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.
The 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. John Moore, a leading marketing consultant, blogger, and author of Tribal Knowledge, was in attendance at the SMC meeting. He videotaped parts of the event and posted these copious notes on his blog:
re: Dell’s Social Media Goals
1 | Enter into conversations with customers everyday in every major language
2 | Address any form of customer dissatisfaction head-on knowing that not everything will be solved and some of Dell’s weaknesses will be exposed
4 | Encourage “crowd sourcing” as the next step in listening to customers
5 | Use video to personalize the Dell story
[John Pope, digital media senior manager]
re: Dell’s Beginning Blogging Efforts
Contrary to perception, Dell didn’t start blogging because of Jeff Jarvis. However, Jeff’s rants did help Dell realize there were customer service issues the company needed to address.In April of 2006, Michael Dell charged Dell to proactively find dissatisfied customers in the blogosphere and connect them with someone at Dell who could help them. By July, Dell had launched its blogging efforts.Dell stumbled with the initial launch of their Direct2Dell blog. They listened to feedback on how to improve it, namely adding links in posts linking to other bloggers. Dell adjusted and in some cases apologized for making a mistake.
[Lionel Menchaca, digital media manager]
re: Changing the Tone of the Conversation about Dell
At the low point in 2006, Dell calculated at least 50% of the online conversation about Dell was negative. Today, Dell calculates the negative online conversation percentage number has been reduced to 23%. Dell doesn’t attribute all its blogging efforts to stemming the negative online conversation, but they are confident that blogging has helped.
re: “Wins” in the Blogosphere
90% of the time Dell enters into a conversation, it “wins.” A “win” happens when (a) you enter the conversation and just thank someone for giving their opinion and (b) when you weigh-in on a negative thread with clarification of facts and the negativity subsides.
re: Dell’s Process for Posting on the Direct2Dell blog
Lionel serves as “editor-in-chief” for the Direct2Dell blog. As the editor-in-chief, Lionel balances three areas when it comes to topics the company chooses to blog about:
(1) content/ideas from Dell’s cadre of bloggers
(2) comments from Direct2Dell readers … if a topic emerges from readers, then Dell knows it needs to blog about that topic
(3) the need to add Dell’s voice to an online conversation that directly or indirectly impacts Dell.
re: Moderating Comments
Dell moderates comments on the Direct2Dell blog. On busy weeks, Dell receives up to 400 comments. Well over 90% of those comments get posted following a quick look-see. Dell uses common sense guidelines when deciding which comments to moderate. Dell’s three common sense rules are:
(1) No profanity
(2) No direct attacks on Direct2Dell readers
(3) Anything addressing legal issues are not posted,
The Direct2Dell blog changed how the company viewed online customer conversations. In the past, Dell wasn’t comfortable with participating or reacting to the conversations happening online about the company. However, the company now understands the importance of participating and reacting to the online conversation … so much so that … directly soliciting ideas from the online community was the next step in Dell’s social media strategy.In Febuary 2007, Dell launched IdeaStorm — which is, simplistically speaking, an “online suggestion box” inviting people to offer ideas on how Dell can improve its products and services.One unique aspect to IdeaStorm is Dell is now able to close the loop with feedback from customers. When customers post ideas on IdeaStorm, Dell is able to follow-up with posts/comments explaining that the company heard them and explain what Dell is doing in response.Dell views IdeaStorm as a way its product development team can co-create products with customers. Pre-installed Linux on Dell computers was one of the first ideas generated from IdeaStorm that Dell product developers worked with customers to co-create and introduce to the marketplace.There are about 35 other ideas Dell has put into action as a response to listening to feedback from customers on IdeaStorm.
[Caroline Dietz, online community manager for IdeaStorm]
re: Lessons Dell is Learning from IdeaStorm
While there have been many successes with IdeaStorm, Dell is still adapting to how this initiative is changing the culture at the company. Being more transparent and sharing company information isn’t a cornerstone of the Dell corporate culture. However, IdeaStorm requires a certain comfort level with being open and forthcoming that Dell employees are adjusting to. Clearly, Dell’s participation in the online social media world is having an impact on its company culture.
re: Dell EmployeeStorm
As a result of the success IdeaStorm has had in generating ideas from customers, Dell has launched EmployeeStorm to generate ideas and comments from its 88,000 employees. A by-product has been employees are learning to become more comfortable sharing ideas and adding comments that they are now more willing to participate in IdeaStorm.