There was an exciting announcement recently from the folks at Dell that the company has surpassed $3 million in sales as a result of promotions offered via the @DellOutlet Twitter account. While many will likely tout this as proof of “social media ROI,” there’s a lot more to the story.
Here’s what I think Dell did to generate that type of revenue. If your company can mimic this model, you’ll probably be able to make your first million using Twitter as well:
Years before any other company had to consider the implications of ignoring customers online, Jeff Jarvis and an army of unsatisfied Dell users coined the term, “Dell Hell,” forcing the company to listen, even if they weren’t ready.
When Dell finally launched its first blog in July 2006, which was titled One2One, the company immediately changed its name to Direct2Dell due to the existence of a certain pornography site bearing the same name. A minor embarrassment, but one that was easily overlooked. Dell was at last talking with its customers.
When the Consumerist published a post from a former Dell sales associate, the company responded with a cease and desist letter from its legal department. This generated even more negative attention for their social media efforts. Only days later did the company respond by using its blog.
Remember Second Life? It was the Twitter of 2007. Dell launched an island and tried selling PCs via the virtual world interface. While the island had some exciting features, it was often vacant and likely never became the revenue source some expected. However, the Island still exists and the Dell team (led by the amazing Laura Thomas) continues to actively participate in the community by hosting a variety of events for Second Life residents and Dell customers. The company learned how the Second Life community wanted to Dell to participate and the company adapted better than most.
I’m being dramatic by using the word ‘failure’ to describe some of its early forays into social media. Dell tried a lot of different tactics to find which ones resonated with their audience. Sometimes the results of the experiments with community building might not have yielded the expected results. But these lessons were valuable learning opportunities for the company (as well as for the rest of us) to better understand the model for two way conversations between companies and its constituencies.
From these lessons, Dell was able to better prepare for the social media engagement their customers demanded. Let’s look at some of the things they’ve done very well:
Richard Binhammer, Lionel Menchaca and (formerly) Bob Pearson are probably the most public facing of Dell’s social media team, but the company has more than 30 employees dedicated to its online community customer service team. And it’s not just any people, it’s the right people. People empowered to respond on behalf of the company, people authorized to help.
CREATE A FORUM FOR CONVERSATIONS
Dell was the first large company to implement the SalesForce IdeaStorm offering that allowed customers to propose new ideas to the company that were then voted on by visitors to the site. The best ideas rose to the top and were shared with management. Starbucks followed suit with My Starbucks Idea and the two companies are often cited in social media circles for their willingness to open up direct lines of communications with their customers.
SEGMENT CUSTOMERS AND SPEAK WITH THEM
Gamers, women, small business owners. Dell listened to the conversations happening online and created customer experiences to meet their needs. Great examples of this include the Green community and the Gaming community.
CREATE A HEADQUARTERS WITH MANY BRANCHES
There are 33 corporate Twitter accounts (not to mention countless awesome employee accounts), three Flickr photostreams, 433 YouTube videos, 22 Facebook Groups, 12 Blogs, eight Forums, 18 public wikis, and of course, IdeaStorm. They have a community landing page featured prominently on the Dell site and accounts that are moderated by Dell employees on multiple social media platforms as well.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from Dell’s efforts is that revenue is the old model for a campaign’s success, and it really doesn’t translate well online. People don’t want to be sold to when they’re in a social environment. The best campaigns seem to support customer service, relationship building (between customers, not just between the customer and the brand) and knowledge exchange. Make sure that you’re looking at the appropriate metrics, especially when you’re starting out. These will change over time as you see what works.
The $3 million in Twitter revenue was not achieved just by setting up an account and “following” potential customers. It was part of a strategy rolled out over several years that continues to evolve with the tools and the needs of the company’s community. Relationships take time to build. Your brand will make mistakes. What’s important is that you keep trying to find the right fit, that you listen to your customers, and that you give your customers the experience and attention they deserve. In the end, it literally pays off.
Have you learned any lessons from Dell’s experiences? What’s an example of a change you made based on your participation in an online social community?