Monday, June 18, 2007

Dell does good, then bad, then apologizes

Following Dell's actions online over the last few days has been an interesting study in how companies are grappling to come to terms with the 'new marketing' landscape. On Friday after I left my Company Blog Checkup on Dell's Direct2Dell blog, both Richard and John Pope from Dell left comments here, and I later talked to John and we'll try to set up a 'brainstorming' session for later this month. This is exactly the type of interaction we bloggers have been begging companies to engage in, as we knew the benefits that would result from companies having a better grip on the potential of social media, and communicating with its customers online.

But there was another story developing in the blogosphere on Friday concerning Dell, and this one put the company in a different light. On Thursday, The Consumerist posted '22 Confessions of a Former Dell Sales Manager'. The post was basically a collection of 'tips and tricks' on how to get the best deals on Dell products and services. On Friday, The Consumerist posted that Dell had sent them a 'takedown' email, 'demanding' that the post be removed. Anyone cringing yet? To be fair to Dell, The Consumerist claims that Dell 'demanded' that the post be removed, but the two emails that they posted from Dell requested that the post be removed, the word 'demand' was never used, and no threats were made by Dell.

But even so, I think we can all agree that even asking The Consumerist to take down the post was just about the worst possible move for the company. I told John this and added that the move makes 'Dell look like a bully with something to hide.' And I thought this response from The Consumerist's lawyer nailed the ramifications of Dell's action to the wall:
In addition, as I am sure you must realise - and there is certainly a history of this with Dell already - consumers tend to react far better when a company responds collaboratively to criticism, than when they act heavy-handedly or dismissively. Removing this story would be far far more damaging to Dell, I assure you, than responding to it on the Dell blog or elsewhere, since in telling our readers that Dell shut down our reporting, we would unleash a chaos of fury and acres of criticism in the press. Forget any legal position you may want to take, meritorious or not, I am deadly serious when I say that I simply cannot recommend this as a course of action. I've seen it happen before and it is really not pretty and I have no doubt that you will regret it.

Of course, it is your decision whether you want to pursue this matter, but I advise you to talk to the team that had to deal with the falllout from the Jeff Jarvis affair before you decide to try and silence your critics. Work for the customer, not against them.

Amen. Dell responded on Saturday by posting 'Dell's 23 Confessions' to Direct2Dell;
Now's not the time to mince words, so let me just say it... we blew it.

I'm referring to a recent blog post from an ex-Dell kiosk employee that received more attention after the Consumerist blogged about it, and even more still after we asked them to remove it.

In this case, I agree with what Jeff Jarvis had to say: instead of trying to control information that was made public, we should have simply corrected anything that was inaccurate. We didn't do that, and now we're paying for it.

Yep. Dell ran into trouble when it tried to CONTROL the conversation, instead of trying to participate in it. As I was reading Dell's 23 Confessions, I was thinking that there really wasn't much to this (besides the upfront apology, which was perfect), and that I would have added a point about going to one of the sites that mention the coupon codes to get the best deals. Then I saw that point #18 was 'There are a number of Web sites that aggregate Dell coupon offers. Just Google “Dell coupon codes.”' Good stuff. I think most online customers know this, but it doesn't hurt to tell them anyway.

And this morning, The Consumerist acknowledges that Dell has admitted their error in asking the site to remove its 'confessions' post.

When the smoke clears, I think this is another fine example of how companies and their customers often speak two different languages. Dell no doubt thought that it was in their best interest to attempt to convince The Consumerist to remove the 'confessions' post. However, almost anyone that read The Consumerist knew immediately that this was a bad move. And I noted that the tone of the comments to The Consumerists' post this morning were more in support of Dell's move to admit their blunder.

And I even get the impression that there may be more than one conversation happening within Dell itself. In fact if you read the emails from Dell that The Consumerist posted, then read Lionel's mea culpa at Direct2Dell, it's obvious that he feels sending the takedown request was a mistake.

BuzzMachine posted on the 'takedown' episode, and I said this in the comments: "I think Dell deserves criticism when they make missteps with social media, as does any other company. But I think we also owe it to them, ourselves, and this medium, to make sure that the criticism is constructive, and tempered with the knowledge that that are at least in these waters."

UPDATE: TechMeme has picked up on the story

Cartoon via Gaping Void

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nat said...

Mack, another good example of the good, the bad and the ugly as companies are slowly getting their heads around how to interact and talk to consumers.
It certainly seems like not everyone at Dell is on the same page with regards to these types of issues (and I feel this is the case with a lot of companies these days).
I guess the next step is, once the company “decision makes” realise the importance of engaging with consumers positively utilising social networks etc , how do companies make sure that this ETHOS spreads through the entire organisation and that at each level of the organisation, people understand and embrace a real two-way-dialogue with customers?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack
Appreciate your perspective and thoughtful comments on this.

As Lionel noted on Saturday in his post about our mistake, we had acted on Friday in response to customers raising the issue on Ideastorm.

Live and learn. We arent perfect....just human I guess :-)Looking forward to your visit with us. Thanks for agreeing

Nudge Marketing said...

I would have been so impressed if Dell had commented on the original post with "3 more ways to get a great deal from Dell". They probably would have got almost as much blog publicity (is blog-licity a word yet? if not it should be) and chances are they would have got a smile out of the readers. Still, admitting a slip up is rare and I'm glad to see Dell taking this approach.

Mack Collier said...

My guess is that most large companies currently have 3 sections of their marketing culture right now:

1 - The Old Guard. This group is rooted in 'traditional' marketing, and really doesn't understand or trust much of this 'new marketing crap', and sees it as mostly smoke and mirrors.

2. - The Tweeners. This group has a 'traditional' foundation, but is beginning to tinker with social media and the like, and are starting to see the possibilities.

3. - The Geeks. This group was hired in with a solid knowledge of blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc, and have been evangelizing all forms of social media internally at their companies, mostly to the tweeners.

I think that as the 'old guard' retires for many of these companies, you'll see them mostly be replaced by people who understand and are using social media. As this happens, you'll see the company's culture change more from fear of social media, to excitement and experimentation.

The next 5-10 years or so are going to be some exciting times.

Penina said...

Mack, this is so exciting! And I don't know what I'm more excited about: That a big company is genuinely exploring the evolving social marketing landscape or that professionals are relating and listening to each other to engender more change. Hm. I guess I didn't make it *sound* very exciting...