Show me the money… not the smiley faces.

When I was interviewing Nathan Gilliatt a few months ago for a webinar we were doing for our clients on the basics of blogging, he introduced me to the importance of online communities. I felt so strongly that he was correct about online communities’ importance in the social media landscape that I recommended incorporating a session on online communities at Office 2.0 and had Dion Hinchcliffe host the panel. A few weeks ago, I serendipitously stumbled upon a Social Media Club of Austin meeting on Facebook where Dell managers were going to be presenting their blogging and online community experiences. Caroline Dietz, the online community manager for Dell’s IdeaStorm gave a good synopsis of how the community is harvested for new product ideas and improvements for Dell. I had the opportunity to spend a few moments afterwards talking to Dell’s chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca, which I really enjoyed.

NYTimes IDC chartThe one question I managed to get in during the open forum that I felt was obligatory was related to how measurable an impact has Dell’s social media strategy been on Dell’s business–in material (read:financial) terms. There was a lot of discussion regarding how the social media strategy is changing the culture at Dell, how customer satisfaction is improving, etc. And, I’ve seen some reports on the before and after social media at Dell. But, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask a public company if this social media razzmatazz has really made, well, a serious difference in the company’s affairs. It’s so easy to be seduced by this technology and to see it working for startups and small pilots, but large public companies have weighty issues.

I’ve attended enough investor analyst conferences, and I’m wondering can Dell’s social media strategy help Michael Dell the next time he’s in front of Citigroup’s Richard Gardner and he has to explain why Dell has fallen from the #1 PC maker to the #2 PC maker worldwide? Better– can Dell’s social media strategy play a role in regaining Dell’s market leadership position?

I’m also wondering why in this recent interview (9/7) with Steve Lohr of the New York Times, why didn’t Michael Dell take the opportunity to highlight how the company is effectively using social media to help Dell “get back to its roots” by directly speaking to the customer base (and listening in return)? Dietz’s answer to my direct question about whether there have been any material results from the efforts was more or less, “no.” But, maybe it’s just too early to tell. Menchaca said Dell started the blog in July of 2006, so perhaps the results are not yet measurable in these terms.

I guess I’m just in the mood for some results. There is a wide and growing wider community of experts in the social media space. Perhaps there is solid data on this that I have not seen. Something we’ve been discussing in the Enterprise Irregulars group is how social media and enterprise 2.0 differ which would account for it having slipped my view, but that topic is a post for another day and probably involves taking a crack once again at the arbiter of all 2.0 legitimacy: wikipedia. Not sure I’m in the mood for fighting with the wikipedians.

The session with the Dell folks was interesting, despite my growing impatience for iron-clad case studies of 2.0 in business success. I learned a lot, actually.

Author: Susan Scrupski

Longtime fan of technology to improve humanity.