself.

As published by IndustryWeek