The social web is moving to the center of modern business strategy. Companies use tools like Facebook and Twitter to engage with consumers, improve customer service and raise brand profile as a part of marketing campaigns.
While many of us are familiar with the consumer-focused parts of the social web, B2B solutions like collaborative online communities have become important tools to help engage suppliers and business customers in delivering on business goals. According to Aberdeen Group Inc., “44 percent of companies currently use social networking to support their supply chain while 37 percent of companies confirm that they will start to use social networking as a part of their supply chain processes in the next 12 to 24 months.” Many retailers with large supply chains are seeing some of the biggest benefits. For example, Asda-Walmart, with an ambition to be the UK’s most trusted retailer by their suppliers, has developed the Sustain & Save Exchange to engage with their supplier base. Others, such as Marks & Spencer have developed a knowledge exchange to encourage supplier awareness of their “Plan A”. This case study examines what one retailer, Tesco, has done to engage suppliers around its low carbon brand values and facilitate resource efficiency improvements across the supply network.
Early on in their sustainability journey, Tesco realized that much of their carbon usage was embedded in their supply chain. They used the services of 2degrees, a leading developer of online communities, to engage their suppliers in Tesco’s goal of reducing their carbon footprint by 30% by 2020. 2degrees set up an online community of 1,000+ Tesco suppliers, staff, and partners.
The 2degrees platform provided a private space in which registered suppliers could meet and interact. Tesco also asked 2degrees to provide an online mechanism for disseminating case studies and best practices, and accessing a library of user-generated reference materials. Through surveys and site usage data, 2degrees was then able to segment the supplier base according to their sustainability expertise and interests.
Based on 2degrees’ experience in B2B social media, they recommended that the Hub have a Community Manager and a program of activity so that when people joined they would have activities to engage in and a permanent point of contact to help them make best use of the site. The Community Manager also helped Tesco suppliers shape their questions, find similar members and assisted them in sharing case studies and finding solutions. The Community Manager could be contacted by phone and online, helping suppliers to become comfortable interacting in an unfamiliar environment.
Judged by a traditional social media metrics, such as minutes spent on the site per month, the Tesco Knowledge
Hub has surpassed that of Google+ and MySpace. As of March 2012, it is closing on the levels seen at the recruitment-focused social media site LinkedIn (see Exhibit 1). If the average time spent in webinars (45 minutes per attendee) is added to this, the numeric engagement rate increases further.
A more meaningful measure is the members’ appetite for the content downloaded from the site for offline reading and the facilitated interactions. Over 12 months, the discussion forums, webinars, blog posts, document uploads and virtual roundtables engaged over 750 individuals from over 400 companies. During this period, members used the collaboration tools and resources on the platform over 17,000 times. Supplier testimonials ranged from appreciation of the broad coverage of low carbon business:
“I’d never have learnt so much so quickly left to my own devices.”
through to very specific peer-sourced technical advice:
“I started a forum in the Knowledge Hub and hearing other suppliers’ experiences of finding a solution for voltage optimisation was really useful and helped us to decide which provider we should go for.”
As for the Hub’s sponsor, according to Helen Fleming, Tesco Climate Change Director, “[the Knowledge Hub is] not just a bit of IT, or the bit of infrastructure that you import…but real people with knowledge and commitment, who shape what’s on the Hub, who help people come on board, find out what they want, really understand how people are going to use it; and then guide the offer to those people.”
Thanks to the Hub, Tesco has won positive publicity in a period of challenging media coverage, including the 2011 Best-In-Class Gigaton Award from Carbon War Room and Green Retailer of the Year at the Gold Grocer Awards. These awards strengthen the Tesco sustainability brand and give confidence to their suppliers.
- Recognize that B2B social media is different than B2C; B2B has a greater focus on outcomes
- Set ground rules on sharing commercially sensitive information and rewards for participation
- Specify in-person support; “IT only” is seldom successful
- Design online activity program to complement traditional face-to-face communications and other channels