Why Dell doesn't understand blogging

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.

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TOPICS: Dell
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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.

Topic: Dell

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7 comments
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  • Excellent Point

    Email about a blog entry! Lovely!
    kevinclosson
  • Response from Dell

    David:

    First off, sorry we lost you, and I'm sorry you don't find Direct2Dell interesting. That said, we'll use your post as a learning experience.

    The inner workings at Dell aren't as nefarious as you describe. You can blame me since I'm the one that sent you e-mails of the last two posts regarding virtualization. I did that thinking that you'd be interested based on the number of times you talk about virtualization at Between the Lines. Needless to say, this won't happen anymore.

    Regarding RSS feed by author on Direct2Dell... we're there now--I just haven't publicized it yet since we're still ironing out a couple of glitches.

    After living through the ups and downs of entering the conversation officially, I've found there's not one right way to do it, but there's millions of ways not to. The positive side of that is we can always change what doesn't work and try to get better.

    Thanks,

    Lionel Menchaca
    Digitial Media Manager, Direct2Dell
    lionel.menchaca
    • Thanks Lionel

      I appreciate the fast response and candor.

      I didn't mean to imply that something nefarious was afoot at Dell as each blog came out. But just the fact that PR appears tied to the release of a blog gives one the impression that the blog is tied to a business process that I don't think it should be tied to. That's not necessarily nefarious. It just works against the spirit of the blogosphere as I know it. When I read some of those blogs, I don't hear the voice of the people behind them. For example, I've interviewed Reza before. In fact, I interviewed him for a podcast from a Linuxworld a couple of years ago and I don't hear him speaking when I read his blog. In contrast, I hear Mark Lewis speaking when he writes his blog (at EMC). He makes it personal. If you know Sun's Jonathan Scwhartz, you can definitely hear him when you read his blogs. That's what I'm talking about. It's harder to connect with such an impersonal voice.

      I think its a good idea to have feeds per personality. Or, a single executive blog that's just Kevin and Michael or something like that. But, I'd encourage the execs to write more frequently than they do.

      And I agree that there's no single right way. Although I do believe that running PR campaigns around blogs might be a bad idea. I'm very thankful that this isn't a common practice. But, as the other commenter noted, no one died and made me an authority on blogging. So, that's me saying I'm thankful and I don't speak for anybody else but myself. So take what I say for what's it's worth. One person's opinion.
      dberlind
      • All good points...

        David, I agree with everything you said in the response. Before we launched Direct2Dell, we looked at several company blogs in the tech industry and out that do it right. Jonathan's blog was one of those and Channel 9 was another. They are both in our blogroll (and no I didn't just add them before this), and we encourage our bloggers to read them. While we're a long way from me walking into someone's cube with a video camera for an extended chat, the fact that we're here is a big change from Dell a year ago. That said, I do realize there's no substitute for good content.

        I'll make sure Reza and others see your comments about how important it is for all their individual voices to show through. That's definitely something that can be improved upon, especially as Dell bloggers get enough posts under their belts.

        --Lionel
        lionel.menchaca
  • so what

    who died and made you the authority of blogging
    andyILM
    • Nobody ....but....

      see my response to Dell's Lionel.
      dberlind
  • The Irony...

    Dell is not the only company that is having trouble understanding how to change its practices to adapt to the blog/RSS universe. I have my browser pointed at RSS feeds for ZDNet News and Blogs and yet I still get (unsolicited) email from ZDNet delivering me the days news updates. Now I am sure that there is probably an opt out that I need to check, but the point is that the economics of mass email make it a very attractive medium to use to drive traffic to a website. RSS feeds are not yet ubiquitous enough to cancel mass emails. Once the marketing folks start discovering the utility of RSS feeds, then we will hopefully see a more efficient use of the blogging paradigm.
    rkennel