Event Write-Up: Richard Binhammer (RichardatDELL) Speaks At Third Tuesday Toronto

richard-binhammerRichard Binhammer, aka RichardatDELL, dropped by Third Tuesday Toronto today for a fantastic presentation about the work Dell is doing in the social media space.

I live-blogged the conversation, along with Connie Crosby (see our feeds here and here).

To illustrate my perspective going in – I was on the receiving end of Dell’s old customer service when I tried to get help on a (still defunct to this day) laptop a couple of years ago. I never got my problem resolved. As a result, my current computer is not a Dell.

Dell is turning things around. I’m happy to hear it and I’m fine with writing about it.

I was highly impressed tonight. Richard seemed genuine about his commitment to openness and transparency, and answered some difficult questions very well.

Key Take-Aways

  • “People are going to say bad things. You just have to get over it”
  • “If you don’t respond within 24 hours, forget responding”
  • Dell has a strict customer privacy policy, so tries to take technical problems off-line
  • If you’re doing things on behalf of the company, you have to be up-front about it
  • You don’t lose control by joining the conversation – you gain it. Not engaging online is when you lose control.

A few more interesting points from tonight’s event, excerpted from the two twitter streams and my notes:

Background

  • Jeff Jarvis criticized Dell back in 2005. The majority of his (highly negative) posts received between 100 and 600 comments
  • Dell attempted to soft launch Direct2Dell in June 2006. Within a couple of days it was discovered, and was also highly criticized
  • Dell announced its August 2006 (Sony) battery recall on its blog before it announced it to the mainstream media
  • When the recall happened, they decided to respond to every post that mentioned their batteries. They responded to one of the first posts within a couple of minutes; the blogger was blown away
  • Michael Dell sees blogger outreach as a way of re-connecting with Dell’s customers
  • Richard doesn’t think Dell could have done all it has done in the social media space if it hadn’t lost the number one spot to Hewlett Packard. That shook people up and made them realize change was necessary.

Outreach Tactics

  • Dell has several main components to its social media outreach:
  • Dell decided to respond by going out and addressing bloggers directly. Richard now reads about 200 blog posts per day
    • Originally focused on reducing negatives, but now they try to respond to both negative and positive comments
    • They don’t just ‘hit and run’ on blog posts, but will monitor conversations for days.
    • Richard is involved in one ‘on again, off again’ conversation that’s been going on for about six months
  • When Joseph Jaffe wanted an MacBook Pro in return sponsorship of his podcast, Richard couldn’t resist
    • In his opinion, Apple is about as closed and “Web 1.0” as they come, and for a conversational marketer to accept a product from a company like that would be hypocritical
    • Dell gave Jaffe a new, top-of-the-range laptop. They’ve already made several directly-attributable sales from Jaffe using the laptop on his book tour
  • Dell hasn’t figured out what to do with Facebook yet. It’s not as easily ‘scrape-able’ as MySpace or the blogosphere so it’s not as easy to see what’s going on
  • Dell also hasn’t worked out what to do about employees blogging. Richard’s own blog is referred to as the ‘rogue blog’
  • They’re thinking about pushing Idea Storm feeds out through Twitter.

Results

  • Dell’s blogger outreach drove negative mentions down from 49% to 22%. That number has been steady for a while now.
  • From his experience in politics, Richard isn’t sure negative coverage can go much lower
  • Interestingly, positive coverage hasn’t really increased. That means Dell is moving people into ‘neutral’ but not completely winning them over
    • There’s no way to know if these people are still saying negative things offline. Regardless, the fact is the negative online buzz is reduced
  • Dell is currently using Technorati and “stuff thrown together” on Yahoo Pipes to measure coverage
  • They’re developing an in-house blogger relations ‘dashboard’ that will categorize positive/negative/neutral posts and allow them to respond to more people.

I know this post comes across as quite pro-Dell. I’m fine with that. I think they’re doing some great things in the social media space.

Clearly Dell still has its problems to work through. That doesn’t mean we can’t applaud its online engagement and outreach. I do.

Huge thanks to Joseph Thornley, Michael O’Connor Clarke and anyone else involved in organizing tonight, and to Richard for his excellent presentation.

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Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.