Secrets of Blogger Relations

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Since embracing social media two years ago, Dell Computer has learned a few lessons. One of its key blogger relations people shared some secrets last week in a keynote interview at the New Communications Forum in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Richard Binhammer is charged with monitoring and engaging with the active ecosystem of people who blog about Dell. In a keynote interview with John Cass, Binhammer talked about negativity, a concern often voiced by PR people. Dell has had its share of blogger criticism, going back to the famous Dell Hell incident of three years ago. But by methodically reaching out to complainers, the company reduced negativity from nearly half of all online posts to about 20% in a little less than a year. The secret? “Just talk to people,” Binhammer said. Most of the time, all they want is to be heard. Demonstrate that you’re listening and you can resolve most complaints.

But here’s an interesting fact: After reducing that negativity factor to 20%, the Dell team has been unable to bring it consistently below that level. Binhammer, whose background is in politics, theorizes that 20% is a natural floor, in the same way that 20% of the population always votes for the same political party, regardless of who runs.

This is worth remembering. Even the best businesses have a few unhappy customers. Your mileage may vary, but you should never expect to achieve 100% satisfaction. It’s more likely that your blogger relations program will get you to a manageable yet stubborn base level. That’s your floor, and you probably can’t do much to break through it.

Finding Resources
Binhammer also shed some light on how Dell allocates its communications resources. With so many tech bloggers out there, you’d think the company would have a small army of communications folks monitoring and responding to conversations. In fact, it has just two people sharing the job. The reason? Dell is lining up the whole company behind the effort to get more engaged with customers. PR monitors the airwaves, but doesn’t try to resolve every issue. Most comments are forwarded to the appropriate group for response.

I wish more companies would do this. Bloggers tend to be well-informed and passionate, which means that their inquiries and comments demand knowledgeable responses. Companies that simply delegate the response to PR are failing to benefit from the really rich conversations they can have with their most informed customers. Everyone from sales to engineering should want to speak to customers whenever possible. Why let marketing have all the fun?

0 thoughts on “Secrets of Blogger Relations

  1. A natural floor for social media tonality certainly exists, and no doubt varies by industry topics. However, as an employee for a company whose mission is to both interpret and effect change within the social media arena (a disclaimer and a frame for the comments to follow!), I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Dell has a unique opportunity to dive deeply into the negative commentary that constitutes the “floor”. Put another way, understanding tonality sets the stage, understanding content provides further opportunity for outreach. If the themes around negative content are inconsistent from month-to-month, a case can be made for a “floor” of constantly churning negative activity that it doesn’t pay to try and influence. However, if the themes emerging from negative social media activity are consistent, and no outreach has been attempted that leverages “the message” of this consistent negativity, the case could be made to further reduce the floor by testing different types of social media outreach. Dell may certainly have recognized this and have attempted the outreach (or decided that an ROI case can’t be made for it) – but it’s worth mentioning!

  2. Great post Paul. I remember the days of Dell Hell and the battery issues and getting busted for fake blogs. I think Dell’s foray into social media at that time was some of the worst in PR history. You are right, that they’ve dramatically improved their methods and now seem to be setting some of the best practices for the industry. Good for them.

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