“Dell Hell Freezes Over: A Great Example of Turning Lemons into Lemonade”

Last week, BuzzMachine‘s Jeff Jarvis wrote an article in BusinessWeek discussing Dell’s reversal from social media nightmare to social media maven. It’s been a pretty amazing adventure and, to me, it feels like the last chapter has finally been writtern. Let’s take a look at a few of the practices Dell has put into place to turn around its online image.

[For the full “Dell Hell” archives in reverse chronological order, click here.]

It all started on June 21st, 2005, when Jeff published a post entitled “Dell Lies. Dell Sucks.” To Jeff’s surprise, he amassed hundred of sympathetic comments and thousands(?) of trackbacks. Not necessarily a good form of publicity, but Dell’s “look, but don’t touch” policy didn’t respond to bloggers.

This interview with a Dell spokesperson from 2005 really represents the old notion of one-sided communication that still exists in most big companies today. Houston Chronicle Tech Blogger Dwight Silverman caught the contradiction:

“With our direct model, we feel like we already have a good, two-way communications channel with our customers,” Davis said.

Of course, it depends on what you do with the incoming communication. A two-way conversation only has value if you take action on the problems you’re hearing about.

Finally, Davis asked an interesting question: Did I know of any companies that do actively go out and respond to blog and forum postings?

In 2005, it was rare. Today, the idea of corporate blogs is not so innovative, but companies still have a hard time with blogger/community relations.

In April of 2006, Dell reached out to disgruntled bloggers in an effort to resolve their issues. In July 2006, Dell launched its Direct2Dell blog. These words from a post in November of 2006 on the Dell blog starkly contrast the above comments:

Every day, we receive reports from a search string in Technorati and other blog search engines, and we meticulously analyze the results. When we find someone who has an unresolved issue with their Dell computer or our services, we reach out to offer assistance.

Ok, great, a corporate blog and customer service people who listen. Where’s the innovation? Well, it gets better. Last April, Dell launched the IdeamStorm community.

IdeaStorm allows users to make suggestions and then vote (in a digg like manner) whether to “promote” or “delete” an idea. But this voting isn’t hollow. Dell then provides results, closing the loop with consumers by informing them what user-initiated ideas have been executed and what suggested items are forthcoming. One major result of the IdeaStorm community was the decision to package Linux on consumer desktops and laptops. I know of few companies that allow such active consumer input.

The biggest success, to me, was a change in corporate thinking. Look at these words from CEO Michael Dell:

“These conversations are going to occur whether you like it or not, O.K.? Well, do you want to be part of that or not? My argument is you absolutely do. You can learn from that. You can improve your reaction time. And you can be a better company by listening and being involved in that conversation.”

Yup, that pretty much sums it up. The conversation is going on without you. People are tired of not having a voice. Now that they have quick and easy tools through which they communicate, they are gonna make their own messages. Isn’t it better to be a part of that discussion and perhaps steer it, rather than let it explode into a “Dell Hell”-type wildfire?

Lessons learned:

  • Read and Respond
    • Know what is being said and thoughtfully reply in a timely manner, especially to complaints
  • Talk to your customers as a real person speaking to other real people
    • It might not hurt to have a full-time blogger-relations person
  • Create a forum through which customer’s can provide idea/feedback
    • They are gonna do it somewhere, why not on your site?
  • Allow customers to vote on feedback
    • Collaboration and democracy increase loyalty
  • Report on results that come from feedback
    • Show them their voice has been heard and that their input is utilized

In the future, Dell plans on creating wikis that users can edit together [not sure if these are more techinical, knowledge-base type wikis or more customer-comments style wikis, both will be interesting to watch]. I’d also love to see a page that aggregates everything that is being said about Dell in the blogosphere. Maybe it could be tagged and then quickly sorted so that customers could see the full-spectrum of the discussion.

What do you guys think? Did Dell pull it off? Do you know of any other companies that user similar collaborative techniques? What could Dell do now to improve/enhance its current social media campaign?

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5 Comments

Filed under Citizen Reporter, Marketing, New Media, New Media Masters., Public Relations 2.0

5 responses to ““Dell Hell Freezes Over: A Great Example of Turning Lemons into Lemonade”

  1. Hi Chris, goof piece. I’ve been following Dell’s Hellish experience from back then and often still use it in consultations with clients.

    What I’m happy to see is a company that have acknowledged mistakes of the past and used mechanics that is relevant to its audience to address the situation.

    How many times have we seen a quick 2 minute apology (more official statement) on television addressing the state of a nation, when all was really required was to respond directly to the complainent(s).

    I salute Dell therefore and wish them well. I did not think they would manage to rectify their situation, but they have done so particularly well.

    Of course there would be many such obstacles along the way, but addressing them promptly should ensure such an episode does not occur again.

    Happy to see that a search for Dell results Ideastorm and the Direct2DellBlog on the first page.

  2. Henre,

    Thanks for your comment. I think you bring up a valid point: Jeff Jarvis’ post on “Dell Hell” is no longer listed on the first page of Google results. At one point, it was the number one result for a Dell query. How damaging is that for a business?

    Chris

  3. johnpatdell

    Chris — As a member of Dell’s digital media team, I think you’ve done as fine a job as anyone to summarize how the company has worked to move on to a new chapter. It’s been a wild ride, but the journey has only just begun. Today, we view the integration of social media technologies as a natural evolution of our business and an exciting new dimension in which to deal directly with our customers.

  4. Pingback: “Brand of Brothers: A Social Media Chorus” « socialTNT

  5. Pingback: “Say No to No Comment: How to Answer Negative Blog Posts” « socialTNT

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