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January 14th, 2010

Social Media as the ‘Last Mile’ – Part 1

If you’ve ever worked in or with the telco field you’ll know what the last mile is. It’s that final connection to the customer’s home. For decades it was the crucial component in the telco business model, and it still is…it’s just that there are now more options. You can draw a number of comparisons with social media. For many brands social media is now a ‘last mile’, that final connection with the customer.

Let’s look back first though. Large monopolistic telecom providers built and controlled the last mile. The ‘one’ phone company and the ‘one’ cable company. However, these providers spent billions of dollars building out that infrastructure, in fact they had to in order to maintain their franchise rights. Then along come all the new providers, looking to piggy-back or build alternative last mile solutions. Except they don’t have to serve everyone and don’t have to build out vast/costly infrastructure. They can pass these cost savings along and provide lower costs and often better options to the consumer. No wonder telecoms are always in such a bitter mood :-)

Compare that with the traditional media, specifically print media. They spend decades developing infrastructure, reporting staff, delivery routes all to serve ‘everyone’ in a market. Now, new channels exist that bypass this and many times work to serve only a portion of the market. They can operate at lower cost and at lightning speed. No wonder newspapers are always in such a bitter mood :-)

Finally, let’s look at a corporation. For decades they have built a marketing and sales infrastructure. These infrastructures slowly evolve over time, hopefully learning from their mistakes. Social media is changing that.

For consumer product manufacturers, often the ‘last mile’ is the retailer. Here you are as a business, building the best products you possibly can, and in the end you need to turn over the final customer interaction to a retailer. (insert joke about pimply 16-year-old salesperson here). Often that leaves the only customer interaction to be customer service. In other words, you’d only talk to the customer when your product wasn’t working. That’s not a healthy way to start any relationship.

Change has been happening slowly though. Remember the early e-commerce revolts when manufacturers had the gall to sell their products directly online, thus bypassing the retailer? It’s a common occurrence now, but a decade ago it was a big deal…and still is as many media companies switch to digital delivery of content. Ah, digital content delivery, that brings us back to the last mile, literally.

The opportunity of social media to provide that ‘last mile’ connection is also the challenge. It upsets many of the existing infrastructures both internally and externally within a corporation and that has consequences. In the next part of this post I’m going to look at a few things based upon the ‘last mile’.

  1. Jealousy from the existing marketing teams towards the ‘new’ social media team. This results in internal political battles that cripple both sides.

  2. Building infrastructure to serve a large market is tough, just ask the telcos. The same goes for corporate interactions with customers.

  3. It does take integration. Social media is often able to capitalize on the groundwork set out from advertising, PR, etc.

  4. ROI calculations get messy. Sure, that final click to buy may have come from a Tweet, but does social media deserve all the credit?

  5. Customer service via Twitter is great, but are you providing a better class of service to online users?

  6. Social media can’t serve your entire customer base, is that a good or bad thing?

About the Author
Josh Hallett leads up the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing the care and feeding of clients and developing social media strategies with the rest of the team. You can also read his personal Hyku blog and follow him on Twitter @hyku.

Filed in Marketing

Add Your Comment2 Responses to “Social Media as the ‘Last Mile’ – Part 1”

Shanee Ben-Zur on January 14th, 2010 at 10:51 am

Josh, well said. Looking forward to part II of this, especially ROI calculations, integration and customer service.

Josh Hallett on January 14th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Thanks Shanee. I’m actually breaking it down into a number of parts to correspond with the six points I list at the end.