Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

The Last Mile: The Socialization of Business

I’m working on developing ideas that originated when writing Engage. It didn’t make the deadline, but wanted to share them here with you for your review and also to seek your feedback…

Everything begins with a shift in perspective from viewing stakeholders as a separate entity, “us vs. them,” to a singular view of “us ” as this enlivens a new era of community-focused marketing and engagement.

Social media introduces a new problem of sorts, one where the answer is lost in the politics and corresponding burrows of debate as to who owns social media within the organization. As brands venture into social networks, many are unwittingly contributing to the dilution of their brand image, value proposition, and mission amongst a new genre of social customers and influencers. The mission and vision statements of old no longer convey authority or inspire conviction in an era where the audiences to which we are trying to connect now possess audiences of their very own. The ability to connect with someone and inspire them to take meaningful action is in direct competition with the actions of social customers who are intentionally or indirectly building communities around their views and interests.

In my work, I’ve uncovered what I call the Last Mile or Last Kilometer of Social Media, a challenge that will face every business in the attempts to engage with consumers and influencers and impede the cultivation of dedicated and flourishing online communities.

The last mile is a term associated with the cable and internet provider industries, representing the final leg of delivering connectivity from a provider to a customer. It is symbolic of the human connection required to take a service from the connection hub in any given neighborhood to the home of the new customer.

The Disconnect: Defining the Problem

At the moment, a disconnect exists between the brand, its representatives, and consumers in social media.

Personality Eclipse

Representatives on the front lines in social media are arguably unversed in the elements that define the brand persona, purpose, and value. It’s also highly plausible that many of these representatives are not immersed in the challenges and options that face the people to whom they’re trying to connect and recruit. As a result, their actions and words are diluted through the reinforcement of individual personality traits that don’t match, convey, or strengthen the characteristics or voice of the brand they represent. While their engagement is mostly transparent and authentic, they are not genuinely empathetic in acknowledging or addressing the needs of their communities because they have not lived a day in life of their consumers.

Simply said, the personalities of each representative eclipse that of the brand they represent and without realization, the two can work against each other over time.

The Brand Dilemma

The brand team along with executive management is either slow or reluctant to adapt what was once the brand story and mission in traditional media and communications and modernize and humanize it for an era of interactive and social relations. For example, if the brand were a person, whom would it resemble? What does it sound like? What are its mannerisms and stature? What are its convictions, beliefs, and passions? Essentially, what are the persona and characteristics of the brand and what does it represent today and tomorrow? More importantly, how do we align the personalities of our representatives with the character of the brand?

Companies are not intentionally adapting brand style guides for the social web and in turn, empowering their representatives through training and reward. Instead, they’re simply guided by social media guidelines and policies, if that.

The Consumer Quandary

Social media is, for the time being, viewed as a single entity, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When we talk about a 360-degree approach with social media completing the rotation, we relegate participation and conversations to a means for intermittent engagement, but not as the complete solution for 360 business processes and mechanics. For example, companies are structuring social media around a function, but not necessarily as an extension of existing business practices. In some cases, customer service is at the forefront of listening and engagement; in other scenarios, marketing or communications is leading the engagement; and in alternative situations, advertising is controlling the creation and dissemination of the story.

Social media is not served by any one role however; it represents the opportunity and need to socialize the entire organization. As is, the consumer in the various roles they play in our ecosystem, are largely passed over as a result of an infrastructure that doesn’t recognize their social existence and the parts they play in the definition of our markets over time. I believe that any division of an organization affected by outside activity will require a socialized approach, whether it’s simply monitoring or more likely monitoring, engaging and adapting.

The Last Mile – The Socialization of Business

The Last Mile of Social Media is solved by “connecting the brand” and its purpose, value, intent, and voice with the consumers in and around the diverse roles they play in the business ecosystem. It supported by a methodology and framework that proactively and reactively connects representatives and value to people of interest in their “social” homes.

The Last Mile: The Socialization of Business

Ring of Representatives: The outer ring is orbited by brand representatives from various divisions.

The Last Mile: Representatives are connected to consumers based on needs, challenges, and opportunities unique to business processes and functions. The interaction is a seamless extension of the company purpose, value, voice, and bonded through genuine intent and engagement.

The Consumer Hub: A cushion between the “Last Mile” and the consumer is padded by a trust zone that is developed around each consumer and dictated by the experiences with your product/services and fortified by the communication and engagement of your brand team, those of your competitors as well as their peers. Their experiences lead to perceptions and impressions that are in turn expressed through their social networks.

The Last Mile creates human connections with the mixed roles of the social consumer, one that brings to life the brand persona, purpose, and understanding through person-to-person interaction outside of the brand’s domain. The socialization of business then creates a unique bond between people and a more humanized and approachable brand icon, reinforced through informed, purpose-driven engagement.

UPDATE: Please read Josh Hallet’s excellent thoughts on The Last Mile published this January.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading, Engage!: It might just change the way you think about Social Media

Get Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and The Conversation Prism:

Lead Image Source: ShutterStock

194 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Last Mile: The Socialization of Business”

  1. Great ideas! Also take a look at Human Centered Business.

    Creative greetings,

  2. A direct link to the presentation on Human Centered Business

  3. dbinkowski says:

    I liked it better when Josh Hallett wrote this piece back in January:

  4. Since most of the people I work with are the sole-proprietors of their businesses, they do the brand-connection themselves through their social media interactions. By communicating who they are, they are directly representing their business. With larger companies, however, I can understand the difficulty in maintaining that brand connection when there are many people involved, often in different cities. Your line about the “seamless extension of the company purpose, value, voice, bonded through genuine intent and engagement” stands out to me, and your graphics help to visualize that point. Socializing a business, rather then simply trying to sell, seems to be what social media is all about.

  5. amandamagee says:

    I wonder if this means the idea of brand will evolve. How on earth do you have individuals personify the brand without parts of themselves being revealed and blurring into the brand? Does hiring change? Strategy? Are people more than ever considered tools and employed to serve the brand in ways that shift as value and pertinence evolve? I understand focus and brand consistency, but I also appreciate the admission of foibles and learning. I think parameters that allow brand reinforcement with breathing holes for personal authenticity make for a more enduring and credible brand representative.

  6. Brian, since you are developing new ideas and asked for feedback thought I would jump in and give you some of my first impressions.

    First, I agree. This is the last mile – the socialization of business. Social media is not just marketing, support or any other singular function. It is a perspective change – it is about being social – really getting to know your consumers and interacting and communicating with them in all channels – in a way that (with the exception of a few great companies) is not done today.

    I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before all companies (that have a plan to survive for more than the next five years) must complete this journey. Some have just started, some are at the finish line, and the majority of the rest are just now getting ready to enter the race.

    A suggestion -this paragraph:
    “The Last Mile of Social Media is solved by “connecting the brand” and its purpose, value, intent, and voice with the consumers in and around the diverse roles they play in the business ecosystem. It supported by a methodology and framework that proactively and reactively connects representatives and value to people of interest in their “social” homes.”

    If your target is executives just beginning to shift their perspective (i.e. they are still learning how being a social business can benefit them), it may be better to take an approach that is more in their language than yours (ours). I get what you are saying, though I wonder if someone without your experience, knowledge, etc will be able to grasp what I view as a very vital piece of this article/new idea. Here is my attempt:

    “The Last Mile of Social Media is solved by first defining your brand – its purpose, value, intent, and voice and how it “connects with your consumers” in the social web of today. It takes into account all the roles they play when interacting with your company. The socialization of your business is supported by a methodology and framework that proactively and reactively connects representatives and value with your consumers – wherever that may be interacting with your brand on the social web.”

    The last graphic – communicates a lot, it’s hard to see the connections to the definitions. The orange “perception and experience”

    Hope this helps. – Jeremy

  7. Brian…
    it doesn't matter howmuch @umatter2charter
    if they can't provide service at the curb.. their social media team went above and beyond the call of duty.. extending my termination date 6 months..

    the last mile is the support social media receives from the company itself when addressing a problem. can the company support the promise of social media?

  8. Interesting – but while I like the customer quandary graphic which is nice and clear, the same cannot be said for the Last Mile – a bit too busy to be clear.

  9. Omar Alam says:

    Always good to wake up on a Monday morning and have some diagrams with colorful pictures to look at.

    It does get a slight bit more complex with larger companies towards keeping their business message “social”, but that's just the nature of the beast when something goes from a lean/mean 1-50 person entity into something in the 100's or 1000's.

    The model is really self-explanatory in that all parts need to be in synergy with one another, like a cohesive unit or well oiled machine. I see the sales and marketing areas as the areas with the highest risk, given different mentalities, regional distinctions, and also having to deal with the risk of only caring about selling above all else.

    I still feel allowing the different people and teams to be who they are is what will work with social media, which will truly allow for total socialization and integration of social media in a large business environment. The risk is there with the different teams and mentalities, though how it's also something that can overcome and used to an advantage. It's all about the people.

    Thanks for the morning information Brian!

  10. Well, it is just like other posts of Enterprise 2.0 experts. Don't misconceive my statement, I think finally the last manager has understood what Social Software, Twitter and Enterprise 2.0 is about. And even if he don't its leader has. Enterprise 2.0 leaders should be more clear in their message what the value of Social Software is about. I really like those fantastic graphics even from Hinchcliffe. Personally I understand the value added by this emergent processes and the ubiquitous knowledge/information connections.
    But what's the output of those processes, where is the value added and how?! What is an engaged customer worth 5$, 50$ 5000$ a month and why? What are the success factors of Social Media and the how do prosumers really interact with companies. Maybe it's written in your book, but when the experts don't find the way to communicate the business value of Social Software the discussion will get down like the knowledge management in the millenials.

  11. Scot Wheeler says:

    After reading the first sentence describing the shift of “us vs. them” to just “us”, and the reference to “stakeholders”, I was a little surprised to find that your discussion of the “socialization” of business shifted completely from “stakeholders” to consumers. Of course, it makes sense to focus on the stakeholder group that businesses have traditionally been most concerned with, but doesn't confining the discussion of socialization to a relationship between the business and consumers limit the notion of socialization, where “socialization” could also (perhaps even would more commonly) include relationships with non-market stakeholders?

    I first ran across your blog in November of 2008 after you wrote this:

    > “I believe Web 2.0 has to have a purpose,” Gore observed.

    > I agree, but would simply say that “The Web,” socially rooted, must have a purpose. It’s not just about promoting brands, marketing at people, raising money, or electing politicians using new mediums and shiny new objects.

    Consumers very clearly have to be a prominent concern in the “socialization” of business (or else it wouldn't be business). But they are not alone in the social landscape. I have always been interested in your insights into the Web as an intersection of business and society, and hope to continue to see consideration of other stakeholders in your development of “socialization” strategies.

    • briansolis says:

      Scot, well said and yes, you're right. It's a complex cycle both internally and externally and I wanted to vet this thinking with everyone to make sure we aren't missing anything. So when you say that we need to also look at noon-market stakeholders, the answer is absolutely. I do believe that the possibilities for all of this lies in the ability for a business to earn prominence online as defined by its investment in each society – just like in the real world (but that's a whole other discussion related to change management I suppose).

  12. fizlikwilam says:

    media means a new problem was found in one if the response is lost in politics and debate over who owns Corresponding Burrows media in an organization.
    canary islands holidays

  13. Dan says:

    Brian; an excellent and much anticipated concept. The Last Mile of Social Media may also refer to the use of social media where communities organize themselves independent of a corporation or governments. After all, facebook is cool but nothing happens until the rubber meets the road and people actually build things. We offer the term in several videos and posts. It is a powerful concept that will truly transform social media into social productivity and therefore headlong into the the next economic paradigm of social currency:

    I have several more posts that apply the concept – let me know if you would like to see more. If you are interested in a really really cool integration of brands with the Last Mile; here is a video (20 min) that identifies some of the radical business methods that may be on the Horizon.

    Great post, as usual. Thanks again.

    Dan Robles

  14. It's a precarious balance, isn't it? We want to unsilo, and yet, to remain a consistent brand “front”. That's why it all starts with hiring only the best, most trustworthy. When you get your social house in order, establish guardrails and best practices, they don't need to be overly proscriptive.

  15. Brian, this is great! What you're proposing seems to me like the perfect marriage between social media and the concept of Integrated Marketing Communications, which, among other things, advocates a tearing down of silos between a company's various departments in order to achieve a customized experience tailored to each customer's unique needs.

    Given the intricacies of the IMC concept, the job can no longer fall to only the marketing department. Sales, customer service and even accounting must be active in this system to truly understand each consumer and provide the service that they require.

    In order to implement this, however, companies not only have to get buy-in internally across the board, but they will have to spend a lot of time training employees and probably instituting service-based rewards systems in order to create the level of enthusiasm necessary to make it work.

    I absolutely love this post and am looking forward to reading more from you on the topic!

  16. Brian – I would interview someone from WWE about this. I think they've got it all figured out.

  17. Jason Mikula says:

    While it's easy enough to advocate this type of change, I think it is mostly beyond most companies (currently) — especially the larger ones we tend to interact with most frequently. Simply put, I don't think many large companies (think United Airlines, AT&T, Wal-mart) have the social media presence, ability, and staff to viably and reliably reach out to individual customers through social media. “Large scale” or generic, non-personalized social media efforts risk alienating customers. That said, I think this *IS* the future — but it's a matter of getting companies to recognize that, re-organize appropriately, and allocate sufficient staff/resources to complete the mission.

  18. What resonates with me most is the last mile as the “human” connection. Very spot on. Business ultimately happens between people at the last mile – not brands . Even b2b marketers sell to people – it's people within the enterprise that make the purchase decisions. Today, people-centered strategies matter. Empower the brand representative to make decisions to keep the customer and to have a sense of fun! B2B especially could use it! You're dealing with people, not robots so stop using b.s. jargon.

    I didn't care about the brand values of AT&T, for example, when my u-verse went down during the first soccer match with the U.S. on Sat the 12th, and I was told they couldn't fix it until the next Tues. Not OK. Not a human connection. They stood behind AT&T “big corporate” buzz speak when I called. I found a guy working down the street on a neighbor's installation. He came over immediately after and fixed the problem for me. HE was empowered to make the decision on a human level and he had a great sense of humor. Brand values didn't save the account from my cancellation – this individual did. He was the last, fun, dedicated, caring last mile. Can you reproduce some of this effect with social media? Hmm….

    And fun is no trivial matter anymore. Fun is a people-centered strategy because it is focused on delighting the customer in a way that goes beyond the expected (Think: Zappos). The authors of the 11-year-old “The Cluetrain Manifesto” had it right. Brand interactions have to have a personal, human element, and yes, fun has its place. This means not only engaging your social customer in a new and different way; it means empowering and engaging the social employee/brand representative in a way we haven't seen. When they have fun, the customer has fun. This is where b2b has to make strides – it has to let go to a larger degree on both sides of that human connection in order to empower and engage. That requires big values and humility – the kind we don't see many b2b organizations embrace nearly enough.

  19. well if you believe the last mile is the toughest then I'm on board. The socialization of business will take a decade to complete because it requires process change, restructuring of organization charts and realignment of skills across an enterprise.

    Ah, they will urn for the days when they could off load the Twitter account to a 20something. Social cultures will be formed when companies figure out how to weave the ways consumers are interacting with each other into enterprise-level processes. How does something get to the highest echelon of being part of corporate process? Here are some ways: 1) make money, 2) save money 3) demonstrated efficiency 4) regulatory requirement 5) embrace (or lock in ) customer revenue.

  20. iancleary says:

    Hi Brian, you talk about a methodology and a framework but what's more important is for a company to break down the rules and let their employees decide the best way to communicate and share with their customers. If you write out a guide to how you should behave with customers it puts limits on what you would do as an individual. This is very challenging to an organisation and I think what will happen is some organisations will just never get it and won't survive. The newer cooler organisations that have started with this new culture within an organisation will strive, surprise us and innovate.

  21. Omars says:

    I believe social media and its marketing evolution having a direct impact on brand exposure will be foremost beneficial to the SMB marketplace. I like the title “socialization of Business” as I have been thinking about how social media and its conduits will impact actually a bottom line of a business. One area where I see great potential is the full and bi-directional integration between erp/accounting software (where transactions happen) + crm/srm (where communication is recorded…) + social integration (where influence/recommendation originate)

  22. I know this has nothing to do with the blog post itself, but you should consider using for the icons in your illustrations. I can see the Blogger icon doesn't have transparent background and the WordPress icon doesn't fit the style.

  23. Muy interesante el análisis Brian. La tecnología permite que la marca/empresa se pueda conectar con el cliente/consumidor. El dilema está en que las empresas no comprende bien a su público. El manejo del mensaje es primordial para poder lograr un “enganche” entre la compañía y sus stakeholders.

  24. Lily Pavlova says:

    A very useful post!
    I comppletely agree that social media rearded as a whole is more effective than its tools on their own. In addition, social media is mostly about combining ads messages with customers' own associations. The social media also builds brand awareness by maximizing cross-and whithin-media integration, it drives traffic to corporate sites, increases and extends brands' mesaaging exposure time. And yes, it creates brand engagement by thinking on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by th esurrounding contect.

  25. Rich Reader says:

    Thanks for the elegant codification of the disconnects between brands, representatives, and consumers. It was a long time ago that I worked on the “last mile” in cable television marketing, and I'm still pretty sure that the cable industry is crawling on its hands and knees through the “last mile” on their way toward the socialization of business. Now that I'm working on social media in the wine industry, it's easy to see some of the same challenges for openness, transparency, connections, and relationship-sensibilities. The generalizations are constructive as we work toward new test cases for getting over the way things had been done.

  26. Rich Reader says:

    The challenges to persuade enterprises of every scale that they desperately need to socialize are substantial, if not immense. When I'm chatting with clients about “The Last Mile”, I am attaching Engage, The Power of Pull, Open Leadership, and The Hyper-social Organization for a broader constructive roadmap toward organizational change.

  27. benhuynh says:

    Great informative. Thank you!

  28. benhuynh says:

    Great informative. Thank you!

  29. benhuynh says:

    Great informative. Thank you!

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi Brian,

    Quick question. Don’t you think any sort of outreach: ads, whitepapers, newsletter struggle to truly support a customer because “they are not genuinely empathetic in acknowledging or addressing the needs of their communities because they have not lived a day in life of their consumers”. I don’t think this is a solely a symptom of social media. Isn’t this the gap that all engagements attempt to bridge?

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