Dell's Richard Binhammer Raises The Bar For Quick Responses

Last night, Richard Binhammer, better known as RichardAtDell, spoke at Third Tuesday Toronto. Richard has set an impressive precedent by responding to Dell posts within as little as two hours, often within mere minutes. He even responded to an October 25th post about Dell on our very own BlogCampaigning within an impressive time frame. Last night he mentioned that there is little to no point in responding at all if you cannot do so within 24 hours: the sheer immediacy of the blogosphere being its essence. A little primer on Dell’s story: Dell has been used as a case study for large companies aquiring and adjusting to social media practices. In 2005, the company had to deal with Jeff Jarvis’ criticism of the company on his blog, Buzzmachine followed by the exploding batteries crisis on Youtube in 2006.

What transpired has been Dell’s reappropriation of the social media realm, largely thanks to new initiatives such as IdeaStorm, an innovative site where Dell customers put forth suggestions to Dell and then other community members get to vote for these suggestions. Another dialogue-focused Dell project is Direct2Dell, a blog that encourages Dell employees to discuss Dell products and services in the company forum as well as in their own blogs. This dialogue coupled with the company’s openness and transparency has lead to a turnaround in social media perception of Dell.

Perhaps most successfully, has been Richard Binhammer’s personal involvement in Dell’s social media efforts. As a member of the Dell blogger outreach program, he comments on different blogs pertaining to computers and social media. Binhammer mentions that eight times out of ten, he achieves success through his involvement with Dell comments and posts. By engaging in dialogue with Dell consumers (either by explaining the reasons behind company policies or transparently admitting flaws) Binhammer has helped to construct a brand image of Dell as a company that cares about its stakeholders and actively values their input.

How are they doing now? Well, 8.3/10 on CNET isn't such a bad score for their new XPS line of laptops.

Collin Douma mused that much of Dell’s social media brand image is tied up in Binhammer’s personal involvement and ability to respond immediately. What would happen if Dell’s super-blogger could blog no more?

Thanks to CNW for sponsoring last night’s event and a big thanks to Joe Thornley for putting on Third Tuesdays.

For more info on last night's event, read what Dave Fleet and MC OCC have to say or sign up for future events here.

- Jess

Disclosure: BlogCampaigning's Parker Mason works for CNW Group, a sponsor for the Third Tuesday events.

What's Going On, Toronto?

On November 29th at 7pm, join Toronto's finest young PR folk at the Green Room as we discuss trends in the industry have beers and a good time. Sign up on Facebook here, or just show up! It'll be a great chance to meet Jess, the newest BlogCampaigning team member! Read her first post here. And in December, Richard Binhammer will be speaking at Third Tuesday Toronto. He is, as Joe Thornley says (and I love the phrase), one of Dell's key social media architects. I'm pretty excited to meet him and hear what he has to say, because I know he's been really involved in the community and responds to posts about Dell whenever possible. He even commented here at BlogCampaigning!

Disclosure: I work for CNW Group, a sponsor for the Third Tuesday events.


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.