In 2006, computer maker Dell Inc. launched a social media and community department to manage consumers’ then-burgeoning use of the Internet.
At the time, so-called social media was viewed as a specialized approach to marketing. Four years later, it has become as much a part of doing business as conventional advertising, and companies such as Dell have integrated social media with broader marketing strategies and made it more mainstream.
Although Round Rock-based Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) still operates a social media department, it is now using social media across all its divisions to connect with customers through online channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
Last year, the company revealed that about 100 employees send tweets through 35 channels, reaching customers in more than 12 countries. Dell, which operates more than 80 user groups, reported generating more than $6.5 million in business through Twitter deals during 2009.
In total, more than 3.5 million people communicate with Dell via Twitter, Facebook, Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm. And about 1.5 million customers follow the company on Twitter, officials said.
It’s good business for Dell to take advantage of the reach provided by the Internet, spokesman Richard Binhammer said. “Wherever our customers are is where we want to be,” he said. “The more places where we’re available to them, the better it is.”
In recent months, Binhammer confirmed, Dell has enlisted three prominent social media specialists for its social media department: Bill Johnston, previously chief community officer at Virginia-based Forum One Communications Corp.; Adam Brown, previously The Coca-Cola Co.’s (NYSE: KO) group director of digital communications; and Steve Tedjamulia, a former senior product manager at Austin-based Bazaarvoice Inc.
Binhammer didn’t know how many workers the department includes, compared with when it was established in 2006.
Nevertheless, it’s clear there’s been a rise in hiring for social media positions. Large corporations have increasingly been hiring from small agencies, while agencies are enlisting social media executives for their corporate experience, said Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Social Media Business Council.
Dell’s surging activity in social media mirrors an industry trend. Social media has evolved from the experimental phase, in which enterprises were merely testing the waters, to everyday use.
“It’s gone from marketing to companywide,” Sernovitz said. “We’ve gotten past the ‘look-at-the-shiny-toy’ phase.”
The Social Media Business Council is the latest in a series of local ventures related to social media. For example, Bazaarvoice, which manages online customer communities for clients such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), is dominating the social media industry. Meanwhile, Socialware Inc., which was founded in 2008 by two former Bazaarvoice executives, is developing social middleware — software that’s layered between a company’s network and social networking websites used by workers.
Facebook Inc., the world’s largest online social network with 400 million active users, is opening in Austin its first office outside California. The company eventually plans to employ about 200 local workers. Two location-based social networking companies, Gowalla Inc. and SocialSmack Inc., are based in Austin. SocialSmack has been in its beta testing stage since May.
Social media is growing so quickly because businesses are realizing they can reach customers, partners, employees and future employees directly using such online tools rather than indirectly through advertising and marketing campaigns, said Bob Pearson, a former Dell executive who is chief technology and media officer for California-based WCG Co.
Social media “is something the entire C-suite should be utilizing,” he said. “The key is, most companies are just realizing that.”
DELL makes money with Social Media. Great.