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12/6/2012
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Dell Taps Own Social Expertise For New Services

Dell continues to evolve away from its PC roots with a new social media consultation service.

Social media has become a major pillar in most businesses' customer engagement strategies -- and Dell, having been at the vanguard of this movement since opening its Social Media Command Center in 2010, wants to show other companies the way. On Monday, the company announced a series of social media services designed to tame the wild but potentially profitable jungle of social platforms.

Business campaigns have become ubiquitous on Facebook, Twitter, et al. -- but social media, with its hive mind of millions of individual users, can be a fickle, unpredictable beast. Many companies have fared poorly. McDonald's, for example, saw a Twitter promotion go embarrassingly wrong in January when users flooded its #McDStories hashtag with critical comments about the restaurant's ingredients and service. The company also provoked the microblogging site's collective ire during the Olympics; the fast food chain was a sponsor of the Games, and Twitter users reacted with less-than-subtle cynicism when the mayor of London praised the fast food chain's offerings as "bursting with nutrients."

With its new services, Dell hopes to help businesses not only avoid becoming cautionary tales but thrive in the evolving social landscape. The announcement comes only a few weeks after Dell president Stephen Felice advised CEOs to "get social," and the company certainly stands to gain if business leaders heed his directive. Any who do so while seeking Dell's advice will help the company to diversify its revenue streams -- an important step as it continues to transition from PC maker to service provider.

[ For more on where Dell is headed, see Dell's Gale Buy Points To Cloud Focus. ]

For the past year, Dell has been testing its consulting services with 10 clients, including American Red Cross, Aetna, Kraft and Clemson University. In an interview, Maribel Sierra, director of Dell's Social Media Services Group, said that these trial programs, as well as the company's experience with its own social media tools, allowed a cross-function team drawn from Dell Marketing and Dell Services to develop the new offerings.

Those services include several options. An advisory service is designed to help clients assess their current strengths and needs, and to align goals and timelines with a larger corporate strategy. A program in which Dell will monitor social media on a customer's behalf, meanwhile, catalogs not only references to the business's brand but also mentions of competitors or the industry as a whole. Sierra said this program would focus on drawing actionable reports from the collected data. Seminars that reveal best practices are a third option.

The most comprehensive packages, intended to help clients deploy their own social media command centers, essentially entails all of the above and more. In this option, Dell guides customers through each stage of the process, from design to build-out to full operation.

Sierra said that the Dell Social Media Command Center "listens" to upward of 25,000 Dell-related conversations per day. She stated that, over time, the company has experimented with a variety of big data tools, such as Brandwatch and Crimson Hexagon. By investing so heavily in its own social media strategy and accruing so much feedback, the company, Sierra said, has determined which tools work or don't work in given context. As a result, Dell has pioneered the "art of extracting insight from data," she asserted, adding, "This expertise is what we're taking to this offering."

Given Dell's success with its own Command Center, and the data it has accrued from its trial programs, this expertise could be appealing to many customers. Dell will have to contend in a crowded market, though, that includes industry heavyweights such as IBM and that adds new start-ups daily.

Predictive analysis is getting faster, more accurate and more accessible. Combined with big data, it's driving a new age of experiments. Also in the new, all-digital Advanced Analytics issue of InformationWeek: Are project management offices a waste of money? (Free registration required.)

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