Dell, IBM use social media to engage consumers

21 January 2010

NEW YORK: Dell, IBM and Samsung are all attempting to use social media to engage with consumers and gain an understanding of perceptions of their brands.

Dell, the computer manufacturer, previously reported that it has generated sales of over $6.5 million (€4.6m; £4.0m) via its presence on Twitter, the microblogging service.

Manish Mehta, vice president for social media and community at the company, argued its activity on this type of portal is the latest evolution of its long-term approach to harnessing the potential of the web.

"Social media outreach today is a natural extension of the way we started to interact with the internet when we started the Dell brand," he said.

"In 2006, we recognised the need to listen to all of the conversations happening in the blogosphere."

"If you now look at our reach on Twitter and Facebook, we are trying to embed social media in the fabric of how we do business."

More specifically, Mehta suggested marketers must place an emphasis on the collaborative nature of this medium, which can provide an insight into the discussion surrounding their goods.

"Where we are launching a product or part of our business, we will be proactive in telling our story, but it starts with listening," he said.

Habitat, the UK retail chain, is one firm which has recently been exposed to high levels of criticism on Twitter, demonstrating the power of digital platforms to quickly undermine corporate credentials.

More optimistically, Mehta suggested that a positive viral effect can be achieved if social media is used in the correct way, even if the success of such initiatives may not initially be obvious.

"Your post might only have a few comments on it, but if behind you there are thousands of followers and those followers post thousands of times, the effect will be much greater. That is what we are trying to determine," he said.

According to the Watson Research Center, part of IBM, there are around 100 million blogs that use RSS feeds, which provide another way for businesses to identify relevant electronic word-of-mouth.

IBM has developed an in-house research tool, called Banter, enabling it to establish where an online discussion began, track it across other websites, and ascertain its overall scale and importance.

Dr Richard Lawrence, a researcher manager at the Watson Research Center, said "the first thing we set out to understand is relevance. Next is the authority and influence" of the author of the piece in question.

With regard to Twitter, IBM monitors links to external portals and the "hash tags" attached to "tweets" in an effort to keep up-to-date in an area that is harder to scrutinise than blogs.

Dell also employs a service called BrandAnswers, provided by Bazaarvoice, which collates questions posted by shoppers on the websites of various retailers, so that companies can deliver information directly to their potential customers.

Samsung, the electronics firm, is another subscriber to this system, but Kris Narayanan, its director of marketing in the US, suggested it has a different purpose than properties like Facebook.

"Through BrandAnswers we can reach consumers at the very last stages of the purchase decision, so they need answers quickly and accurately. Our ability to be there is essential,” he said.

"On a social network they are not purchasing, but we can direct them towards a positive from a neutral position."

Many companies have used Twitter as a tool to promote special offers directly to shoppers

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff