Meet RichardAtDell at Third Tuesdays in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Vancouver

RichardAtDell is coming to Canada next month to speak at Third Tuesdays in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Vancouver. We’ll lead off with Third Tuesday Toronto #TTT on Monday, November 8, Third Tuesday Ottawa #TTO on Tuesday, November 9, Third Tuesday Calgary #CTT on Wednesday, November 10 and Third Tuesday Vancouver #TTV on Thursday, November 11.

Dell is one of the best known and longest standing case studies of the successful use of social media. It might well not have turned out this way. In fact, Dell was one of the early examples of a company on the receiving end of viral criticism and anger. Rather than go into a shell or attack its critics, Dell chose to enter the social media discussion, learn from it, win friends, and gradually turn things around. Today, Dell uses social media for many purposesw, including to connect with customers, build brand and as a retail channel.

RichardAtDell, aka Richard Binhammer, has been from the outset one of the constants in Dell’s social media presence. I first experienced Richard’s outreach as far back as 2006 when he commented on a post on my blog in which I’d written about a presentation by Robert Scoble in which Scoble had recounted the story of Jeff Jarvis’ upset with Dell. Richard reached out to me at a time when my blog had relatively few subscribers, acknowledging their problems but asking me whether I’d be prepared to acknowledge the efforts they were making to listen and act upon what they were being told. I was blown away just by the fact that a company at the other end of the continent would pay attention to me, let alone actually acknowledge me by coming into my place, my blog, to have a discussion. And yes, that made me a fan of RichardAtDell and Dell’s approach to social media.

Well, it’s not 2006 anymore. A lot has changed. And RichardAtDell has been there to experience the evolution of social media first hand. As the saying goes, he’s forgotten more than many of us ever will learn.

I hope that you’ll join us at Third Tuesday to hear from one of the leading corporate social media practitioners as he talks with us about the journey he’s been on, the path we’re following, and where he sees things going in the future.

Look for details and registration info in the next few days on each of the Third Tuesday Ottawa #TTO, Third Tuesday Toronto #TTT, Third Tuesday Calgary #CTT, and Third Tuesday Vancouver #TTV websites.

Thank you to our sponsors.

Once again, I’d like to thank our sponsors – CNW Group, Rogers Communications, Radian6, and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. Your sponsorship makes it possible for us to bring great speakers not just to Toronto, but to Third Tuesdays across the country. You make third Tuesday a truly Canadian affair.

To whet your appetite

If you’re not familiar with the Dell story and RichardAtDell, you can get a taste of what we’ll be talking about at Third Tuesday by watching this video. Enjoy.

Customer service is the new marketing

Freshbooks lives in the open wilds of social media. The officers and employees blog and use twitter. Customers respond in kind. So far, all has been good. But what happens when a disgruntled customer attacks?

Michael McDerment argues that by being transparent and proactively communicating with people, a company like Freshbooks builds up a reservoir of good will that causes most people to hold their fire when the company trips up.

Saul Colt tries to handle the situations in which people are angry. His approach: “First rule, you can never win one of these arguments. So treat people with the utmost class and respect. Never get into a shouting match. Kill these people with kindness. If they have a problem, try to work it out in the most level headed way. Never ignore people. I try to answer any blog post we can find, even if it’s a ‘hey we love you’ post. … We really believe that customer service is the new marketing.”

Saul provides an example of how Freshbooks dealt with an actual disgruntled customer. Watch the video to get the complete story.

Final note. This is the last of the series of posts with videos of Freshbooks’ appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto . I hope that you found them interesting and informative.

Other clips with Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt :

A Fresh(books) approach to social media by Dave Fleet

Building a Winning Team

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Online media deliver results. But traditional media still add legitimacy

There’s no shortcut past setting realistic expectations

You have to trust people

You have to trust people

It should be apparent from the series of posts about Michael McDerment ’s and Saul Colt ’s session at Third Tuesday that Freshbooks is a very social media savvy organization.

Not only does CEO Michael McDerment blog, but at least five other employees also blog. And there will likely be more.

So the obvious question: What will you do if one of your employees messes up and gives out a company secret or does something to hurt the company? Do you try to curb your employees’ blogging?

Michael McDermont: “It comes back to hiring. You’ve got to find people with shared values. And at the end of the day you have to trust people. … That’s the best you can do.”

It strikes me that this is a problem for large organizations which, by their nature, lose the ability to ensure fit between employees and company culture. But having acknowledged that, for organizations that still are of a size where this is practical, McDerment focuses on exactly the right place – management’s hiring decisions and attitudes.

Other clips with Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt :

A Fresh(books) approach to social media by Dave Fleet

Building a Winning Team

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Online media deliver results. But traditional media still add legitimacy

There’s no shortcut past setting realistic expectations

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

How many entrepreneurs woke up and said to themselves. Eureka! I’ve got a great idea. I’m going to set up a business so that I can spend all my time doing invoices.

The answer? None. Er. Check that. Maybe one. Michael McDerment .

Four years ago, Michael founded Freshbooks which offers small businesses online invoicing.

Look around your current business. You may find a new, better business opportunity

In this video clip from Freshbooks’ appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto, Freshbooks founder MIchael McDerment gives heart to anyone who dreams about leaving behind the sell-it-by-the-hour business model. He was running a services company and found that he needed an invoicing program. So, he built it. And that’s the foundation of what today is Freshbooks.

See other posts and videos of Freshbooks’ appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto:

Dave Fleet had a good overview of the event: A Fresh(books) approach to social media

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people.

Freshbooks has been very successful in establishing an online community of fans, customers and promoters. Third Tuesday Toronto moderator Michael O’Connor Clarke found 1,664 blog posts mentioning Freshbooks. He asks, how has this Toronto-based startup cultivated this level of awareness and attention?

Says Freshbooks’ Saul Colt : “We have a really good product. But we don’t push our product…. We want to tell the stories of our customers and make everything about the company compelling. … We try to push the unique values of our company, the different sort of things that we’re doing and that’s the kind of thing that gets people talking.”

“Invoicing isn’t the sexiest thing in the world. But there are amazing stories that come out of how we are saving people time, how we are making their lives easier. … We’re actually letting people do the thing that they love doing. When you were a kid, no one dreamt of doing invoices. You dreamt of being a PR person, or being a superhero or whatever. So, we’re actually letting you do that stuff and we’re saving you all this time while you’re doing it. We’re giving you your life back. We’re giving you your job back. So that you can do what you actually want to do. And that is why people talk about us, because it’s much more than just a product.”

Later in the evening, O’Connor Clarke asked Michael McDerment to tell The Triscuits story. Brief version: A resident of Fiji responded to a blog post McDerment had written about Triscuits, indicating that he can’t get Triscuits on Fiji, but that he’d love to. McDerment sent him a box of Triscuits. The fellow on Fiji wrote a blog post about McDerment’s gesture which was picked up by other bloggers – and Freshbooks ended up being talked about positively because of it.

Says McDerment, “It was born out of doing just what seemed natural. How would you like to be treated? Well, this is how.”

Adds Colt: “It’s really about being authentic. … Stories like that you do not because you’re hoping it will grow into something. You do it because it’s part of what you are. And that’s really part of the personality of Freshbooks. … And that’s also why a lot of people talk about us, because the company actually has a personality as opposed to a faceless, nameless corporation.”

Interested in reading more about what Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt have to say? You may want to take a look at: Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers .

Freshbooks execs listen and respond to customers

What’s one of the secrets to success for a startup company fine tuning its offering to respond to customer needs? At Third Tuesday Toronto , Michael McDerment and Saul Colt of Freshbooks said that the top executives of the company regularly take support calls from customers.

This was “born out of necessity,” says Freshbooks founder McDerment. “I read the first three and a half years of every support request that came through. We were a pretty small company at that time.” Now that the company is growing, new support systems are being put in place. But, McDerment insists that the involvement of senior executives in support calls “is conscious and it is something we’re going to hold on to. … Just to ground you, it’s huge. Because otherwise, you start thinking, ‘we don’t need to change the products. We just need to sell more.’ …“ I’m doing more support now than I ever used to because I’m afraid of losing that touch.”

Here’s the clip. (Yes, the lighting is bad. But the content of what Michael and Saul were saying was just so strong, I really wanted to share it. We’ll get better lighting for future Third Tuesday events.)

But execs aren’t expected to be up to speed on technical issues, are they? How does Freshbooks ensure that their execs have the technical knowledge to respond to the support calls they take? Says McDerment, “For the most part, tech support for us is answering simple questions and holding people’s hands. … We build teams … a marketing person, a development person, a management person all doing support on the same day. So they get to spend time together, communicate, collaborate, get things done, get all the answers within a team.”

Now, you may be sceptical about whether the company actually lives this every day. Well, spontaneous validation was provided by Connie Crosby , a Freshbooks client, who spoke up to offer her story about how Saul Colt had responded to her support request late on a weekend night.


I’ll post more Freshbooks at Third Tuesday Toronto clips over the next week.

Freshbooks at Third Tuesday Toronto video series

Freshbooks is an online invoicing and time-tracking service that is making book-keeping and invoice preparation a lot easier for small businesses.

Freshbooks Founder Michael McDerment and Saul Colt , Head of Magic (yep, that’s what his business card says) recently gave the Third Tuesday Toronto participants an insiders’ view of how they have built this Web 2.0 startup.

In the next series of posts, I’m going to publish video excerpts from their presentation, each of which has been edited to capture a single topic or theme. I think you’ll find Michael and Saul’s clips chock full of good ideas and tips for setting up a successful small business and harnessing social media to promote it and connect with users.

Corporate Blogging: The Ecology of Participation

Stowe Boyd moderated a panel at Enterprise 2.0 of Anil Dash, Suw Charman, Sam Weber and Oliver Young that dealt with the challenge of corporations embracing blogging.

Suw Charman suggested that the interested question is not whether enterprises can introduce blogs (the answer is yes) but HOW they should do this. Asking whether blogs can be used in corporations is a bit like asking whether pen and paper can be used in business.

The question is what do you want to use them for. What problem do we have that blogs can solve? The answer will be different from company to company and within different groups and levels within companies. The answer comes down to what people need and want.

Internal blogs can meet the need that employees have to know their fellow workers, identify those with information they need and share information with others.

External blogs can fill the need that customers have to peer behind the curtains of the companies that they deal with. Companies can use this to build relationships with customers and to develop a presence within the community.

Blogs are like a hammer. You can build virtually anything with it. A blog can be anything you want it to be. It can put a human face on the company. Ask for customer input on new products. Provide a place for fans to find out information about the product or service. Distribute essential information to employees as an alternative to email (reducing email spam, hurray!), distributing news and background information.

Culture is the key issue in introducing blogs into a corporation. Both ensuring that the culture of blogging and the expectation of the community is understood and ensuring that the corporate culture is able to embrace these expectations and mores.

Oliver Young suggested that a recent Forrester Research study showed that the business value of blogs is still rated fairly low.

Six Apart‘s Anil Dash responded that this is not surprising given how early we are in the cycle of the development of blogs. To even get 17% is an extraordinary success.

Young suggested that part of the problem may be that too many people have unrealistic or unfocussed expectations of blogs. Consequently, it’s not surprising if they become frustrated.

One of the audience members interjected that the “Discoverability” of blogs raises their risk factor. Many corporations are wary of encouraging employees to post information because of the potential that well-intentioned writings may later cause problems.

Charman pointed out that this makes the case for a blog policy that makes it clear to employees about what is or is not acceptable. She also noted that many banks have implemented Wikis instead of blogs because Wikis have a change history.

Oliver Young noted that firms that don’t introduce corporate blogs are not risk free. It is difficult to imagine that there are any companies that do not have any employees who blog – whether the company knows it or not. So, education about social media and a blogging policy should be undertaken by all companies, even those who are not contemplating introducing corporate blogs.

Small business corporate culture fits social media

I began my last morning at NewComm Forum with a session by Zane Safrit and John Cass on The importance of corporate culture to the success of social media programs.

Safrit is CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, a small business in the phone and web conferencing business.

Safrit indicated that CCU abandoned traditional advertising in favour of social media.

He saw cost of paid search engine marketing increasing substantially at a time that he was cutting prices and costs. So, they pulled out of traditional advertising, including pay per click on Google and Yahoo.

They did not make a considered entry into social media. Instead, they were driven by necessity. Safrit was looking for a way to convey the unique attribute of his brand – the company’s employees.

He came across Seth Godin and was impressed with the potential of blogging for having conversations with customers. He tried it and learned through experience “There is nothing that cuts through that clutter like a blog – like a CEO’s blog.”

Safrit characterizes his corporate culture as “a band of creative control freaks. … Our brand is that little bit of space between the customers and everyone in the company. … I’ll do anything I can to give them the tools they need. … What everybody began to understand is that for us to be successful when we come to work we need to communicate very well.”

The IT Department can be a problem for this type of program. But it is essential to ensure that IT serves the strategy and doesn’t try to set it.

Safrit began his blogging as a personal project. And he did it this way for about a year. He moved it into the company strategy only when he felt comfortable that it would work for the group.

He then proposed to each of the company’s eight employees that they begin blogging. And he encouraged and guided them in their efforts. Some found that it wasn’t for them. Others thrived. And as the social media took hold, Safrit made social media the focus of the company’s marketing

Now, the company’s online press room features their employee bloggers front and center. There are also RSS feeds for the company newsletter and the Safrit’s CEO blog.

CCU also uses a Wiki for internal collaboration and discussions. Safrit encourages everyone to contribute, freely and openly, to the discussion. And he posts his own ideas on the Wiki. And by doing this, he believes that he sets a standard that encourages employees to feel comfortable to communicate honestly. It’s taken about a year for people to begin to feel comfortable that they can participate in this way.

Safrit believes that training is very important in introducing blogging into a corporate environment. “You have to tell people how it fits into the overall plan at the same time as you help them to learn how to use it.”

“I want something back from my investment in this. What I want back is participation.”

Are there social media best practices?

An all star panel of Shel Israel, Giovanni Rodriguez, Debbie Weil, Josh Hallett and John Cass, chaired by Mike Manuel, tackled Best practices for corporate blogging and social media programs.

 John Cass led off with a preview of the SNCR’s best practices study. What are the underpinnings of successful corporate blogging?

  • Culture: The company must have a culture that values feedback and is open to what its customers, clients and employees are telling them
  • Trust: A company must really trust its employees to behave responsibly.
  • Training is important. Blogging has its own special culture and conventions. Employees must be provided with training to understand how to do it well.

Josh Hallett focused his initial comments on Blog design. Too many times organizations place their blogs on free or minimum-cost blog platforms. They don’t own their own domain names. This can present problems later. Every corporation should invest in securing their domain name and ensuring that they own their content.

Do corporate bloggers require a lot of technical knowledge? Not really. What they need to remember is that what looks easiest may not be. And so they should seek advice from others with the necessary technical skills.

 Shel Israel,advised that it’s time to take some risks. If you take risks, you will make some mistakes. But what’s different and unique for people and corporations who blog is that it allows others to see that the company or organization is composed of humans. Fallible. Forgivable.

How about worst practices? When a blog becomes focused on numbers, it loses its focus on what makes blogs worthwhile: passion and distinctive voice.

 Debbie Weil noted that in most conversations about social media, blogs are listed first. And she tied this to their ease of use, broad adoption and the fact that very often the most original ideas appear first on blogs.

Best practices? Confront your fear. Fear of losing control. Fear of criticism. Fear of new technologies.

Embrace experimentation. Be prepared to make some mistakes. If you don’t do that, you won’t learn.

Honesty. Openness. Transparency. It’s not just about blogs. It’s about a new way of doing business that customers are demanding. You need to open your culture – even if it’s just for you employees.

 Giovanni Rodriguez talked about the experience of social media in the Bay area. He noted that there is some degree of insularity in the Valley.

Something has happened in the PR world that is quite profound. For years, we have been niched in a small area – media relations. As a result of social media, we have been able to talk to people directly. We’re using different tools that enable that. Blogging has shown that we are ready to speak. But many people have not yet learned how to listen. It requires fine understanding of how to read people and their concerns.

It’s not a world for everyone. Blogging requires a lot of time and commitment. We can’t and shouldn’t expect the entire world to become bloggers. But we should expect people to learn the lessons of conversation that it illustrates.

The five panelists engaged in a free-wheeling discussion of the relationship between marketing, public relations and blogging.

ROI? Shel Israel: What is the ROI of the phone on your desk? Of the Corporate CEO speaking at a conference like this? Of a corporate contribution to Katrina victims?

Giovanni Rodriguez: A recent study shows that the people who are most interested in the potential for blogging and conversations are the CEOs. CFOs seem to be talking a different language. Don’t underestimate the importance of this senior executive appetite for converstion. But to realize the potential, it will be important for PR people to learn to speak a different language to reach the CFOs in terms they can understand and will value.

Is blogging the flavour of the month? Debbie Weil: Blogging is the next generation of interactive Web platform. It defines the new standard.

Shel Israel: We want companies to behave as responsibly as out spouses do. And the tools are there to do that. For those that fail to do this, they will pay a price.

John Cass: Companies will come to blogging from a different starting point. And therefore they’ll go through different stages and focus on different things. A good example of this is Dell. They started out as a company that eschewed blogging. When they launched their first blog, they had a policy on it suggesting that it was not the place to post questions about customers service and individual problems. But once they started blogging and found that customers ignored that policy, they learned from it. And over time they began to loosen up. This points out that companies can try things in steps. They don’t have to be right the first time. They can adjust and they can improve. What counts is that they move forward.