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Dell's unorthodox blog

July 11, 2006

A few days ago, Dell quietly launched a corporate blog, called one2one. Mixing words and video, it's designed to let various Dell employees talk about Dell products and services - and to share their enthusiasm for the company with customers. "Like every corporate blog it is looking for a voice and will probably take time to find one," writes Andy Lark. "It's a little corporatey - but then it's a corporate blog."

Of course, Dell's effort has already been trashed by such self-styled guardians of blog orthodoxy as Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel. "Ho ho ho," writes Jarvis, who's made a career of whining about problems he's had with Dell. "It’s a blog in content management system name only ... Dell continues to believe that it can control the conversation. That horse is out of the barn, over the horizon, dead, and buried." Rubel is even more smug: "Dell really failed to get the blog going the way that they could have. This was a golden opportunity for the company ... Perhaps it might have been better for them to have stayed silent. Cmon Dell. We know you're bigger than this. Join us. Be real."

What windbaggery. Join us? Who's "us"?

For most companies, a corporate blog probably won't be worth the trouble (as I've suggested before). But companies considering the launch of a blog should take a good look at what Dell's doing, as the company is at least thinking clearly about the role its blog plays in its broader corporate communications program. By providing a way for employees to talk directly to and, through comments, with customers, the one2one blog fits thematically with the company's core strategy of selling "direct" to customers. The message it sends reinforces a bigger message.

The blog also dovetails with Dell's current effort to reinvigorate its customer service, which has been plagued by problems in recent years. In this regard, the blog's audience is as much the employee as the customer: It emphasizes, and symbolizes, that a company's reputation is built on its direct, one-to-one interactions with individual customers - something employees of big companies all too easily lose sight of.

A corporate blog shouldn't exist in isolation; it should be part of a broader strategy, as Dell's is.

At a more tactical level, Dell has come up with a thoughtful set of policies - which it terms a "doctrine" - governing its blog. It lays out clear "rules of engagement" for readers: "You are encouraged to speak in an honest, informal voice and to foster productive, candid dialogue that can help us learn from each other. We’ll listen, as well as post, and ensure we engage in two-way conversations ... [But] civil dialogue is expected from all those involved in the blog conversations. We’ll not post any comments if they are spam, inappropriate, use profanity or are defamatory in any way." The doctrine also makes explicit Dell's approach to blogging, carefully setting expectations by announcing the principles that will guide what's posted and what isn't. Here's an excerpt:

Think straight, talk straight. We will think before we post and strive to have good judgment in all blog interactions. We will not hesitate to take on tough, escalating issues, but we will do so in a measured, thoughtful fashion. Sometimes that takes a little more time.

Sometimes we may be quiet. There are some topics we just can’t discuss on one2one – just as we don’t in other communication channels. Posting on political issues, sensitive financial matters and topics unrelated to our business or industry, for example, will likely not occur.

Our corporate values and policies will guide what we say. As per our company's Code of Conduct, we are committed to acting in a professional and ethical manner in all situations - whether it is with our business partners, our neighbors or customers. one2one is no exception.

Taking time to think? Being quiet sometimes? Following corporate policies? These kinds of level-headed rules will earn a company the ridicule of the blogosphere's true believers. But who cares? For a company, a blog is a tool, not an ideology.

UPDATE: On the Dell blog, Lionel Menchaca responds, perfectly, to the blogosphere's hyperventilating. The response brings, predictably, an even more shrill and self-involved post from Jeff Jarvis.

Comments

I know the rah-rah attitude of Jeff and Steve gets up your nose, Nick, but I think their main point is that if you're going to launch a blog it makes sense to take some notice of the kinds of things blogs have been saying about you -- and some of those things are that their tech support has holes (it's not just Jeff) and their laptops occasionally explode in flames. Oh, and Steve's last name is Rubel, not Rubell.

Posted by: mathewi [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 10:56 AM

Mathew,

I don't believe Dell launched its blog to have a conversation with the blogosphere. It launched it to have a conversation with its customers. (That's smart, even if it rubs the blog priesthood the wrong way.) And, if you read the blog, you'll see that it is tackling the customer service shortcomings.

Misspelling corrected. Thanks.

Nick

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 11:48 AM

I agree in principal with you, Nick.
I think the challenge Dell will fight is one of perceptions. A very "corporate" blog will give people the perception that they aren't getting the truth - but rather the corporate spin.
This is the beauty of Jonathon Schwartz' blog. He's definitely giving you the Sun story...but it's delivered in a disarming way -- in a way that encourages conversation.
From what I've seen, the Dell blog might discourage this open conversation simply because of the perception it creates in the minds of its readers -- that they are getting just another set of propaganda.
I think they might have been better off in your "don't bother" camp.

Posted by: Dan Hatfield [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 11:58 AM

Dan,

You may be right that Dell should have stayed in the "don't bother" camp, but I disagree with your assumptions.

You seem to think that most of the people who go to the blog will be seeking "authenticity" rather than information. But that strikes me as a blogospheric fantasy. My guess is that the people Dell is looking to speak with are customers or would-be customers who are actually more interested in information than "authenticity."

More generally, I don't think most people go to companies with any expectation of receiving "the truth." But they do look for an honest and clear expression of the company's point of view. People know how to filter "corporate spin," but they don't want to be snowed. As long as Dell can deliver an honest and engaging expression of its point of view, and demonstrate that it actually reads comments, as it promises it will, I think readers/customers will be satisfied.

Certain bloggers may want a company to use its blog as a means of self-crucifixion, but I'm not sure such bloody spectacles would actually serve anybody's interest, least of all the company's.

Nick

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 12:19 PM

Nick:

I didn't say that Dell had to only have a conversation with the blogosphere or the blogerati, just that its blog should probably take note of it (or them) -- and it appears to have done so, and in what I think is a very smart way.

Posted by: mathewi [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 02:33 PM

First, corporate blogs will have a role to play, and we should all encourage experimentation here...there is value, the perfect blog has yet to emerge.

Second, there is something to be said for walking before running...the instant critics should take a deep breath and wait a bit.

Posted by: Frank X. Shaw [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 04:16 PM

Nick, it looks like your comment is one of the few to get through on One2One. Mine, and others haven't been approved by the moderator despite what I believe is a balanced (though admittedly critical) tone.
So, as a Dell customer of 8 or 9 years now, I'm not yet convinced that Dell is making an effort to engage in dialogue/discussion with customers. I'm not looking for self-crucifiction as it were, but I'm tired of the canned corporate-speak responses that the moderators on Dell's own Community forum keep throwing at its users.

At issue for me and several other customers (and would-be customers) is the production delay of the new Dell XPS 700. All efforts to get an honest assessment of when the computer will ship, why its being delayed (in some cases for 2+ months), and what Dell plans to do with the upcoming Conroe processor have been met with vague and inconsistent responses from various company representatives. So, in my two comments on One2One I pleaded with Lincoln Menchaca and Ken Musgrave to be more forthcoming with information that will help Dell's customers know where they stand with Dell. Until now, nothing. So, when you say " And, if you read the blog, you'll see that it is tackling the customer service shortcomings," I actually believe that you have read the blog....the problem is that you havent read all of the comments that remain unposted because of the moderating/deleting going on. And that, in my opinion, is where this blog fails (at least so far)

Posted by: Christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 05:08 PM

I don't really have any comments regarding Dell's blog but I do have similar feelings about the work of Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel.

It seems at times that they have developed a programmatic critique whose core principles are not up for questioning. That may be unfair to the body of their work but that's what I always get when I check out those posts everybody is talking about.

The thing is, that's what I was trying to address in a mildly humorous way in my comment on your Emergent Bureaucracy post regarding the idea that we can actually be "Freed from history, freed from distance, freed even from our own miserable bodies".

It reminds me of a lot of claims made back in the 90s about the Internet and about technologies that might someday enable human existence without corporeal existence. I looked at many such claims quite closely and they always involved core principles that once established didn't seem to be examined any further. And there were always quite obvious examples that undermined those claims.

But, in general, I wouldn't compare you to Jeff or to Steve!

Posted by: Clyde Smith [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 07:05 PM

Clyde,

Thanks. I agree with you. There was a bit of irony in that "freed from" sentence.

Nick

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 07:12 PM

I stand corrected on my earlier comment here; One2One has since posted my comment...regardless if anything comes of it, its a good start.

Posted by: Christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2006 08:03 PM

Nick,
I agree that the Dell blog is a well thought out effort...not perfect, but of course what is, even though the self appointed and Technorati annointed blog standard setters seem to require nothing less.

As Mark Twain wrote, "The human being always looks down when he is examining another person's standard; he never finds one that he has to examine by looking up."

In addition, I agree that customers will mostly go to the Dell blog to get information and to have their issues listened to and solved. If that happens AND if the product that they own meets or exceeds their expectations than they will most likely consider the relationship with Dell a success. Both of those requirements need to be met to have a relationship. If the product disappoints, than all bets are off.

Pleasing the blogosphere is not a big part of the requirement.

Marianne

Posted by: Marianne Richmond [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 12, 2006 12:10 AM

I am not I am siding with either (or maybe both) camp here.

I regard the effort of "doctrinizing" blogs as a bit futile - after all an overly controlled and PC corporate blog dies from desertification, while one that becomes too raunchy gets shut down by the powers that be; so I am not sure what exactly is the point of this 'doctrine' (other than the suits' fright that someone up above might criticize them for not spelling out the contract T's and C's) ?

On the other hand, I applaud at the effort by Dell's management to consider CGMs as a suitable (not the only, obviously) channel for communicating with employees and other stakeholders about the company.

Overall, I'd digg this

Posted by: gianni [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 13, 2006 06:00 AM

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