Why Dell Is Still A Great Case Study

by Jason Falls |

Using Dell Computers as a case study in talks and discussions about social media marketing almost begs for eye-rolls from the audience these days. Whether it’s the telling of the Dell Hell blogger responsiveness that got the company into social in the first place; IdeaStorm, which revolutionized corporate research and development; or the @DellOutlet Twitter account that smacked the social media purists who claimed you can’t sell using social media right across the face with $6.5 million in 18 months, we talk about Dell a lot.

While everyone is constantly on the lookout for new case studies and examples of how companies are leveraging social media to be successful, Dell keeps popping up. Why? Because they immersed themselves early and became a living example of how a company, particularly a large, enterprise company, could be a social business.

My friend Geoff Livingston and I were invited to Round Rock, Texas, last week to visit the Dell campus. We were both there to provide a panel discussion for Dell employees on the state and future of social media marketing. Lionel Menchaca, the original Dell blogger and Dell Hell responder, was our host and moderator for the panel. We covered a lot of ground and, I think, served as useful voices for the folks there.

But while we were there, Geoff and I learned a lot about Dell and how they operate. Geoff summed it up well last week by saying Dell has become a “socialprise.” They are, “actively experimenting with the best ways to enable fluid business dialogue in the enterprise.” And you can see the cultural shift there from one floor to the next. As we were ushered from the first floor of Building 1 — a vast, quiet cubicle farm — to the second — where the Dell customer service and social teams sit — we saw the difference.

The physical change of no cubicles, open air, newsroom-style work areas made the second floor immediately grab you as having a different energy level. There was an audible buzz of people talking, collaborating. You could even see people smiling and enjoying their jobs. In the social media team’s area, there were 4X6 cards adorning the wall where people — both customers and employees — had written their response to complete the phrase, ” Social Media & Community Gives Me The Power To …” CEO Michael Dell’s card said, “Connect more closely with our customers.” Another I liked, from Christina Westbrook, said, “Think like my customer.”

For the record, they asked me to add mine to the wall. It simply says, “Share.”

Certainly, we toured the command center. Geoff had his camera rolling and caught a lot of what Amy Heiss told us about what the different monitors show and how they use the listening center to read, react and even be proactive in online conversations to drive business for the company.

But perhaps the most compelling story I found at Dell was the one compiled talking to the graduates of Social Media And Community University (SMACU) and learning that over 24,000 Dell employees have undergone social media training. Some 3,000 of them have completed three training courses and become internally certified to use social media on behalf of the company. There are sales, customer service, legal, executive, marketing and public relations folks among graduates, as well as those from many other walks of life. I talked to one SMACU graduate who was a hardware engineer.

They have customer service and social media responders for 11 languages, all of which are tied into the Command Center for routing and responding. While Amy, Lionel and the core social team are often looking at bigger picture items, trends and the like while another layer of front-line social responders are running the various customer service and outreach efforts, the team is there and ready to jump on a hot topic if need be. I even saw and spoke with the social media lawyer on staff and in the room, Ryan Garcia.

The fact of the matter is simply that Dell gets it. They understand how chatting with customers online can fuel business. They know that parts of what they do won’t ladder up to a traditional ROI measurement, but other parts of their efforts will. They understand that it’s not about controlling the message, but making sure that everyone in the organization — or as many people as possible — can be a part of the message which, in effect, controls it.

Dell is an awesome case study of how to be a social business. And they’ll continue to be because they’re constantly thinking about it, innovating around it and showing us how it should be done.

So the next time you hear someone bring up Dell as a case study at a social media conference. Don’t roll your eyes. Pay attention. Chances are you’re not yet doing what they are. So you’ve probably got something to learn.

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).