What do you do? Dude, you're getting a blog.
But, dude, even the One2One Dell blog (dellone2one.com) faced criticism at first. Dell's learning many lessons the hard way. We'll look at four such lessons as they relate to search engine optimization and reputation management.
A few essential notes of housekeeping: Joe Kutchera of CNNMoney.com first sent me the link to Dell's blog. The lessons below were largely derived from a panel on corporate blogging I moderated at Frost & Sullivan's insight-packed Internet Marketing Strategies event in Boston last week starring Chris Howe (Avid Technology), Shel Israel (author, Naked Conversations), Jeremiah Owyang (Hitachi Data Systems and blogger of Web Strategy by Jeremiah), and Cara Shockley (Hewlett-Packard). These experts par excellence on blogs as a marketing channel all greatly contributed to this column.
Now, four lessons from the blogging dudes at Dell:
1) Search engine optimization matters. Checking the first page of Google for the query "exploding laptop," Dell is featured in all ten positions, including a reference on ExplodingLaptop.com (there really are Web sites for everything).
That's hardly a popular search term. How about "Dell Computer," the second most frequently searched term with the brand? Result number five in Google is titled "consumer complaints about Dell Computer." As for "Dell laptop," result number three is "Dell laptop explodes at Japanese conference," followed by a similar result two spots lower. As for searches on Dell itself, the blog by Jeff Jarvis recounting his painful Dell experiences under the header "Dell Hell" sometimes appears on the bottom of page one.
While Dell's corporate sites rank well for branded terms, a blog, especially one with thoughtful content that attracts links from blogs and media outlets, can help its natural search visibility. Dell's corporate sites give it a search presence; the blog gives it a voice.
2) Search engine optimization doesn't matter. Yes, the inverse applies too. This was best expressed on the Frost panel by Jeremiah Owyang, who noted that the only way Dell can truly combat negative public relations is to be a better company.
The exploding laptop can be written off as a fluke, though a memorable one. Yet every post about that episode has the word "Dell" all over it. Why does it matter what brand laptop it is? People don't inherently associate spontaneous combustion with the company, but so many consumers are incensed with Dell's service that they're especially eager to flame the company (a pun Shel Israel couldn't resist making on stage).
While Dell's blog initially was fairly dry, it has since started addressing hot-button issues. Dell admitted in a blog post, "When you contacted us to fix a problem we didn't always act like 'one Dell.'" Even if a company could have addressed concerns like this before via traditional channels, this blog post feels far more intimate.
3) It pays to have thick skin. Some of the initial responses to Dell's blog were hardly what Dell was hoping for. Jarvis wrote, "So Dell is starting a blog. Ha. Heh. Ho ho ho. ... The subtitle is 'direct conversations with Dell,' but this is as much a conversation as yelling at a brick wall." Blogger Steve Rubel chimed in, "Dell really failed to get the blog going the way that they could have." What did Dell do about it? It linked to the criticism and then used the feedback to improve the blog.
The harshest critics came around. After Dell tackled sensitive topics, Jarvis responded, "The latest post on Dell's blog finally addresses the dead, decomposing, stinking elephant in the room: customer service... Now that's more like it... They are finally addressing the real issue they should be facing in a conversation with their customers."
4) It's never too late. Dell's issues are hardly new, and every company deals with detractors, growing pains, shifting business trends, and countless dynamic factors. While not every company needs a blog, brands that are frequent topics of public discourse need to share their voice.
The most important action a company like Dell can take is listening. It should listen to what people are searching for, listen to what people are saying about the company, and then listen to what people are saying about the blog. That will ensure all its actions are addressing real consumer needs.
Dell has already figured that out. In addressing its service and other issues on the blog, Dell's customer experience director wrote, "Since May, we have been searching thousands of blogs that mention Dell every day to see what we can learn and to identify problems we can solve."
In one sentence, she summed up the value proposition for blogs that every CMO and CEO needs to understand. By searching blogs and then by adding its voice, a company doesn't just gain a better search presence--it gains the intelligence it needs to be a better business.