July 11th, 2006

Dell’s Corporate Blogging and the Problem of Risk Management

by

Dell launched a blog and promptly got savaged by Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel for not immediately engaging the issues of poor customers service that have tied Dell to the whipping post of the blogosphere.

In theory, Jeff and Steve are right — although, with all due respect, they were just a wee bit sanctimonious in delivering the message — Dell could have been “brave” and taken on the tough issues right out of the gate.

But they chose not to. Why? Because they don’t “get it,” as their blogging critics suggest? Or is it because they are extremely cognizant of the risks inherent in a corporate entity, beholden to shareholders, creating a platform to talk to customers — many of whom are VERY unhappy?

Nick Carr, in his push back to Jeff and Steve, points to Dell’s statement of blogging principles:


Think straight, talk straight.
We will think before we post and strive to have good judgment in all blog interactions. We will not hesitate to take on tough, escalating issues, but we will do so in a measured, thoughtful fashion. Sometimes that takes a little more time.

Sometimes we may be quiet. There are some topics we just can’t discuss on one2one – just as we don’t in other communication channels. Posting on political issues, sensitive financial matters and topics unrelated to our business or industry, for example, will likely not occur.

Our corporate values and policies will guide what we say. As per our company’s Code of Conduct, we are committed to acting in a professional and ethical manner in all situations – whether it is with our business partners, our neighbors or customers. one2one is no exception.

Is Dell acting on all these principles yet? Perhaps not. They trying to navigate their way through the minefield of risk, as evident in the attacks by Jeff and Steve.

I’m reminded of this comment from Jeff that he left on a post I wrote about a speech by Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, where I criticized Glocer for only making incremental progress on Media 2.0:

Progress comes a step at a time. This is progress compared with other media companies and wire services I know. Is it the destination? Of course, not. We don’t know what the destination is yet. But I think it is better to note where progress is made and note what the next steps are rather than rejecting the steps that are made because they aren’t the final ones. Flies. Honey. You know.

UPDATE

The folks at Dell responded to Jeff and Steve, demonstrating that they are smarter — and classier — than the criticism gives them credit for:

Yesterday was the first official day of Dell’s one2one weblog and already Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel were kind enough to tell us what we’re doing wrong. Thanks for the feedback, guys. We’ll keep working to get it right.

Shel Holtz
weighed in a bit more constructively. [ZING!] Our intention with this blog is to address issues that are important to our customers. Give us some time and we’ll prove it. Robert Scoble told us to listen, and to link to the folks who don’t like us. First step was to launch Dell’s one2one. Check. We’re excited to be here, and we welcome your ideas.

The title of their post is “Real People are Here and We’re Listening” — very nicely done.

I think the lesson here is more for the Blog Police than Dell — beware of orthodoxy, ideology, sanctimony, hypocrisy, and most of all, remember that if this IS a conversation, we need to treat people on the other end with a certain degree of respect. (This is a lesson that I have learned and continue to learn through blogging.)

  • Oy vey, Dave -- I didn't meant "you" as in you, Dave Wine, I meant "you" rhetorically, since there are many people who have in fact said this to Dell. So yes, my bad for not being more clear.

    And "punching in the nose" is a metaphor for what happened to Dell when they launched their blog. With so much well-deserved anger at Dell, the punch should probably not have come as a surprise. Perhaps they might have hoped for the blogosphere to take the high rode -- but then it wouldn't be the blogosphere we all know and love.

    But just to be clear, Dave, I give you full credit for the civility of the statements I've seen you make on this issue -- even if I happen in this instance to disagree :)

  • And what was that bit about punching people in the nose?

    Where did you get that from??

  • I never told Dell any such thing.

    For a guy who preaches accuracy, you sure play pretty loose with it.

  • Dave,

    I think you and Jeff are conflating Dell's past mistakes with an evaluations with their current efforts to fix them.

    If you tell Dell they need to have a conversation with their unhappy customers, I don't see how it's constructive to punch them in the nose the minute they open their mouth.

  • The customer is always right Scott & Nick. The Dell people would do well to remember that. I watched as Jeff Jarvis tried to get through to Dell, human to human, a couple of years ago, we've all been through that, those who have used their products. At one point in the process it was clear to me that Dell valued my time at $0. After wasting huge amounts of it, and feeling totally disrespected by them, they lost me. Maybe now they could get us back, but not with attitude. I've always known they had a bad attitude about customers. Having a blog, per se, doesn't solve anything. it's only useful if it helps wake them up to the concept that their customers are people, just like they are. When they get that, that's when the conversation can begin. Net-net, you've been to hard on Steve and Jeff, by a lot.

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