Opened with much fanfare in December 2010, the Social Media Listening Command Center inside the Dell campus in Round Rock, Texas, of which I received a personalized tour last week, provided for an interesting peek inside the social media operations of one of the largest technology companies in the world.  

The social media initiative is parsed into three separate but related initiatives:

S.O.S.:  Social Operations and Service, which resolves nearly 2,000 customer service issues per week via social media, with an impressive 35% conversion rate.

SMaC: Social Media and Community, which is the bulk of the team, providing social media guidance for the rest of the company primarily through certification and training of employees.  Currently, 3,297 of Dell’s 103,300 employees are certified by ‘SMaC U’, or the Social Media and Community University that administers courses that provide guidance and oversight on utilizing social media on the job at Dell.  Four courses are needed for certification.

Command Center:  The operation in which 12 full-time employees across the globe monitor real-time social data in 11 languages.

But beyond the numbers -- I was feverishly trying to remember everything our tour guide, Amy, was saying, because there are no printed materials for the press -- I wanted to learn more about any changes, surprises, lessons learned, or insights which Dell has experienced in the year in which the company has operated the Social Media Center.  In the tour, and then later through a meeting with Richard Binhammer, Dell’s Director of Social Media and Community, here’s what I came up with:

Social media needs to be operationalized and pervasive.
Besides the dedicated social media team, individual sales and product groups are encouraged to use social media -- to monitor what is being said on the social networks and also to be trained to officially communicate and represent the company socially.  

As such, no single department is completely responsible for social media at Dell.  There is a central team which monitors activity, trains employees, and crunches data, but the entire company is encouraged to harness the medium to do their jobs better.

Use a good monitoring vendor, but also create your own analytics mashup.
Dell is proud of its social media listening and monitoring provider, Radian6, which clearly has one of the most scalable, robust products (and happens to be only one of 4 companies that subscribes to the entire Twitter firehose).  

However, even with a strong analytics partner, Dell admits that it had to build some proprietary software to track sentiment, especially as it drills down among consumer and various enterprise segments.  Indeed, even for a social media operation the size of Dell’s, customization of monitoring software -- to glean unique insights -- is important.

Sales are just one measure of ROI, but shouldn’t be the only thing tracked (or celebrated).
One of my last questions of the day was asking Binhammer, ‘So, how’s @DellOutlet doing?’  I was referring to a wildly successful Twitter campaign in which it became known in social media circles that a single Twitter handle at a large, Fortune 500 corporation was solely responsible for millions of dollars in sales.  This was close to 3 years ago, but I still remember Dell being the poster child for ‘social media ROI’ -- a company that could map hard dollars to social media.  

Rather than sounding as excited as I was, Binhammer quickly noted that measuring Twitter success as merely a ‘cash register’ is ill-advised; Twitter traffic also leads to heightened awareness and additional traffic back to the main Dell.com homepage, in addition to sales.  With a more robust social media presence since 2009, and continued inventory swings at the Dell Outlet, the company has actually stopped tracking separate sales for the @DellOutlet Twitter handle.  

This clearly was refreshing for me, for as an analyst, as I am continually being asked to speak about social media ROI.  If Dell, could see past pure sales figures as a measure of success -- and less than 30% of Dell’s revenues are from consumers -- then there is hope for other companies as well.

I hope to return to Dell later on this year for additional social media insights.  Stay tuned.