After a long hiatus owing to a few personal commitments which has kept me busy for a while, I have come back to continue my infrequent updating on the blog. It’s ironical that in the age of Social Media Marketing, actively pursued by individuals and corporates alike, Longhop has such long gaps between posts. Strangely, the current post focuses on highlighting how Social Media can contribute to the success of a business. Obviously, the inspiration to post on Social Media surges from the recent Online Marketing & Media event I attended at the Business Design Centre in Islington.
We have had many opportunities in the past to attend marketing events, but owing to resources we have only managed to attend a few. Each event is a great experience and offers great insightful learning from businesses who share their experiences in such events. One such learning comes from arguably one of the biggest ecommerce businesses in the World, Dell. Internet, as with many online organizations is a part of Dell’s infrastructure. Dell has fully embraced the participatory phase of Social Media Marketing by being actively involved as a listening company. It has firmly believed that messages need to be dynamic and co-created rather than the company being the mouthpiece for all its products. Part of Dell’s initiatives comes from its previous experience of dealing with customers. Jeff Jarvis, a disgruntled Dell Customer and an American journalist launched a crusade against Dell terming his experience as “Dell Hell” and extensively chronicled his communication on his blog Buzzmachine here. Jeff’s outbursts resulted in spreading the negative word about Dell’s customer service and impacting its overall corporate reputation. True, there were hundreds of peevish customers who had experienced Dell Hell before, but it took one influencer like Jeff Jarvis to coalesce into a crowd. The collaborative influence of bloggers in denting Dell’s stronghold launched the company into frenzy and Dell responded by identifying the shift in power and began listening to customers.
So what exactly has Dell been doing? Head to Dell’s Community Website here, which provides a glimpse of Dell’s pursuits in the social marketing arena. It is evident that the company actively engages in an ongoing conversation with customers to learn their perceptions, and to ingrain those perceptions into Dell’s outreach.
- IdeaStorm: Dell launched IdeaStorm in 2007 to engage with customers and to understand their needs and preferences to develop products. It is an incredible market research initiative with an added personal touch. Users are invited to share their ideas and collaborate with each other. This gives a clear idea to Dell about what their potential customers seek and to share these ideas throughout the organization to gain further thoughts to translate these ideas into products. In essence, Dell has converted its customers, non-customers and potential customers into a massive product development team.
“The name is a take-off on the word “brainstorm” and it is our way of building an online community that brings all of us closer to the creative side of technology by allowing you to share ideas and collaborate with one another. The goal is for you, the customer, to tell Dell what new products or services you’d like to see Dell develop. We hope this site fosters a candid and robust conversation about your ideas
Our commitment is to listen to your input and ideas to improve our products and services, and the way we do business. We will do our best to keep you posted on how Dell brings customer ideas to life.”
- Direct2Dell: Direct2Dell is Dell’s corporate blog; it’s a wire service about Dell to the world.
- Dell Forums: As the name suggests, it’s the community forum where users share their thoughts and
- experiences with others.
- Studio Dell: Dell uses videos and podcasts to educate users on various emerging technologies and also offers tips, tricks and support to get the best out of a Dell product. Studio Dell is an interactive communication tool, which also encourages users to post videos of them using Dell products.
- Smart Business 360: A resource center for small businesses offering product support and advice
- ReGeneration & Dell Earth: Websites on sustainable living to emphasize Dell’s environmental commitment, identified as a key strategy to future growth.
These are some of the prominent community initiatives at Dell. The company participates in other popular social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, etc., etc. Customers are no longer interested in a company’s business structure. They seek experiences. They want to be a part of the business, they want to be heard, understanding which can benefit the business itself. Through Dell’s Community Networking initiatives, the company responds positively to customer needs fomenting strong relationships.
One of the perennial debates in the ongoing marketing world is how does a company leverage commercial benefits by participating in social media marketing and how can such campaigns be measured? Dell employs about 40 individuals working on the community network, which includes hundreds of interactions with customers through blogging, forum posting, Yahoo answers, twittering, facebook etc. Is it really worthwhile? How does it benefit the company? Isn’t social media marketing hard to quantify? Firstly, Dell argues that it doesn’t put a cost on social media. Secondly, Dell has gained significant confidence with regard to customer service and customer satisfaction. Here’s a metric then. Dell claims half a million of sales came from Twitter participation last year. That’s just a spoonful in a bucket of water, but it counts nevertheless. Furthermore, traditional metrics such as traffic, click through rates and conversion rates give a skewed image of social media marketing. The best metrics are often those which show how many people are talking about the company positively in the blogosphere, the number of people who subscribe to the site’s content, the number of positive reviews of the companies products or services etc. The best metrics derive on how social media evolves and what companies seek from it. In traditional marketing sense you could call this brand building.
So should all businesses participate in social media? While participation is essential particularly for online businesses, it entirely depends on the organizational objectives as well. If sales and not brand is the driving factor, then social media marketing can be time consuming and resource heavy. This is particularly true for smaller organizations. It’s more like a long term vs. short term strategy. Social media is clearly long term as it helps in creating an everlasting brand awareness which is extremely important to the success and longevity of a business. However, there is a note of caution. Social media is here to stay and it is essential for businesses, small or large, to realign their marketing initiatives to create the fine balance to leverage success.