RichardAtDell is at Third Tuesday

Richard BinhammerRichard Binhammer, RichardatDell, will be speaking at the Third Tuesday Ottawa and Third Tuesday Toronto social media gatherings on December 3 and 4.

Hear from one of Dell’s key social media architects

Dell is a prime case study of a company that took its lumps through social media. In the summer of 2006, the company was hit by two social media crises: Jeff Jarvis’ Dell Hell meme over his unhappiness with the company’s support service followed by exploding batteries on YouTube

Dell also is a prime example of a company that adopted social media as part of the response to its problems. The company launched Direct to Dell, a blog where real employees talk about Dell’s products and services and answer questions and issues raised by people in comments or in posts on their own blogs. It has buttressed that with a program of blogger relations, reaching out to bloggers to get to know them and become part of their community. It also has launched Dell IdeaStorm, a site that allows consumers to make suggestions to Dell and then enables the community to vote for or against these suggestions.

Richard Binhammer has been at the centre of Dell’s social media efforts from the outset. A key member of the Dell blogger outreach program, his comments, signed as RichardAtDell, appear across a broad range of blogs dealing with computing and social media. Recently, he stepped out front, launching his own blog, where he writes about corporate communications and social media relations.

Richard will be on hand at both Third Tuesday Ottawa and Third Tuesday Toronto to share the personal perspective he gained as one of the key players behind Dell’s drive to learn about and adopt social media best practices.

A Personal Connection

I’m especially looking forward to these event because I have a personal connection to Richard. I’m one of the bloggers that RichardAtDell reached out to as part of Dell’s blogger relations program.

Richard first made contact with me when I posted about a presentation that Robert Scoble made at a conference in September 2006. Within a couple hours of my post, I received a comment from RichardAtDell. That was the first of many comments, posts, shared links and emails that Richard exchanged with me about social media.

Third TuesdayLast winter, I invited Richard and his colleague, Lionel Menchaca, the principal force behind Direct to Dell, to visit Canada to speak to Third Tuesday. Lionel made it to Toronto for Third Tuesday and the Mesh Conference. However, the first game of the Senators first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance was scheduled for the same night as his planned Ottawa appearance. Anyone who knows Canada knows that you don’t compete with Stanley Cup fever in a hockey town. So, we had to cancel the Ottawa session.

However, when we cancelled the Third Tuesday Ottawa event, Richard was generous enough to indicate that he’d still make the trip at another date. Next week, he’s making good on this promise – appearing not only at Third Tuesday Ottawa, but also Third Tuesday Toronto and the Canadian Institute’s Conference on Social Media. On top of that, he’ll speak to a combined CPRS/IABC Ottawa luncheon while he’s here. That’s a lot of work for one person over just three days. But that’s also the way that Richard has approached social media. An all-in commitment.

So, if you’re near Ottawa or Toronto Monday and Tuesday, don’t miss this chance to meet and talk with RichardAtDell. Sign up to attend Third Tuesday Ottawa or to attend Third Tuesday Toronto.

Disclosure

My company, Thornley Fallis, has been using Dell computers since the company was founded in 1995. Today, we have Dell desktops, notebooks, servers, printers, and LCD projectors. I even bought a Dell LCD television for my family at Christmas last year. Dell’s 24 hour support lines have has always been there for me when I needed help. So, when Dell offered Thornley Fallis a chance to compete for an assignment with Dell Canada this past summer, we jumped at it. And I’m happy to say that we won the competition. So, now I work for Dell. That’s why I haven’t mentioned Dell in any posts for several months. But with Richard’s trip to Canada, I needed to post about his appearance at Third Tuesday. So, I thought I’d provide some of the background along with this disclosure. I hope that this meets an acceptable standard of transparency.

CNW GroupThanks to our sponsors

And thank you again CNW Group for sponsoring these events. Your support lets us focus on programming great events without an admission fee.

Related Posts:

Jeremiah Owyang and Geoff Livingston chronicle Dell’s social media saga

Jeff Jarvis updates the Dell story for Business Week. See also his original draft of the story.

Third Tuesday group on Facebook

 

I'm speaking Thursday night at an IABC Toronto AIP Seminar

IABC TorontoIf you’re in Toronto on Thursday evening, let’s talk about social media and blogger relations. That’s the topic that IABC Toronto’s Independent Practitioners group have asked me to address at their “Old Media vs. New Media” seminar.

When you visit the event page, you won’t see my name. But don’t worry, I’ll be there. I’m the “panel members (TBC)” :-)

If you read my blog, I’d love to see you there and to hear what you think about blogger relations and whether they matter when compared with traditional media relations.

Dell's Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca will speak at Third Monday

Exciting news for social media types in Canada: Dell’s Lionel Menchaca is making a swing through Ontario. On May 28, he will be the featured speaker at this month’s Third Monday social media meetup in Ottawa. Lionel MenchacaThe following day, he will be attending Third Tuesday in Toronto and then participating in a panel at the mesh conference.

Lionel Menchaca has been at the heart of Dell’s social media program. A 14-year Dell veteran, Lionel is the main blogger behind Direct2Dell. Beyond the blog, he works to coordinate Dell’s digital media activities. He says that, “These initiatives all have one thing in common: to provide Dell’s customers a way to interact or communicate feedback to the company.”

In my view, Dell stands out as a company that has learned how to engage with its community through social media. Last year, the company was delivered a double whammy of online videos showing Dell notebook computers going up in flames followed by Jeff Jarvis‘ now famous proclamation that he was in Dell Hell.

Third MondayThe company took its lumps. But it also learned from its experiences.

Since that time, Dell has launched a series of social media initiatives, including its Direct2Dell blog and Dell Ideastorm. It has demonstrated how a company’s relationship with its community can go from antagonistic to positive by using social media to personalize itself, to share its thinking and to solicit feedback. And most recently, through its embrace of community feedback regarding Linux on Dell computers, it has demonstrated that it can win back fans.

Third Monday-ers will have a chance to hear Lionel talk about how Dell has embraced social media and engaged its community.

Richard BinhammerAnd there’s a Canadian connection in Dell’s social media program. Richard Binhammer, who once worked on Parliament Hill during the Mulroney years and subsequently joined Dell’s PR agency and then Dell itself, has been a key member of the Dell blogger outreach program. Richard will be joining Lionel on his Canadian swing. We’ll be counting on Richard to add his first hand perspective on blogger relations.

If you’re interested in a great evening of intelligent discussion with others who are testing the potential of social media, register to attend this session at the Third Monday meetup site.

Blogs and crises

The final panel at NewComm Forum featured Brian Oberkirch, Josh Hallett, Joel Richman, and David Parmet, on Managing crisis communications in the blogosphere.

Joel Richman led off the session with the case of PubSub, in which one of the company’s founders suprised the company’s management and his cofounder by announcing the imminent demise of the company on his personal blog. As a result of the post, virtually all of the key employees quit and gave up on the company. Richman and Parmet were consulting to the company at the time this happened.

So, what did they learn from this experience? What do you do if employees air dirty laundry into the blogosphere?

Josh Hallett argued that the blogosphere is a different medium, but that communications professionals should apply the set of experience and skills that they have built up in traditional media. The tried and true best practices will work in the blogosphere.

And what of accuracy in the emotional statements that rattle around the blogosphere in a crisis? Hallet suggests that the free monitoring tools allow communicators to pick up inaccuracies quickly. Search engines also support quick retrieval of original source articles and quotes in order to verify accuracy and establish context. Using these will enable a crisis manager to respond quickly to misinformation.

Hallett advises Corporate communicators to prepare to respond to potential crises by researching and bookmarking relevant entries on Wikipedia

Brian Oberkirch pointed out that the blogosphere enables communicators to listen into the conversation before a crisis. To identify opinion leaders and to understand the major beliefs and mood of the discussion. This foreknowledge will enable a crisis manager to enter into the discussion more effectively.

“It’s not that behaviours are different. It’s that the speed of the behaviours is accelerated enormously.” This is a real challenge for corporate communicators and management processes that are geared to the slower pace of traditional Mainstream Media.

How about Taco Bell’s recent experience with the consumer generated video of rats infesting a Manhattan store? Taco Bell responded initially with statements and traditional releases. It was clear that these did not match the visceral impact of the video. Finally, after five days, the company posted a response video on youTube. Unfortunately, the company’s response was a talking head video of a corporate manager speaking in corporatese. Which do you think was more compelling? The consumer generated video or the company response?

Josh Hallett suggested that “The social manifesto for blogging is forcing corporations and organizations to behave more responsibly.” Communications advisers should remember this and advise their clients to alter behaviour that might lead to crises.

Brian Oberkirch suggests the Slidell Hurricane Blog as an example of the potential for social media to play a positive role in crises. Oberkirch began this blog to share information on the status of friends affected by a hurricane. As time passed, the community began to share broader information and the Blog for a period became the primary source of information for people affected by the Hurricane.

Oberkirch also points out that in times of civil emergencies, text messaging may still be working when other media have failed.

Josh Hallett suggests that local emergency measures organizations should also maintain a list of the most prolific and most read blogs in their area. In the time of a crisis, these people may be helpful in distributing and amplifying information.

Brian Oberkirch suggests that crisis planners should be looking in the early hours of a crisis to identify the voices that are speaking out in the crisis. They may come from unlikely places. But when they do speak, they have the same access to an audience as anyone else.

One of the audience members pointed out that it is better to think about blogs as “opportunity communications” not crisis communications. There are many new avenues of communication and opportunities to connect with communities and concerned people, not only during the crisis but in advance of a crisis.

Joel: “Have a plan. A plan will allow you to act much more quickly. … You can do a lot to shape the conversation. You’re not going to be able to control the conversation. But you will be able to influence it.”

Josh: “Act more responsibly.”

Last word to Brian Oberkirch: “There is no magic bullet. There’s a lot of stuff out there and it will take a lot of work.”

Strumpette has thin skin; gives me the treatment

Chris Clarke wrote something in the Blog Herald that Strumpette didn’t like. In a post in the Blog Herald on Friday, Chris wrote,

The PR community online is still growing. According to our official scorekeeper Constantin Basturea, the community almost doubled in 2006 to 630. Terrific, right? One would hope that with more PR blogs, the industry would be increasing it’s awareness of social media. More PR bloggers means more individuals telling their friends and colleagues, “Check out my blog.” Sadly, the second most-trafficked PR blogs is the self-appointed potty-mouthed ombudswoman of the PR community, Strumpette. Even when we do good, the bad stuff seems to stand out above the rest.

Well, it seems that Strumpette, used to visiting criticism on others, has a pretty thin skin. Chris’ post is time-stamped 11:00 January 12. At 11:15, my telephone rang and the first words I heard were, “Joe, it’s Brian Connolly.” Brian wanted to complain to me about what Chris had written. You see, I’m Chris’ employer and Brian felt that I was responsible for Chris’ scepticism about the merits of Strumpette.

Brian and I had a good long conversation. He made his points. Articulately. With some passion. He argued the importance in society of dissension. I listened and did not disagree with that. But I did tell him that I have a problem with people who attack the character of others from behind a veil of anonymity.

We had a good conversation that gave me some points to consider, but that did not persuade me to endorse Strumpette’s approach.

Well, a few minutes ago, I felt the fury of a Strumpette scorned. One of the anonymous Strumpettes has just written an attack piece targeted squarely at me, my firm and our approach to social media.

None of us will find total agreement with everything we say. There is merit in thinking through and expressing ideas and having them challenged. That’s how we learn. That’s how we move forward. That’s how we grow.

Social media provides channels through which new voices may be heard. Some will be intelligent and perceptive. Some will entertain. Some will educate. Others will seek to titillate and to appeal to baser instincts.

So, I’ve just had my Strumpette moment. It’s not nice. I have some scratches.

Time to move on.

BBS: Halley Suitt, Janet Johnson, and Buzz Bruggeman

The next session was a panel with Halley Suitt, Janet Johnson, and Buzz Bruggeman.This session was billed as: Engaging with Bloggers: Working the Blogosphere. It promised to provide insight into the right way to approach blogger relations.

Halley Suitt: “For starters, can you please know what I’m writing about? Read my blog. … Everybody should take a month and read the blogs you are interested in and read them before you approach them. … Even within similar blogs, there are different perspectives and interests.”

Janet Johnson: “I was the person in the other seat two years ago when Jason started to rant against people paying bloggers, when Marqui did it. … It’s really important to have people in the blogosphere know what you want from them. If I’m a blogger and you want me to write about you, be very honest about what you want. Bloggers want to help others. But they need to know what you are up to.”

Question: What do you need to do to prepare?

Halley Suitt: “You need and aggregator and you need to subscribe to RSS feeds.”

Janet Johnson: “I also go out on the blog search engines and type in keywords and names. And then I find the feeds that are talking about the subjects that I am interested in.”

Imagine my surprise when Buzz Breggeman decided to show the audience how technorati search feeds work and what comes up at the top of the search for Halley Suitt? My ProPR post!

Buzz Breggeman: If you are a PR company that wants to pitch a company to help them, try their product BEFORE you call them.

Halley Suitt: If you are pitching me, include lots of data and all the necessary background.

Halley Suitt said that she had engaged a public relations agency for her company. And she was impressed that the PR people talked to her about a post on her blog. “They had read it. They showed they cared.”

Buzz Breggeman: “You don’t get points for shyness. You don’t get points for staying away from interesting topics. In my own blog, I only write once about every six or seven posts about my company. But most of my posts are about customers. What they need. What they are saying.”

“How do you engage a blogger? Read the comments. You’ll find whose interested in what topics. Most of the conversation goes on in the comments, not on the main posts.”

IABC International Conference – Tod Maffin

Tod MaffinTod Maffin. Let’s say that again. Tod Maffin. That about says it all.

Podcaster, blogger and CBC radio broadcaster Tod Maffin provided a “roll-in-the-aisles funny case for the power of social media. Solid ideas illustrated by real world examples. 

And he made a great case for buying the IABC DVD video of the keynote presentations. I just couldn’t stop laughing long enough to catch up with Maffin’s delivery.

Agents of the old order, be very very afraid. Cause Tod Maffin and his blogging legions are ready to swarm.

“Bottom line: Tod Maffin. Nuff said.

Oh, and one more thing. Remember the keywords. Right, Tod Maffin?

Mesh Day Two: How to Engage the Blogosphere

Michael O’Connor Clarke moderated this panel of Nathan Rudyk, Sarah Spence and David Carter.

Highlights:

Nathan Rudyk

  • “For a small business, you can blog and blog effectively. Use targeted keywords.”

Sarah Spence

  • “First, you need to know what’s happening in your space. Who’s in your space? Who are your competitors? Who’s offering similar services? … Talk not just about you. Talk about your industry. Get engaged in the conversation that’s already going on. Then, develop your own voice.”
    David Carter
  • “The power of blogs is that a blog equals a person.” Have multiple blogs for multiple groups of employees and multiple interests.

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Small to mid-size company: Who’s going to blog? … In a small company, it’s hard to convince senior executives to blog. … In one company, we identified ten people with customer contact. … You can harness those people. … Team blogs. It’s absolutely a way to go. Harness people with passion and put them in a team context.”

Sarah Spence

  • “We’re still figuring out how to enage bloggers. … When I was at Orange, we launched a Microsoft SmartPhone. When we launched what we found were that there were a lot of people out there who were writing about the phone. … One of the PR people realized that there were all kinds of people writing about the phone. … We just started to talk to people. We were transparent about it. … We brought them into our product launches. We gave them products ahead of time so that they could review them.”

David Carter

  • “The conversation is going on without you. And if you don’t get into the conversation, people will talk about you and you won’t have a voice. … To engage these people, first of all you acknowledge them. Thank them and respond to their comments.”

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Om Malik talked about the death of trade press to blogging. … For our clients, we are engaging the bloggers who are becoming, in fact, the new trade press.”

David Carter

  • “To make the case for blogging, I ask clients how much time they spend on emails. And I suggest that they put in an equal amount of time on engaging bloggers.”

Sarah Spence

  • “You can measure conversations, hit rates and comment trackbacks. … A lot of it is about moving organizations to appreciate the accessibility of blogs.”

David Carter

  • The one thing to convince executives to blog: “The conversation is happening without you anyway.”

Nathan Rudyk

  • “Start internally with an internal blog or Wiki.”

Sarah Spence

  • “At Orange, we found our employees were doing it anyway. And you can either harness that or try to ignore it. But you can’t shut it down.”

Sarah Spence

  • “We are just at the point of getting our clients there. And a lot of our clients aren’t ready.”
  • “In pitching bloggers, there’s a difference between the enthusiasts who are already out there discussing a topic and those people you are trying to start a conversation with.”

Blogger Relations: The Importance of Transparency Underlined

I just had the experience of being checked out by a blogger that one of the consultants I work with had contacted via email. And this definitely underlines the importance of being transparent, truthful and straightforward in any blogger relations initiative.

Recently, one of my colleagues at Thornley Fallis, Keelan Green, sent an email to the authors of The Torch, a blog he had been reading for the past month. The Torch had featured a number of posts that discussed Canada’s moves to replace its fleet of tactical transport and Search and Rescue aircraft. Keelan identified our firm as the Canadian public relations firm for Alenia and Lockheed Martin, two of the companies whose C-27J and C-130J aircraft are being considered for this purpose. Keelan offered to provide the authors of the Torch with the same information that we provide to mainstream media. He also provided the URLs for www.c-27j.ca and www.c-130j.ca, the Canadian websites that provide information on both aircraft and their suitability to Canada’s needs.

One of the The Torch bloggers, Paul Synnott, was prompted by Keelan’s email to take a close look at us on his personal Blue Blogging Soapbox blog. He did a pretty thorough job researching our online presence and quoting both from Keelan’s email and relevant passages from some of my earlier blog posts.

Happily, we seem to have passed his test for transparency and genuine commitment to blogging and the conversation it supports. in fact, he concludes that we are “A savvy firm not afraid to embrace a new and changing landscape.”

Public relations practitioners should accept that this level of scrutiny of our actions and how they line up with previous statements will become routine in the blogosphere. What we have said and done is not buried in paper files or hard-to-search microfiche. It is in fact easily and readily available to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

The bottom line: Avoid shortcuts. If you conclude that the blogosphere is important to you, establish your own voice first. Go ahead, contact the bloggers who you think are the most influential. But let the rest of the world see that you are prepared to say in public what you private encourage an intermediary to talk about.