Dell's Hell - Looking back with Jeff Jarvis

“DELL SUCKS. DELL LIES. Put that in your Google and smoke it.” These were the words Jeff Jarvis signed off with in his much-talked about "Dell sucks" post on his blog, BuzzMachine, in 2005. Today, the words coming out of Jarvis' mouth sounds a bit different. "Dell Learns to Listen - The computer maker takes to the blogosphere to repair its tarnished image", he writes in last week's addition of BusinessWeek, continuing: “In the age of customers empowered by blogs and social media, Dell has leapt from worst to first” – signed Jeff Jarvis.

The whole thing started with Jarvis, as he himself puts it, "unwittingly unleashing a blog storm around the computer company". “Terminally frustrated with a lemony laptop and torturous service”, Jarvis “vented steam” on his blog under the headline: "Dell sucks." The article, as Jarvis points out, stated a furor in the blogosphere and a storm of complaints towards Dell. Thousands of frustrated consumers eventually commented on and linked to Jarvis' blog, agreeing with his relatively mischievous statement. A few days, weeks or months later – he doesn't say – Jarvis blogged a new post about Dell. This time in the form of an open letter to Michael Dell : "suggesting his company read blogs, write blogs, ask customers for guidance, and "join the conversation your customers are having without you."

It took Dell over a year to understand the significance of the furor Jarvis had created, but in April 2006 they realized something had to be done and created the blog Direct2Dell. According to Michael Dell, Dell had already planned to start a blog-like communication strategy before the Dell Hell started, at least that's what he says in an interview (video) with Jarvis on BusinessWeek. I don't think anyone really believes him, but that doesn't really matter – because what Dell did with the blog was clever:

“[Dell] dispatched technicians to reach out to complaining bloggers and solve their problems, earning pleasantly surprised buzz in return. That July [2006], Dell started its Direct2Dell blog, where it quickly had to deal with a burning-battery issue and where chief blogger Lionel Menchaca gave the company a frank and credible human voice. Last February, Michael Dell launched, asking customers to tell the company what to do. Dell is following their advice, selling Linux computers and reducing the promotional "bloatware" that clogs machines. Today, Dell even enables customers to rate its products on its site,” writes Jarvis.

Jarvis further writes:

The crucial word you hear at Dell [today] is "relationship." Dell blogger Menchaca has led the charge in convincing bloggers that "real people are here to listen," and so he diligently responds and links to critics, and holds up his end of the conversation. "You can't fake it," he says. Dell's team is stanching the flow of bad buzz. By Dell's measure, negative blog posts about it have dropped from 49% to 22%. And the Dell Hell posts on my blog, which used to come up high on a Google search for the company, are now relegated to second-page search-engine Siberia. "That change in perception just doesn't happen with a press release," Menchaca says.”

The lesson for Dell, as Jarvis wrote on his blog a few days ago, is:

"Dell realized that engaging in the conversation wasn't just a way to stop blogging customers like me from harming the brand. We, the customers, bring them great value besides our money: We alert them to problem. We will tell them what products we want. We share our knowledge about their products. We help fellow customers solve problems. We will sell their products. But this happens only if you have a decent product and service and only if you listen to us."

This should also be a great lesson for other companies and businesses. The big question is: could Dell have avoided the blog storm had they already had a blog and a proper web-response-strategy in place in 2005? Most likely!

I talked to a Norwegian webstrategist at Tarantell (they are blogging) a few days ago about the incident, he argued that every company should be aware of what's happening in the world of blogs, and that a good developed blog-strategy is a must. Still, he told me, only a marginal part of Norwegian businesses even consider monitoring blogs. Only a very few have developed a business blog. That's not good – So for those of you that want to learn more and dig in to the pros and cons of business blogging (corporate blogging) here's a few links to start with:

Why blog for business?

Business Blog Consulting

Blogging Will Change Your Business

Better Business Blogging

Good luck.

- Espen

UPDATE: Also, check out this podcast: Forward Podcast 33 :: Social Media in Action At Dell, by our friend Paull Young. It is a 40 minute long interview with five members of Dell's social media/digital communications team about their approach to social media.