By Mark Kersteen - November 25th, 2015

By building real relationships, Dell is capitalizing on social's most sought-after leaders

Brands' relationships with influencers are becoming more important, especially on social media. However, when brands partner with thought leaders, it can often feel more like a tennis star endorsing a breakfast cereal than an attempt to meaningfully connect professionals over a common interest.

Dell, the multinational computing and technology leader, is trying to change that.

I sat down with Konstanze “Konnie” Alex-Brown, Dell’s Corporate Social Influencer Relations Manager, to learn about their long-term strategy.

“We are looking to create longstanding, deep, and mutually-beneficial relationships with social influencers, which we manage on a one-on-one basis.”

This isn’t Dell asking for a few tweets about their latest cloud computing software. This is a deliberate and concerted two-way process.

“There are different programs across the industry that are more extensions of marketing than anything else, but that’s not what we’re doing. We are evaluating these global relationships on whether there is a way to collaborate and share the Dell brand promise with this particular individual’s values, and their own promise with their audience as well. It’s very important that we know these parameters align before we even enter into a relationship with them."

"Part of the program’s success lies in my role being centered in Dell’s Corporate Relations & Reputation team, which provides me with a view across all of Dell, instead of being attached only to a specific product area.”

This isn’t a financial relationship, either:

“It’s very important to us that these influencers relationships are not founded on a financial basis with Dell. We want to retain the independent and credible voice these influencers have with their audiences.”

Instead of trading dollars for access to a follower list, Dell’s approach is to repay knowledge with knowledge.

“Once we’ve established these relationships, we invite our influencers to certain events, to briefings with Dell executives, to speaking engagements, or to think tank thought leadership discussions. They need to also clearly see what kind of relationship this is, and the value they get out of it.”

But before Dell even reaches out to these individuals, they do their own due diligence to find out who’s best-suited for specific topics.

“The main criteria is subject matter expertise, as well as connectivity on social channels. Our influencers can be bloggers, or just people who are very active on Twitter or other platforms.”

“The vetting process is quite stringent, so we don’t rely on platforms that promise to spit out lists by creating profiles based on social analytics algorithms. These are helpful as a starting point, but they are certainly not an end point for Dell.”

“Even on the internal side, marketing teams ask me to send them a list of influencers, and I have to say ‘No’. Instead, I ask: ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ Then we can see if there’s a match, and I can handle the communication and relationship with this influencer for them.”

But the biggest question is, does it work?

“This model has worked fabulously for us so far. You hear these horror stories of agencies handling company’s influencer relationships: they switch, and suddenly the relationship and all this knowledge about an influencer’s capabilities is all lost. It’s impossible to quickly build trust like that.”

And with that success, there’s a number of real, tangible benefits.

“The outcome is third-party engagement and endorsement. Not by feeding our influencers messaging we want them to repeat, but by helping them understand what Dell is doing, and how Dell is well-positioned for our customers’ needs.”

Of course, making better use of influencers isn’t just for tech companies. It’s becoming imperative across industries.

“In marketing, we’re undergoing a digital transformation. So many things are changing. Online resources are establishing credibility. Look at the gravitas of Wikipedia. There’s a growing trust in specific sources, and a growing ability to discern between fluff and real, important knowledge.”

“Now, influencers are the mega-curators of this good content.”

However, while this might be convincing to those of us who are accustomed to working in marketing and across social channels, how do you convince the C-suite it needs to be a priority?

“When I can show that these things are being picked up by the press, that positive conversations are being driven online by these influencers, and that we’re being invited to new industry conferences to keynote, those are my case studies. That’s how I show stakeholders that the influencer relations program is working.”

This long-term, personal approach to working with influencers has enormous benefits. Once you’re able to show its value, the program is sure to pick up steam, both programmatically as well as organically.

“It’s also much of an internal education and buy-in process. Once I have one executive leader onboard and have proven the value of the approach, the second one is much much more willing to participate."


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