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.

5 thoughts on “Show me the money… not the smiley faces.”

  1. My thanks as well, Susan. As an IdeaStorm diehard participant from nearly its beginning, I continue to press Dell for greater interaction with the site. Anyone would realize that ‘social media’ is no panacea, but company attitude, commitment and culture change might well PROVE to be.

    Success in a competitive environment can be measured and achieved in different ways. HP once had a reputation for rock solid hardware: reliability was their hallmark. In our times of commoditization, perhaps that is more difficult to achieve. Still, Toyota (have they recently slipped?) and Honda built similar reputations.

    I vote for positive and strong customer relationships. I’ll continue to watch Dell’s progress, while offering my $0.02 worth now & then. So far, I would say their effort is amazing and has the potential to set a most valuable precedent.

  2. @John – Thanks so much for dropping by. I was having an nice chat about Dell yesterday with a social media maven. Clearly, Dell is on the right track with social media. I wish we just would see a little public endorsement of Dell’s pioneering efforts coming from Dell’s executive ranks. This would help pave the way for others, so we can get the evangelizing out of the blogosphere and into the board room where it can make a real difference in accelerating adoption. Although contrary to the philosophy of 2.0ers, the truth is one strong CEO endorsement still weighs heavily among his/her peer group. Now, if he only had those turnaround numbers inarguably linked to the social media strategy…

  3. Susan – I share your frustration with the iron clad case studies. To be sure, there are a few that we’re all aware of for the most part – GoldCorp (re: Wikinomics), P&G using Innocentive, etc. As I’m out presenting to and meeting with some companies on the topic of Next Generation Enterprise transformation, once we get past the trends and studying the adoption of 2.0 technologies by consumers, they are drilling in looking for case examples. I do believe per the comment above, making social media work with business requires commitment and a paradigm shift for many companies.

    I believe the case studies will come, but right now my sense is the early adopters that will drive these case studies are experimenting and getting small wins. When they take those experimental wins and scale them, the real case studies will emerge. Right now I’m beginning to believe the search for case studies effort is about finding those early indicator experimental wins.

  4. Hi Susan,

    I really enjoyed your post and have to say that although Dell is committed to make social media work from a business perspective, it isn’t a magic bullet. We also realize the need create compelling products that are available in more and different places, and a consistently excellent customer experience at every touch point. We’re working hard on all these things, and more. But we have seen measurable results and I’d like to reiterate what was reported above: When we started our social media initiates in August ’06, our online word of mouth was 48% negative. As of last week it is 24%. Is all attributable to social media? Of course not. But we believe we’re on the right course for what will surely be a very different marketplace sooner than later.

    Might want to check out what Geoff Livingston over at the Buzz Bin has to say about the dynamics of social media adoption — in short there are no quick successes but there can be negative implications for corporations that do not adapt.

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