Does Dell Have a Story to Tell?

by Britton Manasco | Jul 26, 2006 | Positioning

One notable F500 company that is now engaging the blogosphere is Dell. With the recent launch of its One2One blog, it is welcoming a "direct conversation" with its fans, critics and the many people who depend on Dell for their business and personal technology needs. While the company took some hits right off the bat for not truly opening up to its readership, it seems to me the blog is coming around in that regard.

What concerns me about the blog is the absence of a larger story or vision. The blog -- from my perspective -- is mired in the weeds of product minutiae.

Then again, the blog team did get 92 comments for a post called "XPS 700: 10 Questions." So maybe this is a tech talk kind of blog.  Nothing wrong with that. It just so obviously leaves corporate blog watchers and critics cold.

After reading the first few posts, Micropersuasion's Steve Rubel argued that "Dell really failed to get the blog going the way that they could have. This was a golden opportunity for the company. They could use the blog to engage the community in a genuine conversation on the critical issues that have dogged them for years now as well as the good things they are doing." More predictably, Jeff Jarvis -- whose blog BuzzMachine first caught media attention by blasting Dell and was no doubt one of the key reasons the company is blogging in the first place -- accuses Dell of just not getting it. ("The conversation is already happening out there without you. Join in that conversation.") Indeed, he calls it "a blog in content management system name only."

All that said, I think Dell now deserves some credit for engaging its readers and critics. It has cited the comments of Jarvis and Rubel. This week, One2One posted a response to the responses it had been receiving in the blogosphere. It acknowledged that its customers are concerned about "outstanding support issues" and yet again acknowledged critics like Buzzmachine.

Debbie Weil at BlogWrite for CEOs had wondered if Dell's bloggers will post negative comments as well as positive ones. Now that the blog has been up for a few weeks, the answer appears to be yes. In the comments section, one sees backhands like this:

This post is simply more of Dell patting themselves on the back for putting up a blog.  At what point are you going to acknowledge all of the posts on this site asking for, I should probably instead say PLEADING for, you to move your customer service call centers back to native English speaking countries?

Haven't you guys picked up on the fact that even more than the order process, what people really hate is the foreign customer service?  Yes, ordering and pricing and such are big deals, but most of us do that once per computer.  We deal with support repeatedly.  That's what you should fix first.

And here's one more:

We used to be a good customer of yours. We used to order quite a few PowerEdge servers. Your 1750 line had a great case design, everything just worked. Your 1850 line was, in comparison, horrible. Case design lacked. Power usage surged. Then, to top it all off, came your customer service. Wow. Getting you to come fix a server even though we have next day service has in some cases taken over 5 months. You know this. You had a manager come out and write down the S/N of the problem machines. Guess what? Nothing happened. Guess what? We now buy servers from a provider that beats you hands down. Even though their prices can't beat yours, trust me it's worth it.

Those look like pretty negative comments to me. Dell should be congratulated for not deleting them. This is real progress. After all, it's got to be exceedingly difficult for a blogging team to take on such politically and legally contentious issues at all. The smart way to handle this is incrementally, and improve over time. No reason to enter the blogosphere with too much boldness or bluster at the get go -- not when the risks are so terribly high. One could even imagine a shareholder suit -- led by William Lerach, no doubt -- as a few disgrunted investors are persuaded that such a blog is hurting share value.

So two cheers for the Dell blog...

However, I remain somewhat disappointed that Dell hasn't launched a blog to tell the larger stories and confront the more compelling issues. How will the company generate value and drive growth in the coming years? How will it address the challenges posed by competitors like IBM, HP, Lenovo and Apple? What is the company's perspective -- or even that of individual Dell bloggers -- on current trends in the consumer and business spaces? What is its vision of the future?

Now, that's a blog that would be interesting -- as I see it -- to read. I'd like to see Dell talk beyond its products and provide a compelling perspective on the impact it is having -- and will have -- on the lives of people and the fortunes of companies. That's the story I am waiting for.


Follow Up: Porno is a No No. Dell decided to change the name and URL of its blog due to the fact that there is a porn site with the same name: one2one. The site is now called Direct2Dell and can be reached at that URL. "We looked at the site in question before we launched," wrote Lionel Menchaca, Dell's digital media manager. "We were planning to use a sub-domain and felt it would not be an issue. We also were betting that the few Dell customers who ended up there would realize it's NOT Dell's blog." Apparently, the blog just wasn't as interesting as the babes.