6 lessons from Dell’s ‘Social Media University’

The computer company boasts a major return on investment from enlisting employee advocates. What makes its online ambassador campaign work so well?

“This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal, Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.”

Let’s say you’re happily posting pensées on Twitter about dog shows or leftover turkey recipes or favorite “Gilligan’s Island” episodes, and you notice questions about or criticism of your brand.

What to do? You, communicator person, would know just how to respond or which social media team member to alert. But would your employees?

Dell, the computer giant, has deputized a worldwide posse of volunteers on behalf of the company. In her talk, “How Dell’s ‘Social Media University’ recruits passionate employee advocates,” global manager Amy Heiss shares the secrets of Dell’s Social Media Training and Employee Activation program.

Dell has trained more than 16,000 employees in 46 countries to use social media as a part of their day-to-day jobs, Heiss says. This allows Dell to listen in on 25,000 conversations in English every day.

“We encourage all of our employees to listen, act and engage in social [media],” Heiss says.

The result is a huge, easily provable return on investment for that those often hard-to-define realms of employee engagement and social media.

Here are ways that Dell makes the program work—and that you might emulate:

1. Set up a ‘governance team.’

Dell employees can have a Dell-branded account that includes “atDell” in the handle, or they can set up an independent account that isn’t affiliated with their employer. If they want the former, the governance team must approve.

Heiss’ Dell-affiliated account is @AmyHAtDell. People who want such accounts must get permission, commit to posting regularly and have a sunset plan for when they move on to other duties.

Say somebody wants to start a Facebook account for recruiting. Governance might say: “You know, there’s already a recruiting page here. Could you consolidate your content with theirs? Could you get onto their content calendar? Or, are you recruiting an entirely separate group of people where it would make sense for you to have your own page.”

On the other hand, a social media educator at Dell has a personal account, @SCareySocial, that didn’t require permission. He just has to disclose that he works for Dell when he posts about its products and services.

2. Train your dragons.

At Dell, all employees are welcome to post on behalf of the brand—but they have to go through the policy training program first.

The rules are crafted to be platform-agnostic, so they apply across sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Here are a few of those guidelines:

  • Protect the customer. The average Joe, bless his heart, has been known to tweet to a brand saying, “I’m having a problem. Here’s my phone number.” Dell doesn’t delete criticism, but it will urge customers to take down personal information, telling the customer, “I’ve got the number. I’ll call.”
  • Follow the law; follow the code. Dell doesn’t train on specific platform rules, given that social media companies seem to change their guidelines every other day. Instead, it makes clear that employees should know the rules about the platform they’re using. On Flickr, for example, you can’t post corporate content, Heiss says.

Knowing that people can get carried away and post hostile things online that they would never say in person, Dell also requires employees to follow the company code of conduct.

  • Be responsible. On personal accounts, people are welcome to support a political candidate or a football team, Heiss says. But is not OK to slam the other side. “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to,” she says.
  • Be nice, have fun and connect. After all, why be on social media if you’re not having fun?

3. Listen first.

Dell trains employees to listen first, rather than leaping into the fray. It’s a great way to get information on its own products and those of its competitors. Next, the staffers may engage by joining the conversation, offering perspective, building relationships and thanking customers for compliments.

Finally, they must act on what they learn. “We want our team members to take the information—this free data that they’re given from everyone sharing information in social—and act on it to improve our business,” Heiss says.

4. Allow employees to deflect customer service questions.

Employee advocate programs can amplify your voice. There’s a problem, though: Nobody will post on social media if that means they have to handle customer service complaints or offer tech support.

At Dell, they can watch for complaints or issues and even offer helpful direction without getting into customer service duties. When somebody grumbles, the staffer can reply, ‘Hey, I’m really sorry you’re experiencing that. @DellCares, can you take care of that?”

Dell’s 24/7 global support team will take over with the grumblers from there, freeing up employee advocates to talk about their areas of expertise.

5. Keep the specialists in place.

Having employees help out doesn’t mean your cost-slashing leadership can fire all the social media specialists. Dell has a “ground control team” listening in for 24 hours a day, every day for mentions of Dell and its competitors, Heiss says. They gather data on who’s sharing what, who are the biggest influencers, what they’re saying and what’s being retweeted or shared.

The team comprises 11 members worldwide who speak multiple languages and engage in 5,000 conversations a week. This group tends to find emerging problems seven days before they begin hitting the call center, allowing for proactive PR.

“If you’re interested in crisis and PR, this is the first place that we usually find those issues around problems with our products or services,” Heiss says.

6. Track the return on investment.

Employees who are active on social media have a huge advantage in sales. Those using social media selling techniques are six times more likely to exceed quotas, Heiss says. Some 73 percent of salespeople who use social media outperform their non-social peers, and total sales by social media sellers blow past their peers by an average of 23 percent.

Dell reckons it has gained more than $14 million in revenue through employees with social media accounts. When employees post, it gains eight times the engagement over posts by the brand alone. Consider this: The overlap between Dell’s followers on Twitter and those of employees is less than 10 percent.

“When our employees are posting about what’s happening with our brand,” Heiss says, “they’re reaching a much different audience [from] the people who are just following Dell.”



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