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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Damien Cummings: Social Media Q&A

What motivates you to be involved in social media?

Social media is a fundamental shift in business and communications – it’s something you need to be involved in stay in the game. That might sound like a grandiose statement but I truly feel that social media will have as big an impact on our business as the invention of the Internet and our move into e-commerce. It’s like the telephone. Many years ago there used to be “telephone departments” and people with “telephone” in their job title. It was a niche area for experts that understood this amazing technology. Nowadays, there’s a telephone on everyone’s desk and a mobile phone in everyone’s pocket and it’s deeply integrated into everything we do. There are no longer specialists, it’s just how business gets done. Social media is exactly the same. In 5 years time I see it deeply integrated into the online, retail and call centre buying path for our customers, social media training will be part of all new employees induction into Dell and we’ll even encourage all of our team members to Tweet, Blog and spread their thoughts and ideas to customers through social media. It’s amazing to think that this could even radically transform our customer service and marketing teams. For example, do we need “faceless” marketers if a customer can talk directly to the team designing our products? It’s an incredibly interesting (and somewhat scary!) future. I’m really passionate and motivated by this.

What tools do you use and how does social media help you perform your role?

Chatter is a fantastic tool for sharing information and insight with internal teams. Externally, I use Twitter and LinkedIn to publish a lot of “thought leadership” material on digital marketing, e-commerce and social media. I also have a Blog “Digital Future” but I feel bad because it’s not updated as often as it should be. I also often check out local forums and blogs to see what customers are saying about Dell, our products and the website experience (my day job!). It’s fantastic to get real-time, honest feedback from customers on what we’re doing right and where we can improve. I use Facebook quite a bit, but more to check out Brand pages and applications, less about personal use. I keep Facebook for my private time and limit this to friends, family and close colleagues.

Before you really got involved, did you have to overcome any fears about it? If so, what kind of fears?

I’m probably one of the exceptions to this, as I’ve been in digital marketing for over 15 years and absolutely live and breathe new technologies like social media. However, privacy is still one of my key concerns. I love connecting with people via social media but I clearly keep my professional contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter, with my friends on Facebook (or other closed networks). Location-based services such as Foursquare are a concern, as it’s easy to get excited about “checking in” and forget that not everyone has the best intentions (i.e. an extreme example: you’re signaling to thieves that you’ve left your house!) but the potential benefits and sensible use really offset this. The other worry I have is that everything you do on the Internet and in social media is permanent. You can never have a bad day and vent your frustrations – there’s always going to be a record of unruly behavior, so it’s important to think before hitting Enter.

What are the obstacles to getting involved in social media?

One of the biggest issues is finding the time to share thoughts, ideas and excellent content. I do a lot of my online research first thing in the morning or in the evening and then I put all my Tweets and other content into a scheduling app called Buffer (www.bufferapp.com). This way my content is sharing throughout the day and I can focus on periodically checking Twitter, LinkedIn and my Blog for comments or questions. This is a wonderful time-saver and really helps coordinate my use of social media.
The other challenge is understanding what social media platforms to be involved in – there are now so many! Personally, I use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family (people who I’ve actually met and would have a beer with) but not for professional connections. Twitter is great for forming an “interest graph” – in my case this is people who are interested in my thoughts on digital marketing, e-commerce and social media. I also use the same content on LinkedIn to reach a more broad, professional audience. I also have a profile on Ushi.com, Sina Weibo, Friendster (although I never use this) and MySpace (remember MySpace? I don’t use it anymore but at one point in time it was great!)

Are there people you modeled your social media efforts on? If so, who?

There are a number of excellent social media news outlets that I read every day: Mashable, TechCrunch, Business Insider and Penn Olson (in Asia). These blogs/publications are really valuable for getting to the pulse of what’s happening in the social world. As for people, I tend not to look at the usual US social media leaders and look more for great content in Asia. Since my role is already very digitally focused, I seek out my colleagues in similar organizations (Marketing and Digital/Online leaders at companies like Microsoft and Intel) and at our competitors (Apple, HP, RIM, Nokia, etc). It’s great to get fired up with a strong sense of competition when you see that we’re pulling ahead of our rivals – everything is much more transparent and real-time in social media, and I get a great sense of how we’re doing competitively in real-time. On an individual basis, we are very lucky to have one of the most social media savvy CEOs ever. Michael is a real inspiration and we’re very lucky he’s been such an advocate of social media. This strong executive support has fundamentally transformed Dell and is one of the big reasons customers see us as forward thinking and innovative. First we got the direct model right, then e-commerce and now it’s social media. This makes me proud to work at Dell.

How would you quantify the ROI you’ve experienced in social media, personally and professionally?

On a personal note, I’ve met a lot of excellent professional networking contacts that have made me more successful. This has been done through LinkedIn and Twitter. Internally, Chatter has allowed me to connect to people in other parts of Dell that I wasn’t aware of previously. Dell really does operate through a network of informal contacts in a highly matrixed organization, so Chatter is a great tool for helping build those relationships. In a business sense, there’s an even more clear ROI. In my role managing APJ digital and e-commerce, I see fantastic returns from our group buying and social merchandising activities. There’s also great benefits when you think about social networks as a CRM platform. We have customers who have given us their contact information, are willing to be contacted and, like email, we see increasing return on investment over time. The critical issue here is that we need to maintain the conversation with our customers every day – reinforcing Dell brand values, discussing how awesome our products and are how much we care about our customer’s needs.
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