By adaptive - March 13th, 2013

An interview with Liz Brown Bullock, Director of Social Media at Dell. We discuss how the company train other teams on social media best practice, how social is embedded at their company - and more.

Liz is a marketer, storyteller and artist that enjoys solving business challenges with creative ideas to deliver enviable results. She is the Director of Social Media and Community at Dell focused on embedding social media into the organization and activating connected employees to deepen customer relationships and brand advocacy. 

She also founded and manages Dell’s social media training and certification program, SMaC University, to activate employees to engage online on behalf of Dell. You can follow Liz at @lizbbullock where she shares social media insights and news, plus photos of her children and overweight dog.

[Q] How did your organisation approach the mapping of your enterprise to identify where social media should reside in the corporate structure? And how this would deliver an integrated approach to social media activity? 

[A] In 2006, Dell started listening to its customers especially what people were writing on blogs and discussion forums about Dell. In the early years, our organization approached social media by aligning internal teams that were supporting customers online (customer support, online, communications).  Dell’s approach has been to go where our customers are and to listen and connect in ways that deliver both business and customer value.
Back in 2009, we recognized a broader opportunity to map social media across our enterprise (not just customer support or social media marketing) to be used by all functions as a tool to achieve better results for our customers and ultimately our business. Through social media, our customers take part in more than 25,000 conversations every day about Dell – and that’s just in English. What we can learn from our customers online helps us to be a better company and deliver the precise products, solutions and services our customers need to be successful. 
For us, it’s key to have social integration across all areas of the business – a social business. Social media is a tool to be used across all functions: HR, sales, marketing, our product group, online, customer support to better serve our customer. We are looking at how all areas of social (listening, research, support, content, and analytics) come together to have an impact on customer experience and employee collaboration. We want to embed social media in the fabric of the company and empower our employees to use it to achieve better results for customers and our business.
In the same year (2009), we created a small center of excellence team, Social Media and Community (SMaC), responsible for Dell’s governance, training, best practices, analytics, innovation and overall strategic use of social media across Dell.
In 2010, Dell’s SMaC team launched Social Media and Community University (SMaC U) a training and certification program open to all employees to understand Dell’s social media strategy, governance, best practices and how to use social to better serve our customers. Through certification our employees are enabled to represent the Dell brand online and connect with customers based on their area of expertise. 
SMaC University holds employee unconferences with Dell’s social media practitioners in “open-format” events to allow for two-way dialogue and innovation between teams. Dell brings together more than 200 employees from product engineers to marketing teams and corporate communications to learn about social media trends and participate in breakout sessions. The events have been hosted in US, UK, India, Brazil and China to date. 
SMaC University continues to expand on training and ensuring key team members have the necessary training and support. Recently, SMaC U launched a targeted robust training program for Dell’s Subject Matter Experts (SocialSME) across key solutions and products. We’ve recognized that our customers trust and want to connect with our technical, product and solution experts online. The subject matter experts go through an additional 3-month training program, with a 6 months+ mentorship program and individual scorecards to keep track of results.
Additionally, we use an internal social media platform (Chatter) to facilitate idea sharing and quick effective collaboration among all team members. The SMaC U Chatter group is the largest member (10,000+) and most active allowing for conversations to continue on best practices on integrating social media into the business.
Beyond SMaC U training, the team is focused on championing cross- functional integration via bi-weekly Executive Council meetings with top leaders from various business units to participate and align.

[Q] What is your advice to organisations that are beginning to map their own corporate structure with the view to embedding social media activity within their enterprise? 

[A] For us the key advice is:
  1. Start with listening to your customers. What are customers saying about your brand? What are the needs your customers have expressed? 
  2. As you have identified customer needs, tie them to your business objectives. 
  3. Create one single business strategy process. There is no separate social business strategy, but one strategy with one set of business objectives and outcomes. Map your social initiatives to your business objectives. For example, if your business objective is to understand customer pain points, then you need to be monitoring social conversations. If your business objective is to impact brand reputation, then you need to foster advocacy. 
  4. When mapping your social media programs to your business strategy, be platform agnostic, so your social strategy stays in place as social platforms come and go.
  5. Build a governance model to identify and manage your social media presences. Of course, your social media presences need to be mapped to your listening efforts and where you customers are having conversations about your brand.
  6. Write a social media policy for all employees and clearly state expectations for employees within the space. Note, think of creative ways to communicate and share the social media policy across your employees. Unfortunately, most employees will not read a 2 page legal document.
  7. Train your employees on the policy, strategy, and best practices. 
  8. Once your employees are trained, ask them to take action on behalf of your brand. You will be pleasantly surprised at the positive engagement, excitement and actions your employees have in regards to connecting with customers online. 

[Q] Clearly it is important to create a unified face from multiple departments when using social media. How has your company developed its organisational plan to ensure that each department’s social media activity is coordinated? 

[A] Dell agrees that a unified face is important, but we also believe that this is about relationships and that we strike a balance between a unified brand and showing our individual side to deepen those customer connections.
For organizational rollout, Dell has invested in two areas to ensure we are integrated across our company: our governance model and Dell’s Social Media & Community University (SMaC U).
Our governance model is to ensure that social media is woven into the fabric of our organization and to champion cross-functional collaboration. The team is responsible for management of our corporate presences, brand look and feel, applications, vendor alignment and best practices.
SMaC U certification is a requirement for any employee managing a social media presence on behalf of Dell.  The University trains in-depth on our governance model, plus Dell’s brand requirements in look, voice and actions, while still maintaining individual persona.

[Q] Can you outline a recent social media campaign and explain how this was coordinated across your business? 

[A] Project Sputnik is a recent and great example of Dell’s social business efforts to drive product innovation, real time customer listening, research and development, shortening product launch cycle, effective marketing and delivering real tangible business benefits to our customers and Dell.
Project Sputnik was an idea launched in May of 2012 to create an Ubuntu-based laptop targeted at a new target audience, developers. From the inception, the project was designed to involve developer feedback directly into the product development process and to conduct the effort publicly utilizing social media, including blogs, twitter, forums and Dell’s crowdsourcing platform, Ideastorm.
The team launched the idea via Barton George’s blog [, which detailed the project and its goals then directed developers to a storm session [ on Dell’s Ideastorm for them to suggest, discuss and comment on what features and functionality they would like to see in a developer laptop. Both the blog, via comments, and the storm session provided a forum for two-way communication between Dell and developers.
The team kicked off a beta pilot of the product and received an overwhelming 6,000 applications to be part of the program. During the beta phase, the team utilized Dell’s TechCenter community and launched a Sputnik forum [] for beta testers to comment on their experiences. Dell’s TechCenter mapped really well to the specific developer audience, as they are traditionally very active in social and forums.
The results? Team launched a new innovative product serving a previously untapped market for Dell. The time to market was a little more than 6 months and incredibly shortened from concept through development to market. Plus, Dell was able to listen, research and attain incredible feedback to better serve the developer audience.

[Q] Has your company developed a comprehensive social media policy that all departments contributed to and now follow during each new campaign? What are its main components? 

[A] Dell was one of the first companies to launch a companywide social media policy back in 2006. We review the policy on annual basis and as needed to ensure our brand and employees are protected. The policy outlines five core principles that every employee should follow for online engagement.  Additionally, SMaC U first required course is dedicated to our principles with case studies and exercises to ensure our employees are protected.
  1. Protect customer’s information.
  2. Be transparent & disclose.
  3. Follow the law, follow the code.
  4. Be responsible.
  5. Be nice, have fun and connect.
You can find our policy here.

[Q] Are there any specific tools you employ that help your business manage its social media activity across multiple departments? 

[A] Absolutely, with our customers taking part in tens of thousands of conversations online about Dell, it is critical that we listen real time to these conversations. Dell launched its Social Media and Listening Command Center in 2010 to understand the subject matter of the discussions, sentiment, reach, basic demographics and location/geography and to bring insights back to the business and engage with our customers as needed. 
Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Centre
All employees have access to our internal social media platform (Chatter) to facilitate idea sharing and collaboration on projects. Dell social media account managers use sprinklr as a content management and engagement tool. SMaC and SMaC U team use sharepoint for governance model and training needs.

[Q] How do you see the management and development of social media in your company evolving over the next few years? 

[A] I believe we will see social media continue to become fundamental in how a business operates and supports our customers. I believe social media will become one of the top ways for customers to engage with a company and that subject matter experts and every-day employees will play a pivotal role in the relationship with the customer.
More and more customers are active and comfortable online and we see they trust and want to engage with subject matter experts and every-day employees.  More companies will need to figure out how to organize, train, empower and unleash their employees into this powerful customer connected space.
If you'd like to learn more about Dell's approach to social media - and specifically how the company engage key influencers - then check out the Corporate Social Media Summit in New York in June. The company will be sharing insight on just this topic at the industry-leading conference.

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The Corporate Social Media Summit New York 2014

June 2014, New York

Become a social business: For superior marketing response, sharper corporate decision-making, enhanced innovation and a happier, more loyal customer

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