Coming off a lackluster quarter and a leveraged buyout deal, veteran computer company Dell is undergoing a period of transition.
It all started with “Dell lies. Dell sucks,” a 2005 blog post by journalist Jeff Jarvis that launched a massive fleet of likeminded complaints about the company’s products and service. While such viral outrage is a regular occurrence today, back then it was a new phenomenon. Dell was not ready, and the damage took its toll, from poor customer service scores to declines in market share and profits. Such an impact marked the end of not just Dell’s dominance as a computer maker, but also of the traditional ways in which companies communicate with their customers and the public.
Public relations, Jarvis asserted in a follow-up post, “can no longer be about the press and publicity” but “must be about a new relationship with the public, with the public in charge.” He also wrote an open letter to Dell, delivering a crucial wake-up call: “Today, when you lose a customer, you don’t lose just that customer, you risk losing that customer’s friends. And thanks to the internet and blogs and consumer rate-and-review services, your customers have lots and lots of friends all around the world.”
From Worst to First
Dell didn’t respond to Jarvis’ letter right away, but it did start taking his advice to heart. In a 2007 BusinessWeek piece Jarvis acknowledged the company’s turnaround: “In the age of customers empowered by blogs and social media, Dell has leapt from worst to first.” Less than a year after Jarvis’ letter imploring the company to start blogging, Dell did just that, launching Direct2Dell. “Chief blogger Lionel Menchaca gave the company a frank and credible human voice,” Jarvis wrote. Dell’s innovative IdeaStorm, a website “created to give a direct voice to our customers,” followed, and its massive Social Media Command Center is a more recent addition to the arsenal. The company’s own “Dell Social Media Timeline”.
Such efforts have earned the company an enduring reputation for large-scale social media savvy. On the New York Times’ small business blog Melinda F. Emerson recently described Dell as “one of the first big companies to strike a good balance among public relations, listening and selling on social media.” Dell’s founder and CEO, Michael Dell, was also recently ranked among “The Most Influential Execs on the Web” by Reuters and Klout.
Given that reputation, it’s not surprising that Dell plans to start offering its own Social Media Services for businesses and brands. “Customers regularly request our support to build and scale their own social efforts based on what they have seen us doing in this sphere,” Quintos explains to Ad Age. It sounds like a promising direction, but Forbes’ Haydn Shaughnessy says some old habits are holding the company back. Dell “does good social media but is yet to embrace the disruption to its management culture that social brings,” Shaughnessy writes. “Crack this and its reputation will improve no end.”