Why Dell doesn't understand blogging

Summary:In a previous post, I've already rendered one opinion on why I think Dell doesn't quite get blogging. Today came more evidence of this.

In a previous post, I've already rendered one opinion on why I think Dell doesn't quite get blogging. Today came more evidence of this.

In that previous post (which really has to do with virtualization), I noted that Dell's Direct2Dell blog is a single public-facing blog through which all Dell's executive blogs flow. I think it's good to have one place (like Direct2Dell) where Dell should aggregate other blogs. But I also think having just one blog robs potential subscribers of the opportunity to selectively tune into to specific executives that I respect or want to hear from (the categories helps narrow things down, but they're not executive-specific). In that post, I compared Dell to other companies like Sun where the executives and employees have their own blogs. Sun isn't alone. There are of course others like Microsoft, Red Hat, and EMC that understand this principle pretty well.

Another reason I don't think Dell understands blogging is how the company's PR department (or counsel) feels the need to blast the press with e-mail every time one of its higher placed executives actually publishes a blog. The last one of these came my way when Dell's  director of enterprise solutions Reza Rooholamini wrote about virtualization (sorry, no link folks. It's to make a point). Using e-mail to notify some constituency that a new blog has been posted is so antithetical to everything that blogging is that emails like these make me want to puke on my PC.

One of the greatest promises of RSS is email reduction. When Dell first fired up its Direct2Dell blog, it probably made sense to let the press and others know via email. But after that, let me decide. For example, just supposing I found Direct2Dell to be interesting (I don't), I would have subscribed. And then what (if Dell feels it needs to send me an email every time an exec publishes something). I get notified via RSS and email? It's a waste of my time, my hard drive, and the Internet's bandwidth. God forbid this becomes a practice with all IT vendors. What's the difference between this and SPAM? Whosever idea this was at Dell, that first email is your chance to get people to subscribe to your RSS feed(s). After that, you should leave them alone.

Another problem when email gets used to do RSS' job, especially when it comes from some company's PR department, is that it smacks of a coordinated effort. I'm imagining strategy sessions around one post. First, someone decides a Dell exec needs to post something. They have meetings and come up with a plan. Then, the exec writes something up (perhaps with some help) but it goes to the team first. It goes back and forth for a few rounds of feedback and gets edited. Legal gets involved. Meanwhile, the PR team crafts language for the email that will go out  at the same time the blog is published. Given PR's involvement, questions about the blog's timing are raised since it may conflict with other PR initiatives which means it could stress PR resources or dilute the impact of other "scheduled" press releases. Finally, it's all systems go. The blog is posted. A carefully crafted email for broadcast to a few thousand people (many of which already elected to subscribe to or ignore the blog's RSS feed) goes out at the same time. Mission accomplished.  

This may not be exactly the way things went. But there are elements of my characterization that I'm sure those involved in the process at Dell will recognize. And what's more important is that this is the perception I get when I see such a coordinated effort. It makes me not want to read the blogs because my first thought is that this is going to be a prepared sanitized statement. Not a spontaneous stream of consciousness which is what I'm really interested in.

But wait, it gets worse.

Today, via email, Dell notified the press that an important conference call will be taking place tomorrow. The title of the email is Dell to host teleconference regarding electronic dialogue (blogs) intiative.  The announcement is to come "in conjunction with Word of Mouth Marketing Assocation (WOMMA)." You bloggers must be laughing your asses off at this point. But I assure you, this is no joke. The email starts off with:

Please join us tomorrow for a discussion on Dell’s blog initiative in conjunction with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. 

Far be me to jump the gun and make any assumptions regarding what this announcement is about. But let's summarize. Just in case there are some people out there that don't recognize the word "blog," Dell is going to call it an "electronic dialogue" instead and uses parentheses to teach us that what this really means is "blog." Even worse, it's going to be some sort of marketing thing because of WOMMA's involvement (just what I really wanted... an electronic marketing dialog of some sort). But a press conference to talk about a Dell marketing blogging initiative?! Blech! I can see it now... everytime something new happens in the blogosphere, let's have a press conference (uh, you Dell-folk... that's what your existing RSS feed is for).

OK. Maybe I'm reading it wrong.  If I am, then that's also part of Dell's problem.

Unsubscribed. Permanently.

Topics: Dell

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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