Direct2Dell One Year Later

Earlier this week (July 10 to be exact), Direct2Dell made it to the one year mark. Since that time last year, we've been busy… we launched Dell's internal blog, Direct2Dell Chinese and Spanish, and updated the Dell Community Forum (DCF). We also launched IdeaStorm and StudioDell, and kicked off a presence in Second Life. Before Direct2Dell existed, we pulled together a team to support customers in the blogosphere. Now we also have folks who respond to Dell topics that aren’t product-specific.

While we've made progress, I'm not saying everything is where we want it to be. We stumbled out of the gate. Some things went well, others didn't. We arranged an interview between a blogger and a Dell VP. Through my work on the blog, I've had the good fortune to meet bloggers like Virginia Miracle, Jeff Jarvis, Tony Hung, Robert Scoble, John Jantsch, Jeremiah Owyang (who's someone I continue to learn a lot from). All in all, I think Mack Collier provided a pretty fair assessment of where we are right now.

While we're a bit smarter than those early days, what strikes me is how that pales in comparison to what we still need to learn. No question we need improve in lots of ways. Frankly, if we’re doing this right, I should be saying that at any point in time.

So, where do we go from here? Tightening the link between Direct2Dell and other properties like DCF, IdeaStorm and StudioDell is something we're starting to do. Beyond that, we hope to expand to more languages so we can enter more conversations where they occur. I'll look to bring in guest bloggers to provide outside perspective from time to time. We'll continue to our efforts to re-orient our company to adjust to the speed of the blogosphere. We'll look to give customers more of a reason to join the discussion. For a bit of context, we're currently averaging about 3.5 million page views and 250,000 unique visitors a month.

Just about every time someone wants to talk to me about Direct2Dell, they ask my perspective on corporate blogging. In the past year of running the blog, here are the things we've learned that stand out to me:

  • Customers really are in control—and it's okay. I think more companies are starting to acknowledge this, but it's a concept that scares the heck out of them. I'm willing to bet that this is still a key reason less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies maintain a blog.
  • Ignoring negative issues is not a viable strategy in the blogosphere. If you aren't prepared to discuss negative issues head on and actually fix what's causing the negative conversations, be ready to fail publicly. A big reason why I'm still blogging away a year later is because lots of people at Dell are committed to taking feedback from customers and doing something with it. The action piece is a critical.
  • Maintaining a blog is a difficult balancing act. Many bloggers do a much better job at this than I do. Lots of the best folks crank out reams of content while carrying on multiple conversations in the comment threads and answering hundreds of e-mails. I'm not that guy. What surprised me though is just how important it is to balance all the things that make a blog work: producing new content, moderating and responding to comments, answering e-mails and thinking about what comes next. If you don’t, things get out of whack really quickly. I know I need to improve here.
  • There are no shortcuts. Building a successful blog requires some long hours, a heck of a lot of reading and writing, and a thick skin. Weekends and after hours work come with the territory.
  • If you open the lines of communication, customers will tell you what is wrong with your business. In supporting things like the battery recall, the vertical line issue, and trying to get the XPS 700 Motherboard Exchange program off the ground, it's clear that being able to respond globally is a lot harder than it should be. We're still working through this, and will continue to do so.
  • Innovation matters, but a little luck doesn't hurt: We thought IdeaStorm was a pretty cool concept—a mashup between a message board tied to the voting model that created—but we were blown away by the reaction from the blogosphere. Now we've got an internal version for employees and hope to roll IdeaStorm out to other languages as well.
  • Probably the best time to launch a blog is when things aren't going so well. We started monitoring the blogosphere last year. At our worst point, almost 50% of the commentary was negative. That made it easy for us to decide to jump in. These negative conversations were happening with or without us, and it was pretty clear we had a better chance if we entered those negative discussions. Today, we're seeing about 23% negative. While that's moving in the right direction, there's plenty of progress to be made.
  • Sincere apologies are welcome if you learn from (and correct) your mistakes. Without both, you lose credibility fast.
  • From a customer's perspective, you can always do better. We'll continue to build our digital media tools around them.

If you made it this far, you're probably sick of hearing me talk.  Thanks to our customers and all Direct2Dell readers who have helped us make it to this point. It's been an honor to be a part of this.

I welcome your thoughts where we've been and what you think we need to do more of in the future.

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca