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Social Media Success – Two Leaders’ Perspectives

CTC's IT Summit 2011 Panel Presentation Provides Insight on EMC's and Dell's Social Media Journey

Keith Reynolds, President Maxim Communications

At the Connecticut Technology Council's 3rd annual IT Summit for senior IT professionals and CIOs held Nov. 29 at the Mohegan Sun, social media was a popular topic that generated a lot of discussion. 

Social media technology has forced companies to embrace new communications models with both customers and employees. In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey of over 4,200 global IT executives regarding social media tools and technologies, HBR asked how organizations deploy them and what benefits are derived. In general, executives stated that their companies were using social media to increase agility and to manage organizational complexity. 

One speaker at CTC's IT Summit, Gene Alvarez, a VP with Gartner's Research organization, noted in his keynote address that, "The corporate communications' model is evolving to an IT platform." 

Later that morning, during one of the breakout sessions, two well known tech companies provided a deeper and informative look at how their organizations embrace  new media to create business value. EMC Corp and Dell representatives, Len Devanna and Rishi Dave, outlined how from relatively modest starts, their companies built corporate-wide social media programs that deliver business value to all stakeholders. The interesting thing about their journeys was that, while unique in approach, both ended up giving a stronger voice to the customer. 

EMC Perspective

EMC is a $17B company with about 48,000 global employees. In 2007, EMC identified a trend towards online communities, at that time called Web 2.0, which has evolved into Social Media. Len Devanna, EMC's Director of Social Engagement, discussed how this fundamental change in the business world started in Business-to-Consumer (B2C), and that it was clear Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing would also be transformed. Amidst this market change, the company was making numerous acquisitions and wanted to evolve the company culture to fit its now larger company. EMC embarked on a journey to embrace the new technologies to engender a more flexible culture and improve communications. Last year, EMC was ranked by Net Prospects the 15th most socially-savvy brand on the planet.

EMC set several top-line goals for their social media undertaking. They wanted to become more socially proficient so that employees could be comfortable with social media and embrace changes to buyer behavior as more customers embraced online communications. As a result, they took an "inside-out" approach to focus the effort on embracing social media techniques within the EMC culture. The company set out to realize a "One EMC" culture to avoid becoming a set of "silos" after acquiring 68 companies in a three year period. 

With input from Human Resources and other departments, EMC also wanted to help employees feel more connected and encourage innovation with discussion across business units and functional areas of the company. Not just across the company, but social media for EMC was envisioned as a way to connect conversations from the top to the bottom organizationally, as well. 

The overarching goal was to create new and more meaningful relationships with EMC audiences and leverage peer-to-peer influence to improve the buyer-supplier relationship as the dialog shifted from the inside out at EMC.

At the core of the effort was the launch of EMC|ONE (Online Network of EMC’ers), an internal online community. The effort started with a small investment of $5000 and has grown to be embraced by the entire company over three years. The journey was not burdened with layers of corporate constraints. Rather, "We took a 'Let's throw a few bucks at it and invest more in it as it evolves,' and that has been our approach all along. This has helped us to move very quickly, noted Devanna." 


Some of the key elements of the strategy include:

  1. Experimenting is OK. We are not betting the farm.

  2. Inside out – get proficient… Evolve from employees to outside world

  3. Open > Closed – no private space… All employees have access… Diverse perspective

  4. Encourage participation – do not dictate participation… Ask employees, "What do you see are our opportunities for social media?" Crowdsource the answer. Encourage non-business related conversation… "EMC Word of the Day" The water cooler effect. Conversation cannot be forced.

  5. Research and implement. Try new things quickly.

  6. Enable the tools or the employees will use things like “freewiki” to do it themselves.


After four years Devanna thinks that EMC is well on track with 40,000 active users, out of 48,000 employees.  As social media skills developed, EMC has evolved use of an internal tool, EMC|ONE, to embrace the external EMC Community Network, Facebook, Twitter and many other channels to engage audiences in new and meaningful ways. With 35 public bloggers, EMC has established a high-degree of 'social proficiency' across a global workforce with a high-level of engagement by employees, customers and channel partners. The company has saved millions of dollars through suggestion box discussions and project teams can search personnel to locate employees with required skills. The social media tools have become the way acquisition company employees meet their new peers globally. Lastly, the IT team has used social media to share thought leadership with employees and establish a “brand” with employees, including an Apple support community to enable the BYO device users.

"We understood we had embarked on something really big and transformative. Instinctively, we knew that the journey would be challenging, but also exciting, and that the rewards on the other side were simply enormous. Today, social media is our culture and simply the way we do business" concluded Devanna.

For more information, see the EMC Social Media Video:

Dell Perspective

Rishi Dave, Executive Director of Online Marketing for Dell's Large Enterprise Business Unit, spoke of Dell’s journey to embrace social media over the last several years. The effort has established an online culture vertically and horizontally in the organization, which has translated to direct positive impact on innovation, customer loyalty and the P&L of Dell.

Dell saw the user demographic of social media change in the 2005-2006 time-frame. They noticed that the core buyer was now on social media and aggressively engaged in listening to what their peers were saying to make enterprise purchasing decisions. Social media was no longer a gamer phenomenon.

This changed the game for Dell. No longer was it about tech celebrity endorsements, or PC-Magazine “Product of the Year” awards. All of a sudden, there were bloggers writing great content about Dell and competitors. On the consumer and the business side, they were influencing competitive positioning of the buying decision and impacting tens-of-millions of dollars in revenue, but were hard to identify. Now, with mobile products in hand, unknown bloggers could write highly influential reviews while experiencing the product and brand experience in the moment. Reviews became real-time stream-of-consciousness and it was a challenge to consume all of this new content.

Adding to the new content, Google made it efficient for the buyer to locate and monitor the information. Postings from Facebook and more recently Google+ highly influence relevance in this real-time online conversation. As a result, “this blog content easily gets back to your customer right when they want it. If a customer searched for a PC magazine review on a product, the search algorithms pushed the blog content to the buyer — even though they did not know to go look for it. It was crazy!” said Dave.

Dell completely lost control of its brand to people who did not work for the company. Managing a brand is about control and in this new world the old media techniques no longer applied. A massive conversation had arisen. Bloggers were telling customers about the Dell brand and what it stood for. They were editorializing about what Dell should do with their products and services. Dell had no choice but to get ahead of the curve.

Another “ah-ha” moment came when an influential customer had a bad experience with Dell and blogged about it. A Dell employee responded to resolve the problem and two things happened: 1) the customer became a promoter and 2) the incident went viral. “That was a moment of truth. How much of this is actually going on and how can we scale to make use of this opportunity?”

The solution came in the form of a social media command center. “It is like NASA,” joked Dave. Dell monitors 25,000 conversations globally about Dell and the competitive landscape. “In a typical week we turn around 35% of our detractors to help them become promoters. We have a very specific definition of what a promoter is: someone who in turn begins talking positively about Dell online.”

To accomplish all this Dell has a social outreach services group that listens and responds to social media. “We started with five people and now it is 70 people spanning in eleven languages,” noted Dave. The command center has transformed Dell’s business by allowing the company to listen and respond to customer issues. The group also works directly with customers who are self-identified as thinking about Dell solutions.

Beyond the centralized command center, Dell saw the big opportunity comes in the form of social media listening and responding across the entire company. Dell has enacted an internal training program to give everybody at Dell an opportunity to respond to customer issues with the new media. The training provides certification to go online and talk to customers.

“All our employees who have tremendous expertise were not empowered to help our customers through social media because they did not have permission from their supervisors, nor did they know the policies. We wanted to change that,” said Dave. Now there is explicit direction for 3000 employees around the globe to become a Dell employee to talk directly to customers, and in total 19,000 have been trained as promoters. Some of the Dell employees have truly become rock stars gaining visibility at conferences once reserved for senior executives. As a result, “employee satisfaction has gone through the roof.”

Getting social media to work in your company is a leap of faith for many. It is hard for employees and managers to put a value on social media, “but I tell employees to go out and talk to customers and create those great customer stories and pray they get back to the executives.” Dave adds that great moments do happen. Executives do hear them and the culture does transform. How can a company not respond to such customer wins, turned-around relationships and improved metrics?

Dave said, “That is how you drive social media into the culture and get buy in,”   

Dell listened to their social media feedback. The keyboard was reengineered based on social media feedback. There was a line of Linux products released based on input from this channel. Even Michael Dell loves social media and participates frequently. He is social media certified and spends up to half-an-hour to an hour a day monitoring the conversation. He has been known to respond directly to customers online, and the responses even show up in search engines.


Lessons learned:

  1. Engage senior executives and experts to interact online with customers; not entry-level employees.

  2. Look for employees who can deliver a great customer experience and train them in social media.

  3. Push expertise out into the marketplace through social media.

  4. Bring bloggers and influencers into the company for a tour.

  5. Create platforms for customers to interact. Be innovative about opening new forums.

  6. Identify ways to collect leads for the various teams.

  7. Social media is about content; you need the mentality of a publisher. That is how you control your brand today.

  8. For Dell, the customers don’t want to talk about “boxes.” They want to talk about what they have achieved, outcomes and how technology can help them. Give them what they want.

  9. Social media is not about marketing and PR. It is about everyone.

  10. Think big! This is about the culture at your company. Not just for Dell, technology is business and the business is driven by technology. The CIO plays a critical role in how everybody communicates.


How does Dell define ROI? When an employee has an idea for social media, we discuss it and if it makes sense, we empower them. “To encourage innovation, we do not approach this from a P&L perspective at the outset. We want to drive a lot of followers and comments, or receive a lot of “Likes” depending on the environment. We need to see that customers care and that they engage. When we get something that hits, we scale it globally in a massive way. We embed the program in our systems, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and determine the unique ROI metrics at that time.” 

Placeholder… "There is no question about the value social media brings to a company. Seeing what these two thought leaders learned along the journey and their contrasting approaches has given me an invaluable tweak for for our own strategy in 2012. I look forward to presenting these ideas to my peers in other functions of the company," said Joe Fabeets the CIO of Danbury Corporation.

CTC President and CEO Matthew Nemerson noted, “CTC’s IT Summit, with its line-up of expert and notable speakers,  has evolved into an event area and regional IT executives are attending to get informed about the IT issues that they deal with in their workplaces. The Council expects to continue providing topical seminars going forward.”

Whether you start from the outside-in, or the inside-out, social media lies first in understanding your audience and objectives; then second, evolving platforms grow to support the mission and new information is absorbed by the the corporate culture. Ongoing qualitative and quantitative analysis is critical to continued improvement of the process. 

In the end, as the organization responds, the customer wins. 

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