Posts about Dell

It’s not the blog

A dozen huge companies — including Dell, Microsoft, General Motors, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Wells Fargo — have just started a corporate Blog Council.

I’m glad that these big guys have embraced blogging. But I have one bit of advice for them:

Change the name now.

It’s not about blogging. I hate to call on the obvious platitude, but I will: It’s a conversation.

When I was in London, I sat with folks from the BBC in an afternoon devoted to blogging, and the woman next to me was troubled, bearing weight on her shoulders from having to fill her blog and manage her blog. To her, the blog was a thing, a beast that needed to be fed, a never-ending sheet of blank paper. I turned to her and said she should see past the blog. It’s not a show with a rundown that, without feeding, turns into dead air. Indeed, if you look at it that way, you’ll probably write crappy blog posts. I’ve said before that if I think I need to write a post just because I haven’t written one, I inevitably come out with something forced and bad. Instead, I blog when I find something interesting that I’ve seen and I think, ‘I have to tell my friends about that.’ You’re the friends. So yes, I said, it’s just a conversation. And reading — hearing what others are saying — is every bit as important as writing. It was as if scales were lifted from her eyes and weight from her back: She’s just talking with people.

And that is how I think the Blog Council should look at this: It’s not about them writing blog posts. It as much about them reading everybody else’s blog posts. And, besides, there are all kinds of new tools for the conversation: Twitter, Pownce, YouTube, Facebook, Dell’s IdeaStorm, and more being invented in dorm rooms coast-to-coast.

The other problem is that the language on the Council site is much about marketing — marketing to us. That’s understandable because these are marketing guys and it’s also likely true because this is being run by a leader in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a group whose existence and name has given me the willies. It implies that they can manage our mouths when, indeed, that’s the one thing that we, the customers, are fully in charge of. If they truly realize that we, the customers, are in charge, then that changes the way you comport yourself in this conversation. Again, you listen more than you speak.

So have the Council. Not a bad idea. But I suggest you call it the Conversation Council. Or better yet, the Listening Council. That alone would say as much as the best blog post.

: Guardian Unlimited’s Jemima Kiss is also cautious but open:

I remain a little sceptical, not least because I haven’t seen a corporate blog I’m really “wowed” with yet. But with a bit of luck, that’s what the Blog Council will serve up.

Alec Saunders is a big cynical about it, speculating that this is really about Googlejuice. There are other benefits. He concludes:

Good heavens, people! Get a grip! You don’t need a cozy little exclusive club to figure out what to do with blogs. Just get on the net, start talking to your customers and advocates, and start interacting with people outside the strictures of twentieth century command and control marketing. Council, Shmouncil!

Similar advice here from Scoble.

Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca says:

It’s also not about control. For me at least, that has been decided–companies don’t control the message, customers do. I hope that Dell (and other companies in the council that have made the leap into digital media) can work together to move companies past the false notion that we are still in control. I’ve talked to folks from other large companies and that reality scares the heck out of them. I think that’s the primary reason why less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have a blog. That fear makes it a non-starter for many companies. . . .

Good corporate blogs force companies to look at things from a customer’s point of view. That’s why I want more large corporations to blog, and I want them to do it the right way. That means letting real people have real conversations just like individual blogs do. But it’s a bit different from a corporate perspective. Transparency is still key, but the reality for large corporations is that there are some things we can’t discuss. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes it’s a difficult one. But worth the risk? You bet it is.

: Disclosures: Last week, I spoke at GM (for pay) and I now know the blog team at Dell (where, of course, I have no commercial relationship).

Guardian column: Dell and the ad earthquake

My Guardian column this week expands on a conclusion of mine about media from my Dell reporting. Snippet:

As the media become more dependent on advertising, so advertising becomes less dependent on the media. With the recent death of the New York Times’ pay service, TimesSelect, and the rumoured razing of the Wall Street Journal’s pay wall, any final hopes of readers paying for content are fading. We prophets of free content are being proven right – whether we like it or not. Advertising is all we’ll have to support content and media. . . .

But the real threat to the advertising gravy train comes not from any change in media, but from a fundamental shift in the relationship between companies and customers that has been made possible by the internet. This hit me like a fist in the face when I went to Texas to interview Michael Dell for Business Week magazine, and to write the coda to my very public blog battle with the company. . . .

Dell’s executives say their new problem is managing and spreading all this knowledge from customers. Its chief marketer said his new opportunity is to rely on customer-advocates to sell computers. And Michael Dell predicted a future of “co-creation of products and services” with customers.

There it is: the fist. Dell and its customers are collaborating on the creation of content, media and marketing – without content, media or marketing companies. Advertising is no one’s first choice as the basis of a relationship. For marketers, it’s expensive and inefficient. For customers, it’s invasive and annoying. And targeted advertising is only slightly more efficient and slightly less annoying. Clearly, the direct relationship between a customer and a company is preferable. But that direct connection cuts out the middlemen – that is the media.

(Alternate permalink)

Dell Hell: The end?

My column reporting on my visit to Dell headquarters and my interview with Michael Dell just went up on Business Week. It’ll be in this week’s issue. Hell, it’s even the lead online.

businessweekdell21.jpg

After giving Dell hell two years ago, I may well be accused of throwing them a wet kiss now. It’s a positive piece. But it’s hard not to praise them when they ended up doing everything I was pushing in my open letter to Michael Dell. I’m not saying that I caused that, just that we ended up agreeing and they ended up seeing the value in listening to and ceding control to customers. They reached out to bloggers; they blogged; they found ways to listen to and follow the advice of their customers. They joined the conversation. That’s all we asked.

The column — and Dell’s executives — acknowledge the company’s ongoing problems — the complaints I still hear in comments and emails to this day. But still, I come away concluding that it’s a big deal that a company that was vilified as the worst at blogs, social media, and customer relations in the broad sense is now, one could argue, the best at this. The company’s executives wouldn’t acknowledge this, but I wonder whether falling so far is just what set them up to be so bold in the blogosphere.

In my first draft of the piece, I wondered whether Dell had even become a Cluetrain company. I had to abbreviate that to being “bloggish” because it just took up too much space to explain the Cluetrain. But as you read the column, note Dell’s compliance with the manifesto’s first three theses:

1. Markets are conversations.
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

I don’t know whether this is the end of my saga of Dell Hell: the story come full circle. As I say in the column, I thought that end came three months after this began, when I returned my Dell. But it turns out that was the start of the real story.

* * *

I found another story here, a media story, which I come to at the end of the column:

Dell and its customers are collaborating on new forms of content and marketing, but note that they are doing this without the help of media and marketing companies.

Dell realized that engaging in the conversation wasn’t just a way to stop blogging customers like me from harming the brand. We, the customers, bring them great value besides our money: We alert them to problem. We will tell them what products we want. We share our knowledge about their products. We help fellow customers solve problems. We will sell their products. But this happens only if you have a decent product and service and only if you listen to us.

Once that relationship is established, it replaces the less-efficient, the shallower relationship bought through media. Bob Garfield wrote about this in his second chaos scenario piece: Marketers’ overall spending on advertising and media may actually decrease. So I believe this is a cautionary tale for the media industry.

* * *

Here’s video of my interview with Michael Dell. I’ll warn you: It’s not exactly scintillating. Dell is cautious — not surprising because he’s a CEO and also not surprising, I assume, because he was talking to me. I’ll say that I didn’t do a great job in the interview; I couldn’t figure out how to engage him on blogs.

* * *

Something else that didn’t make the story — because it’s of more interest to us bloggers than to a Business Week audience, I decided — was the question of Michael Dell’s relationship with blogs. Does he read them? Every one of his executives insist that he not only reads them but that he will send them links to posts at all hours of the day and night. Their insistence was so consistent that I wondered whether this wasn’t on the Jarvis interview briefing sheet I saw on one employee’s Dell screen.

So will Dell blog? Not likely. He has been known to submit a comment in response to an idea on IdeaStorm, where customers tell him what to do. But blog? The execs fairly shuddered at the idea. I’m not sure why. I guess Dell just isn’t a bloggy kind of guy.

* * *

I spent a very full day at Dell’s headquarters near Austin and also got a tour of their factory. I got lots of fascinating business intelligence and crammed as much of that into the column as I possibly could. I’ll probably blog more of it later. The execs I met at the company — heads of customer service, marketing, ecommerce, PR, and blogging outreach — were gracious and generous sharing their experiences and views with me. In other words: They didn’t seem to hold a grudge.

: LATER: This report about me collaborating on a Dell book is utterly untrue. I have no idea where it came from and have asked that it be corrected. I find it particularly damaging that this should be ‘reported’ on the eve of my column’s publication. I may well write about Dell in a book but not in collaboration with Dell.

: LATER STILL: Steve Baker of Business Week suggested I post the original draft. Here it is. The story was submitted at 1,600 words. It ran at about 1,100 words. Some trims always help. A few hurt. It’s still not what Jay Rosen asks for but I have more in my notebook and will be using that later.

A day at Dell

Blog silence because I spent a packed day at Dell, briefly interviewing Michael Dell, visiting the factory, and talking with lots of execs. I’m going to write my magazine piece first and then blog about it (I know, I know, that’s the reverse of what should happen but, hey, the tree-killers are paying the way). There’ll be a lot that won’t fit in the magazine piece and I’ll share it all once I get my notes organized.

Interviewing Michael Dell

I’m headed to Round Rock, TX, on Monday to interview Michael Dell and other folks at the company — bringing my blogging saga full circle — for a magazine piece. I obviously have my own list of questions but as is my habit, I’ll ask you whether there’s anything you think I should ask them. (I’ll also be videotaping much of it and hope to share that with you if I don’t mess it up.)

* Here’s my Dear Mr. Dell post.
* Here’s Dell blogger extraordinaire Lionel Menchaca’s one-year-anniversary post on Direct2Dell.
* Here’s the action Dell has taken as a result of customer’s requests at IdeaStorm.
* My original posts (from the old blog design) here. Later posts (post-redesign) here. It all started June 21, 2005.
* Drinks with Dell.
* The funniest Dell post.
* White paper on the saga here. Followup study on Dell’s progress here. Another followup: Dell’s stock and customer satisfaction up.
* By the way, I note that Dell Hell is now much farther down Google searches on the company. That, alone, is a huge benefit of getting into the conversation.