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Lee Odden

Dell Social Media Interview with Richard Binhammer

By Lee Odden     Interviews, Marketing Industry News, Online Marketing, Social Media, Social Media Smarts

Social Media Smarts: Interview with Richard Binhammer from Dell – @richardatdell

Photo Credit www.briansolis.com 

Of all the companies known for making advances in the realm of social media, Dell holds a place that reaches both ends of the spectrum. References to “Dell Hell” are less about something wrong and more about one of the most popular examples of a major corporation that “gets” social media listening and engagement.  One of the key people at Dell responsible for the successful social media presence so many have come to know is Richard Binhammer. 

Richard has enjoyed a career that has taken him from Canadian politics, lobbying and election campaigns to public relations in the Midwest to Corporate Communications in NYC and then public affairs, now social media/blog outreach at Dell.

In this in-depth interview, Richard discusses definitions of social media, Dell’s strategic perspective examples, testing social tactics, measurement, building a business case for social media and shares a few resources to stay current. Enjoy!

How would you describe “social media” to someone who’s web savvy extends no further than email or Google.com?

That’s a good question, Lee.  I think I would indicate the Web and related technologies that they currently use to deliver their email and to visit Google, search and surf have morphed.  Rather than static sites, the Web has become the global information technology infrastructure that underpins a rich, interactive and fully featured way to communicate and connect. At Dell we call it The Connected Era

The result: it is easy to connect, communicate  and share information with others.  You can now find information you want—when you want, as well as share that information and your own perspectives.  That’s why it is social. 

These connections and conversations take place using tools that are easy, occur in real time and remove traditional barriers like geography, and are also breaking lifestyle and social boundaries.   Friendships, professional connections, indeed new kinds of communities are emerging.  

What arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into social media engagement?

Hmmmmmmm ?…let me think.  I have several justifications that come to mind:

1. The  Magnitude of Change: One billion people are now online — a figure that will double by 2011. In fact, every day 500,000 new users come online for the first time.  Content is exploding. There was more content on YouTube in 2006 than on the Web in 2000.  This represents a significant shift in what we think of as media, or put another way, what and how people get information.  Taken together, we are experiencing changes to the dynamics of how we process information to form opinions.

News cycles can start from anywhere today.  News and conversations are not just local/regional, they are global.  Single blog posts can have as much power as major news stories.  People are publishers, content providers and decision-makers.  There are additional and new news cycles, and a proliferation of outlets for information. There is a rapid and continuing democratization of information.

This global information technology infrastructure enables individuals to connect and converse using all kinds of social media. They are forming new communities, their own communities,  sharing information in ways they care about and make sense to them. These communities shape debates, impact perspectives and perceptions.  The numbers and connectedness are of such a magnitude that public opinion and perceptions can be influenced and changed by “each other,” not controlled by others (and, I think this is a good thing,  by the way). 

2. The Value of Personal: I personally believe social media is contributing to a significant change that take us from what I call the “traditional, rational, objective, institutional” perspective to a more “subjective, emotive, personalized and human” perspective.  

The move from “objective,” fact-based, third party reporting and commentary (traditional media/advertising/controlled  messages/interruptions) to individual, “subjective,” and “crowd sourced” perceptions is very powerful. Perceptions are no longer just reality. They are real.  The “new facts” are based on real interactions and experiences that people share with each other.  Perceptions (“my real experience and my views) gain legitimacy and value and become a part of the larger community’s “facts.” For more on the importance (and inherent value) of perceptions in social media check these links

If you are not persuaded by the trend data, directions and changes occurring, I would pose this question, rhetorically.  I call it the customer question.

3. Connecting with Customers: Since when did any business not want to connect with its customers? Seriously, what is the issue here?  Do we need to justify using today’s efficient, effective and readily available technology to spend 30 minutes or couple hours a day connecting with real customers?

No one has yet to explain to me why they should not use social media as a way to connect with their customers.   We could leave this point hang and let it stand on its own.  I think it speaks volumes.

However, lets flesh it out a bit.  Connecting and communicating with customers is about more than merely meeting customers’ expectations today.  Social media is an ideal tool to reach customers more quickly, efficiently, frequently and cost effectively.  

Even more importantly than its efficiency and  cost-effectiveness, social media is an ideal tool to listen, learn and engage in real conversations with customers.  Does someone need to justify that?  

Here is an example: If a conversation occurs in a Minneapolis Starbucks about the new Dell mini, I can’t hear it, nor be informed by it.  On the other hand, if that same conversation starts in Minneapolis (or China) with a post on a blog, Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook or wherever, not only can I listen and learn, I can act and join the conversation.  

We can immediately take the information and do what we need to – fix something, thank the customer for positive feedback, correct misinformation, whatever might be relevant.  It’s like having Dell customers from anywhere in the world walking the halls of our offices in Round Rock, TX.  How cool is that?  But the result is better than cool.  The immediacy of online listening means we can continuously build a better business based on real time customer input.

One further thought, beyond listening and learning, I’d also highlight the benefits of engaging in online conversations using social media.  If your customers are connecting with each other, why not join them?  At a minimum you are forming a relationship, and more broadly, a community.  There are all kinds of benefits to deeper and interactive relationships. One of my colleagues likes to say, “we used to host, prepare and serve the dinner party.  Social media allows us to come to the party, join the conversation in a more relaxed manner and be part of it.”

What’s your decision making process when it comes to testing and implementing social media engagement efforts with specific tactics?

We are constantly “testing” and experimenting with different social media initiatives and opportunities.  In fact, we are encouraged to experiment and see what works and learn from it, versus guaranteeing success.  Our CEO, Michael Dell talks about experimentation, as well as social media in this recent online interview over at Small Business Advice TV. (interview starts around the 8 minute point, he talks about experiments at the 9:15 point, social media around 21 minutes).  

Decision making and tactics for social media  “initiatives” depend on various factors, such as: circumstances; the specific social media initiative contemplated or planned; the business organization involved; among other things.  

The key principles underlying Dell decisions and actions in social media are:

1. Listening, Learning and Engaging in conversations with our customers where they are.

Dell’s outreach to customers or others who blog about us and joining those conversations is an example of this.  Other examples include: presence on Twitter and involvement at YahooAnswers. 

2. Telling our Story: Is there a social media “tool” or technology we should be using to connect, converse and share our story with customers and others who are interested in Dell?  

Direct2dell, our first blog, was established at the urging of Michael Dell.  He wanted the company to have voice in the connected era, as well as establish a place for our customers to be able to connect and converse with Dell.  

3. Strengthening Business connections, conversations, relationships and partnerships with customers/others interested in our business or to foster communities where we have mutual interest.

The investor relations team wanted a new way to connect with investors and potential investors.  They believed social media offered an opportunity to democratize financial information and have broader conversations. Dellshares was launched.  At regeneration.org, we are focused on partnering with anyone and everyone to build a movement that shares information and embraces higher environmental standards to help regenerate the planet. We launched the Digital Nomads blog when we launched our new Latitude notebooks.  However, the site is focused on building, nurturing and supporting the digitally nomadic community. We really just administer the site.   

4. Share content, information and Collect Ideas Ideastorm.com was created to specifically encourage customers to share ideas about what we do and what they wanted from Dell. Ratings and Reviews were implemented on Dell.com because customers want information from each other. We have also made parts of Dell.com more “shareable.”  The Facebook-Dell social media page for small business was driven by a desire to “give back” to the community some lessons we have learned in social media.  We thought the tips sheets could be especially helpful to small businesses.  

Stay tuned….more is coming ?

What strategies and tools do you use to measure the effectiveness of social media?  What goals and metrics make the most impact upstream (C-level) in your organization?

There is no single strategy or tool to measure effectiveness of social media, especially when you view social media as a part of how you do business and connect with customers, as we increasingly do at Dell.  Therefore, strategies, tools and measurement of effectiveness are going to vary.  

For example, at Dell social media is becoming part of how we do business and contributes to continuously making us better at it.  We also believe that engagement though these direct connections with customers is what we are all about as a company – direct relationships with customers.  Therefore, measurement goes beyond a singular ROI or measure of effectiveness when social media is used to:  

  • Understand issues and change business processes based on information and conversations in social media;
  • include more customers in opportunities to connect and meet with Dell people;
  • Identify issues earlier than we would have previously, thanks to blog and social media  commentary, and act on them; 
  • connect directly with customers in a timely, efficient and direct manner about specific concerns;
  • Contribute to, and integrated into, Dell’s product development.  For example, the Ideastorm community ideas have resulted in product changes, including:
  1. Dell’s proud partnership with (PRODUCT) REDTM   in which the purchase of  Dell (PRODUCT) REDTM  signature products results in part of the proceeds going to the Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS in Africa
  2. significant aspects of the new Latitude E series design
  3. Dell’s expanded Linux offerings 

We use Radian6 for social media tracking and are working with them on a development program related to managing overall workflow and management.  We track conversations in social media about us (on average about 5000 per day gross number), the subject, sentiment, the extent to which we get involved and the outcome of the conversation.  As you may know since we became involved in social media we have seen a nearly 30% decline in negative commentary about the company. 

We also track revenue generation from The Dell outlet, small business and home offers available on Twitter. We have previously noted that Dell Outlet’s Twitter offers resulted in $500,000.00 in revenue.

We also track visits to our various sites and the extent to which conversations and engagement are happening. We are continually working to fine tune measurement, moving from engagement to measuring community connections.

Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for other large company social media marketers for finding and managing consultants?

At one point we outsourced blog search.  However, now that we use Radian6, this is not the case.   I’m not aware of any social media work that “outsource.” In some situations, for example we might identify bloggers to be invited to a media round table or product launch event, and Enfatico, our global agency would be involved.

As for commentary about finding and managing consultants, at Dell we have consolidated work from 800 agencies around the world to partnering with a single marketing communications agency, Enfatico.  The focus is creating a new and truly integrated marketing communications model designed to further propel Dell’s growth. 

Its design and focus is on customers, irrespective of marketing communications disciplines. Originally it was code named ‘Project Da Vinci’ because we wanted to combine  artist and scientist—an agency that has both the creative horsepower and ability to measure the business impact of their work.

Please share 3-4 resources for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:

  • Your RSS reader and subscriptions
  • Your online friends/professional network and their recommendations (Twitter, FriendFeed, MyBlogLog, etc)
  • And of course Toprank Online Marketing Blog

Thank you Richard!  I promise, we did not ask or encourage Richard to mention TopRank but we’re certainly appreciative that he did. :)

You can find Richard Binhammer on the social web at: TwitterFacebookLinkedInFlickr and his blog.


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