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How Dell took social media mainstream

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Today’s guest post is by Richard Binhammer, a senior manager in corporate communications at Dell. Richard plans and implements Dell’s communications strategy and is a key gatekeeper of its corporate reputation and social media strategy.

We’ve all heard statements like this: “Social media is one of the most significant advances in communication since the telephone or e-mail.” Sound drastic? Maybe. However, there’s no getting around the fact that Twitter is the most rapidly adopted communications tool in history, going from 0 to 10 million users in just over two years. On Twitter, word spreads like wildfire, and companies no longer have the option of ignoring the conversation.

The paradigm shift from broadcast to direct communication via social networks has changed the way PR professionals, marketers and customer service teams work. As social media evolves, it’s becoming a vital and vibrant way for professionals to stay in touch with colleagues, suppliers and partners — and not just for communications purposes but for product development, innovation and more.

At Dell, we have always been keen on harnessing the power of the Web. You may recall that Dell was an early pioneer in e-commerce, earning a million dollars a day via our Web site by 1997. Back then, our “direct business model” relied on the Web for “frictionless” commerce, from ordering and individual customization to supply-chain efficiency.

Today, we see the power of the Web emerging from a static to interactive tool that’s as much about furthering direct connections with customers as it is about e-commerce. Our Twitter followers @DellOutlet are more than a million strong (representing more than $3 million in revenue), a robust community of people interested in refurbished units. Via platforms like IdeaStorm, more than 350 customer ideas have been implemented into product and business innovations.

We’re often asked how large our social media team is to be able to make such a significant impact. Where do you get the resources? Is there a room full of people on Facebook and Twitter responding to every customer idea, question or gripe?

Yes, and no. At one time we had a group of 40 employees dedicated to “communities and conversations.” Incubated within our public relations team, this group started out by listening and learning before engaging with customers, a model that still remains key today.

After three years of experimenting, listening and learning, however, we have concluded that social media is ultimately about connecting and communicating across all aspects of our business. This means that while a core social media team remains, the marketing, sales, service and support, and product groups all need to have their own fingers on the pulse and arms around their customers. While social media started as a way for Dell to distribute news and special offers, it has evolved into a critical relationship builder, integrated into all business units.

Here are three tips for getting started on integrating social media into your business operations:

  • Listen first. Learn from what your customers are saying to establish your baseline.
  • Engage employees internally through social media. Use blogs, Yammer or company-specific social tools to get people used to and excited about the platforms.
  • Encourage employees to set up social media accounts. As you know, social media is addictive!  Once people try it, not only will they be itching for more, they’ll be coming up with ideas for how it can benefit their team.

Image credit, Dell