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Direct2Dell Turns 5 Today

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Today, we’ve reached a milestone of sorts. The Direct2Dell blog is 5 years old today.

Since 2006, I’ve had the pleasure of founding and developing it along with shaping the additional network of external blogs we’ve rolled out since then. If you care to look back at previous years, here’s my posts after 1 year, 2 years and the 3-year mark. My apologies for never getting to the Direct2Dell at 4 post. No one asked me for it, and I was kinda busy. Smile

Since 2006, several hundred contributors have published lots of posts that have driven even more conversations. In the last year, Direct2Dell traffic was around 3.1 million page views. Except for the forums that preceded it by many years, Direct2Dell was the Dell’s first official presence in the social web. And I’m glad to see that it helped pave the way for other things like Dell’s internal blogs about a month later in 2006 and IdeaStorm in 2007. A lot of the things we learned running a blog helped us navigate in other social media waters. The blog experience helped shape our presence in places like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sina, RenRen, Xing and even now with Google+ (more on G+ further down in this post).

While the social media landscape may have changed dramatically over the last five years. Some things we learned early on regarding social media strategy haven’t changed a bit: 1) Begin with an objective 2) Start with listening at any level you can 3) Be human and transparent and 4) There’s no substitute for action on behalf of customers.

So how do I approach blogging? Here are some things I try to keep top of mind when I’m thinking when developing content (or when I’m encouraging other folks to contribute to Dell blogs):

  • Write about topics that matter to customers – you can’t do this effectively without listening to the conversations going on around your brand.
  • Blog about the tough topics – This point is usually related to the first one. When we blog about things like the Intel Chipset issue, customers respond. Doing this correctly and transparently raises your credibility with customers, bloggers and others on the web and traditional media.
  • Write to educate and serve  – Develop posts that stand apart from press releases and details customers can find on Dell.com. Key thing here is context always matters… I try to give a range of readers a clear picture of the topics being discussed online that I’m addressing or providing perspective on.
  • Provide an inside look– Think the behind-the-scenes stuff you see on DVD extras. This relates to the kind of subject matter experts myself and the broader blog team are reaching out to in order to ask them to contribute blog content. Know we can do better on this front, especially on the video side—we we’ll work to do so.
  • Remember that speed matters, but so does effectiveness – Other tools like Twitter allow you to react fast, but blogs remain a primary communication tool for more complex topics, especially ones require ongoing dialog between a company and its customers. I agree with Ev Williams’ take on blogging: Other microblogging tools have changed “blogging as we knew it” and that maintaining blogs requires more dedication. In my experience, our blog content tends to serve as a sort of home base in the center of a lot of our social media efforts.

Dell's Story of Listening on StorifyListening is still a critical first step in social media. We started listening in April 2006, months ahead of when we launched the blog. Back then, listening tools were pretty primitive (except for Techmeme… it rocked then and still does). We’ve made much progress on the listening front over the last several years. Take a look at Dell’s Story of Listening on Storify to see what I mean (or click o the image on the left).

Radian6 is the standard listening tool we use as a company. It’s what powers our Social Media Listening Command Center. And I sure some of you saw that Radian6 was the listening tool that powered the listening behind the recent Twitter Town Hall with Barak Obama. These days, though, listening is not just for big companies, and there are some great free tools that can help company of any size to get a sense for what’s going on: Google searches using the left hand nav options are pretty effective, Twitter searches and sites like Techmeme and Mediagazer can help you get a sense for what’s going on pretty quickly.

So what does the road ahead look like for Dell in terms of blogging and social media? Earlier this year, I was pleased to see our blogs get a shout out from the folks at Mashable for being a good example of how to use landing pages for a network of blogs. Still, I think there’s ways we can improve on that. And though I don’t expect that our changes will be the scope of what TechCrunch’s overhaul next week, I will be working with the blog owners of other Dell blogs to make some changes, including consolidation where it makes sense.

From a content perspective, we’ll continue to focus on three main areas 1) Products and Events 2) Customer Service and Tech Support issues and 3) Thought leadership kinds of stuff. There will be some tweaks as far as content strategy: I think it’s fair to say you can expect more content focused on our efforts into solutions and services, like I blogged about here and recently at Dell’s Financial Analyst Meeting last month. The reason for the increase is pretty simple. It is where we are investing money and resources in a big way and because about 80% f Dell’s revenue is due to the commercial side of the business and about 20% comes from the Consumer side of Dell’s business.

Beyond that, I’ll be focused on working some things behind the scenes to get more Dell folks to engage with customers on our blogs, and working with broader teams to scale our social media efforts further into our business units. No question our SMaC-U team has done an awesome on the social media  training front. Now we need to build on that momentum and get more of our more than 1000 social media-certified employees connecting with customers through social media.

Another thing you can expect is that we will establish an official Dell presence in other social networks like Google+. My personal experience with Google+ has been a pretty positive one, and I know we have over 100+ Dell folks there at the time I wrote this. We’re primed to work with Google to build out our Dell page when they start to roll them out.

Thanks to all the readers and customers who have connected with us over the years through our blogs. Though I’m proud overall of the things we’ve been able to accomplish in the last 5 years of being active in social media, I know there are things we can do better.   Feel free to share your thoughts. What’s worked and what hasn’t? What do you want to see from Dell in terms of blogs or social media in general? Let me know in the comments here, via Twitter @LionelatDell or @Dell, or to me personally on Google +.

Otherwise, if you feel like talking corporate blogs in more detail, feel free to join the #blogchat discussion later tonight starting at 8pm CT.

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