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:

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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)

  5. 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.

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