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Social Media Boot Camp: Best Practices
from the Front Lines of Dell

By Karen Quintos
Chief Marketing Officer at Dell

It's hard to believe that less than four years ago—at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival here in Austin—Twitter reached its tipping point, as the number of daily tweets rose from 20,000 to 60,000. Now Twitter is at its 300+ millionth user, and six new Twitter accounts are being opened every second. This year, the number of tweets for SXSW alone hit more than 300,000.

These growth statistics illustrate that social media moves at light speed. In stark contrast, most corporations don't. Although Dell entered the blogosphere in 2006 and began tweeting in 2007, we've had to learn the fine points of using social media for business value the same way every other large organization has: in real time.

For CMOs and senior marketers looking to use social media to support business goals—such as satisfying customers and driving revenue—this serves as a bit of a boot camp, but with less pain.

Best Practice #1: Before You Talk, Listen

Listening is the first step to any solid relationship. Fortunately for Dell, listening has been embedded in everything we do since Michael Dell started the company more than 27 years ago. Back in those days, he would include a "Tell Michael" card with every system shipped, review the feedback when the cards came back, and then assign action items to his team.

Fast forward to 2010, when Dell established the Social Media Listening Command Center, our global operational hub for monitoring some 26,000 online mentions about Dell that customers post every day. We sort what people say about Dell based on topics, sentiment, share of voice, geography, and trends. We strive to understand the largest possible number of conversations—good and bad—all across the web. From there, we work to ensure that the right teams follow up on these conversations and act on them.

Best Practice #2: Weave Social Media into the Fabric of Your Organization

The right organizational design is essential to make social media work. For smaller organizations, a single, centralized social media group may be the most effective way to deliver a consistent message.

At Dell, we have implemented a model based on a centralized social media team that acts as a hub of best practices, tools, and processes that we incubate and then embed within our business units. It's these business unit teams that execute social media strategies to align with their specific business goals. These same teams participate in our cross-functional council to keep us all on the same page.

Given the dynamic nature of social media, we also leverage it internally to keep information flowing. One of the tools Dell uses is Chatter from Salesforce.com, which gives all 103,000 team members the opportunity to connect, build communities within Dell, and solve problems in real time.

Best Practice #3: If You Build a Community, They Will Come

While we have had a vibrant community through customer forums since 1996, in 2009, Dell made a strategic decision to revitalize its brand by increasing awareness of our business solutions capabilities. Through research, we learned what we already knew at a gut level: customers value a trusted advisor relationship, built from education and insight, at every stage of the solution life cycle.

To address this need, we launched the Dell TechCenter, an online community where the most tech-savvy users communicate directly with Dell technologists and their peers. We've found that member-to-member information exchange has been the most robust and valued function of TechCenter.

Another example is the work we're doing to bring together educators and administrators from around the world through the Dell Education Blog (and @DellEdu on Twitter) to share insights and best practices and even create curriculum.

Best Practice #4: Bring People Together with Content They Care About

Let's face it, not all online content is good, and only a handful is really great. Once your community starts generating great content, it's smart to reuse it across as many platforms as possible. While syndication is crucial, community content has real value, because you know it has value to the customer. That intersection of business and customer value is where you break through the noise and make memorable connections.

In this way, exemplary content stands out even further when it's highlighted in the context of other winning content. For example, management guru Gary Hamel created the MIX (or Management Innovation eXchange), which generates a wealth of content on cutting-edge management principles. That content is syndicated to additional sites and platforms. Dell's mobile content application for CXOs features content from the MIX, as well as syndicated content from other high-value, CXO-oriented sources, including the Dell-sponsored Enterprise Efficiency community.

Best Practice #5: What Gets Measured Gets Managed

How do we measure the business value of social media? What are the right metrics to use based on business needs? How do you use them to guide investment decisions and optimize social media initiatives?

The key is to start with a measurement platform that aligns with business goals, beyond just social media. For Dell, the measurement platform is Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer loyalty: "How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?" We look at the impact of social media and the word of mouth it fuels as being directly tied to NPS.

It's also important to look at ROI across the entire customer life cycle—beyond what happens on the social web—from generating awareness to research and consideration to lead generation and sales. It's the combination of every touchpoint with customers that will truly help you understand how to move the business forward. With careful planning and the right analytics, you can optimize the business value of social media interactions and improve their efficacy to impact the full customer life cycle. For example:

  • After putting user-generated social reviews in the product purchase path, Dell Japan saw a 3x increase in revenue per visitor.
  • By tracking elements like recency and frequency of visits against purchases over time, Dell has been able to measure how participation in the TechCenter community influences new B2B sales cycles and accelerates those already in progress.

We have also been able to communicate valuable insights back up the sales chain, where they can be used to open new opportunities.

Best Practice #6: Never Stop Learning

Compared to other mass mediums, social media has matured faster than anything the world has ever seen. But mature doesn't mean static.

When it comes to social media, you can never stop learning, whether through formal or informal channels. At Dell, we formed the Social Media and Community University (SMaCU), where we offer different classes (beginner though advanced, as well as in-person and virtual) on how to make social media a part of our team members' jobs. I've also found that a ton of learning comes simply from the interactions you have every day. For me, that's hearing from customers and sharing insights with colleagues.

Every day, there is a new development breaking in the social mediasphere, and every day, I learn something new about the way Dell can use those amazing communications channels to improve our business.

Karen Quintos

As Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President for Dell, Karen Quintos leads brand strategy, communications, social media, corporate responsibility, research, marketing talent development, and agency management. She is also the sponsor of Dell's largest networking group, Women in Search of Excellence. Previously at Dell, Karen held leadership roles in marketing, services, customer support, and supply chain management. Before joining Dell in 2000, she was Vice President of Global Operations and Technology for Citigroup and spent 12 years with Merck. Karen is a board member for the ANA, the Ad Council, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the Smeal Business School at Pennsylvania State University.