Dell’s Social Engagement Journey
Second of three posts
The Social Engagement Journey, put together by our team at Ant’s Eye View, is a 5-stage process that a medium-to-large brand or company goes through while integrating social media into their business. Dell was one one of the earliest companies to go through this process.
They are often held up as a social engagement model, but their journey hasn’t been all roses and buttercups. In this post, we outline their journey in the last five years.
In 2005, Dell was in Stage 1, the period in which most companies’ engagement with customers is through traditional marketing and customer support channels. Functions and business units are silo’d. They are ambivalent to online conversations. Involvement in social channels is not on the executive radar.
For Dell, 2005 was the year of Dell Hell, Jeff Jarvis’ online campaign against the company for their less-than-stellar response to his non-functioning new laptop. “Dell Hell” became an online meme around the web, as customers started taking their complaints to the web en masse. The complaints were rooted in some major problems in the company related to poor quality products as well as frustrating customer support. Dell was largely unaware and unresponsive to the online complaints. There was no monitoring of online conversations and no team in place to handle them. Dell’s online focus was ecommerce and esupport via Dell.com.
In 2006, Dell had moved to Stage 2, where silo’d teams start to dabble in social media. There is some online conversation monitoring but no standardization of tools. Executives become aware of what is going on in social media, but are not committing resources or budget to social engagement activities. Maverick teams are forced to bootstrap people resources and money to get anything done.
After the Dell Hell meme gains momentum and is the subject of some mainstream media stories, Dell begins to engage in a few social initiatives:
- Executive support: CEO Michael Dells asks a small team to help bloggers with technical issues.
- Customer support: A community outreach team is formed. The team begins by listening and monitoring conversations to see what is being said. The tech support experts are hand-selected for their tech problem-solving expertise and superior interpersonal skills.
- Marketing channels: Dell launches Direct2Dell a corporate blog, with chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca.
- Conversation monitoring: The customer service and PR teams outsource this to an agency to find customer issues that were being voiced online. Dell used the agency to find conversations, but company employees, not the agency, did the outreach/engagement with customers needing help on the social web.
- Employee competency: Only a handful of employees are skilled in social engagement
In 2007, Dell moved into Stage 3, in which most companies formally organize for social engagement by creating an empowered team run by a S.P.I.C.Y. leader. Social channels may have proliferated so there is move to edit down to the most impactful ones. There is a focused effort on training and education of more employees on social engagement. Tools are consolidated. A baseline framework for measuring social engagement is proposed.
Dell had put more emphasis on social engagement, building on the positive results from 2006 initiatives:
- Business operations: A centralized team run by Bob Pearson and Sean McDonald (now with us at Ant’s Eye View) is formed.
- Risk mitigation: First set of social media policies and governance are put into place
- Tools: The team standardizes on Visible Technologies for online conversation monitoring. Dell operates blogs and forums for dedicated customer engagement topics.
- Marketing channels: Dell joins Twitter with a number of ids.
- Feedback and innovation: Ideastorm for customers to brainstorm new ideas and features for products is launched.
- Resources management: Dell did not have dedicated shared services, so the centralized social team borrowed resources from multiple teams (IT, online) to move quickly to test and launch social engagement tools and websites.
- Strategy and planning: Formalized strategy is developed and refined for executive buy-in
In 2008, Dell advanced to Stage 4, the period in which a central team still exists but more work is being pushed to business units. Channels start to yield real results. Employees are competent and are actively engaging socially with customers. More rigor is being put into measurement which becomes part of business units’ business plans.
During this time, Dell has become a Stage 4 company in nearly every aspect:
- Marketing channels: By May 2008, Dell outlet on Twitter achieves $500,000 in sales. A blog for the channel community is launched and gains awareness. Social content now appears on Dell.com (homepage navigation, product pages with ratings & reviews)
- Advocate engagement: Online communities are launched for Dell’s environmental efforts (called Regeneration) and technophiles (called Digital Nomads)
- Employee competency: Community managers are named for each of these markets: channel, small business, consumer, and enterprise. Roles are formalized for listening and resolution, content planning, technology testing and planning, and measurement.
- Customer support: Proactive outreach on Twitter and blogs
- Measurement: Formalized dashboard with set goals and monthly reporting
- Conversation monitoring: Online listening is brought in-house to the central team, standardizing on the Radian6 toolset.
Dell has actually regressed to Stage 2 or 3. Events have interrupted the company’s progress through the Journey. Alternately, events can also accelerate a company’s journey, too.
In 2009, the recession was in full swing and pressure was on the social media team to scale operations by reducing headcount. A change in marketing leadership slowed down social engagement initiatives:
- Strategy and planning: With departure of the incumbent CMO, the social engagement strategy was started anew and lost some corporate knowledge and momentum.
- Employee competency: The two key executives running the social engagement team left Dell, as well as a number of community managers. The new people brought in to replace these folks did not have the same level of competency. With loss of some key people and volume of people, social engagement knowledge resembled stage 2-3.
- Feedback and innovation: Ground was lost on Ideastorm due to the departure of the employee who was running it. Without dedicated resource, Dell was slow in responding to customer ideas and comments on the site.
On the upside in 2009:
- Marketing channels: There was too much proliferation in creating social engagement properties so blogs were consolidated. Revenues from Twitter approach $6.5 million.
- Business operations: With the departure of key market community managers, business units began to take on this work.
For Dell, 2010 was year of regrouping and establishing a foothold back in stage 4. New initiatives were put in place to move the company back into stage 3 and Stage 4 in some areas.
- Executive support: Manish Mehta was named the new leader of the social engagement team and fills gap from departed team members. Manish retained the great talent of Richard Binhammer and Lionel Menchaca, both early pioneers with Dell’s social media operation.
- Strategy and planning: An updated, comprehensive social strategy is put into place
- Conversation monitoring: A new role, Chief Listening Officer, is created who will work to get insights gleaned from online conversation monitoring integrated back into key company processes. A Social Media Listening Command Center is opened.
- Advocate engagement: The CAP, or Customer Advisory Panel, is started. Its goal is to bring key customers to Dell HQ to former tighter bonds with key advocates and understand their delights and frustrations.
- Business operations: Business units still playing a key role in social engagement efforts
Dell’s travels through the Journey are a solid example for how social media is transforming companies to be more customer-centric. Dell’s experience shows it’s not always a smooth pathway. Internal and external factors can cause a company to jump ahead a few stages, or in Dell’s case, move back a few stages, but it seems to have the momentum now to reclaim its place in the social engagement pantheon.