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The Dell Lesson: Listen Up!

Last week - through the kind invitation of Nicole (@nicoleatdell) Gemmell - I had the privilege of meeting Dell's Global Social Media lead, Richard (@ByJove) Margetic at an event in Sydney.  We had a wide ranging chat roaming around the short history of Social Media in business, and as well as being very interesting it was very instructive.  It is great to meet people who have been at the coal face of this industry since its inception - back in the days when Social media was in its infancy and when strategy on it was still being formed.  Richard is lucky because he works for an organisation that has understood Social from the earliest days.  It has had to.  And he is lucky to work for an organisation that is led by a leader who "got it" from the outset.  Michael Dell made Dell one of the world's first Social Businesses. You can read all about Dell's early Social experiences - pre-Twitter even - in Shel Israel and Rob Scoble's "Naked Conversations" (in my view the bible of Social Business).  What became known as "Dell Hell" in 2005 and the subsequent Battery recall debacle forced Dell to become an inherently Social organisation.  But the most important lesson they learnt, says Richard, was not about engaging and contributing in the Social world - which is where most people's focus is - but on listening.  Dell learned the hard way that the best form of market intelligence - on customers, on products and on competitors - was freely available in the Social web.  All you had to do was LISTEN.

It's a learning they have baked into the company now, and something they have turned into a revenue stream as well.  Dell pioneered the internet as a supply chain back in the 90s and then profited from selling that expertise back to its corporate customers.  Now, in the same way, they have turned their Social methodology into a business unit - The Dell Social Media Services Practice - based in part on what they learned from the Social Media Command Centre using Radian6 technology.

Along with @Dellcares, Dell's next big experiment with Social listening was with IdeaStorm - a Social Idea platform built on technology also owned by Salesforce - where customers could propose ideas about products they'd like to see and vote them up or down based on popularity.  The platform quickly delivered value by persuading Dell to break with tradition and launch a Linux laptop in 2007.  To date, according to Shel Israel, there have been some 15,000 suggestions from which 500 ideas have been adopted from IdeaStorm, including backlit keyboards.

As Salesforce begins to tell the second chapter of its Social journey - How to become a Customer Company - in New York this week, I believe they can tell no better story than that of Dell.   It's all a bit of a strange coincidence that my career has weaved these two stories together.  I worked on the Dell PR account from 2004 to 2006 and watched the Social story begin before arriving at Salesforce in 2010 (after Socially re-skilling at Oracle for 4 years).  What both companies share is the benefit of innovative and charismatic founding CEOs that have led their companies into the future before it has even arrived.  The success of these two gentlemen is their ability to listen to good advice, rather than focus on telling others what they think.  Therein, I think, lies the essence of Social Success.

POSTSCRIPT: A local beneficiary of Dell's Social listening journey - as well as Richard - is Andy (@kiwilark) Lark who is now the CMO at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, but for a long time worked at a very senior level within Dell in Austin, TX.  He is now pioneering Social innovation there, driven by the belief that Social Media is "...the most important part of the marketing mix."


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