Podcast Interview with Dell IR and Social Media Team – amazing ROI
23 March 2011
For the last three and a half years, Dell has taken the lead amongst public companies that use social media by being one of the first to have an IR-dedicated blog and YouTube to provide more context and background on their quarterly financial results.
In February of this year, Dominic Jones of IR Web Report did a great post that detailed how Dell ‘leveraged an impressive array of popular social media services, including Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, and its own investor relations blog’, for their Q4 and year-end results.
Recently, Darrell Heaps, co-Founder and CEO of Q4 caught up with Rob Williams, VP of IR and his IR team at Dell that includes David Eagan and Kristy Harris, along with the company’s social media team that is lead by Lionel Menchaca and Susan Beebe about how the began their social media journey, why they decided to increase the number of channels for their financial results and how the two groups collaborated to share and update the company’s Q4 and year-end information on various social media.
You can pick up the interview with the first the question ‘How did Dell get started using social media’ by clicking the play button below.
The interview reveals some innovative ways the company uses to maximize the efforts they put into their IR blog such as garnering feedback from their institutional investors through regular surveys. They also discuss concrete results that show an expanded reach that is directly related by using additional channels such as Twitter, StockTwits and SlideShare.
What follows are some of the highlights and key takeaways from the interview:
IN THE BEGINNING
How did Dell begin its social media journey?
[Rob] The social media team here at Dell was instrumental in convincing the IR team to start the DellShares blog. Based on what the social media team was doing, the IR team was convinced that it was probably the right thing to do for our department as well. Around the same time, we increasingly began using YouTube.
What were your initial objectives in using these tools from an IR point of view?
[Rob] Being a technology company, we looked at this as an opportunity to have a one-to-many relationship where we could effectively broadcast and get our message out in a much more effective and efficient way.
IROs spend a lot of their time talking about their company on the phone with securities analysts and portfolio managers. Establishing this one-to-many medium made it a much more efficient way for us to get that information out there to the investor and analyst community. And it actually enhanced the conversations that we were having on a follow-up basis because we knew that we had established a base level of understanding about a particular topic.
How have the results been in using the blog and YouTube?
[Rob] We’ve had really good results. We’ve done survey work now on a couple of different occasions and found (of the 1,000 folks or so that are on our distribution lists), about 50% are reading our blogs and our vlog; with a breakdown of about 60% buy side and about 36% of the sell side. Which shows us that we’re getting good coverage and good readership.
EXPANDED USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITIES
You recently expanded your social media activities to include Twitter, StockTwits and SlideShare. What was the reason for this and how has that been going?
[Kristy] We considered incorporating these channels before, but we just didn’t have the bandwidth or know if we would have a strong following. And honestly, after seeing you speak at a NIRI luncheon in November of last year as well as having Lionel from our social media group on the panel, we then decided to take a test on it and see what type of reach we would get. And that’s when David Eagan stepped up and took the ownership of leading the Twitter effort and incorporating it into our earnings process.
[David] Although we did use Twitter before this, in a very passive way to auto-post from our blogs and we actually accumulated 800-900 followers that way. Then once we started engaging them and posting other things on Twitter, our followers have increased to nearly 2,500 now.
[Kristy] So then we decided to do Q3 and we definitely had a large reach in the five million range, and that was actually far greater than what we could get just through using DellShares and sending out an email blast. So because of that success we decided to start being more active there, not only doing Q3 earnings, but any big announcements that may come out, we would send out a tweet on that. Or, you know, being more proactive in terms of, hey, we’re going to have a vlog that’s coming up and we’re open to considering some questions during this vlog. And solicited feedback at that time as well.
Can you give me some more insight into what the five million is based on?
[Susan] We use Radian6 to help us monitor, which is where we got our stats. We were also able to see an uptick in the traffic and mentions in the conversation during the live tweets – it was very interesting to see that. And then, of course, after the event was over we saw a continued conversation but it wasn’t a sharp spike, but rather a sustained resonance on the web about this whole conversation. We had great earnings, there also was a lot of conversation about what Dell was doing with IR conversations online.
[Susan] I’m going to let David answer that, as he was actually the brainchild and put forth the effort toward researching how StockTwits works and how we could use this channel as well.
[David] StockTwits is basically a community of investors on Twitter that just only invest. So by doing that we really were able to pinpoint the people we were trying to reach. So by using the StockTwits platform we were able to get some of this information out on Yahoo!Finance and on CNN Finance where a lot of either eyes are, as opposed to just using Twitter by itself.
[Lionel] We’ve been experimenting with SlideShare as a company overall, for earnings results every quarter. It wasn’t until recently we had the functionality to embed a SlideShare post directly into a Dell blog post or any of our blogs. So the Q4 results was really the first time we uploaded a quarterly presentation on SlideShare and embed it into one of our blog posts.
We discussed it initially and thought, hey, this is just another way to share information that we’ve been sharing on Dell.com and other places already. So we wanted to see if this was something that people find value in. The presentation has had a lot of views on SlideShare with about 1200 around the time we reported. As of the week ending March 18, the number of views has increased to 1483 that answers the question for us.
What’s the concerted and the consolidated effort that’s going on here at Dell, is that we’re utilizing the capabilities and the expertise of investor relations of our social media teams of each of the product and the strategy teams and the different, you know, product lines of our businesses. And we’ve taken the best and the brightest and the best ideas across the entire organization and we’re looking for ways to integrate that into– and use social media as a way to get information out whether it’s strategy, whether it’s about products, whether it’s about our earnings announcements and our results. Or another topic like, you know, sustainability or socially responsible investing.
I mean, we’re really looking at this as a way to really take the best ideas from across the organization and broadcast it out to the investing community in ways that are very, very efficient and that help to give people a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish here at the company.
One topic that comes up frequently is engagement – especially around social media and the use of all these channels for investor relations.
And I would define engagement being an action dialogue between an investor and yourself through some social media channel. And there is some perspectives or some– post gets written out there on the web that says if there’s no engagement then the success of the program isn’t there, or that engagement equals success in IR.
And I was wondering from your perspective, if you feel that that’s accurate or how engagement and the objective of engagement fits into your model and how you’re using all these tools?
[Rob] I think you have to take a step back and ask yourself how do you define success with some of these new tools. Here are a couple of facts and figures to ponder:
- 60% of investors believe that social media will become more important in making investment decisions. So when folks in our industry and our profession are polled, it’s clear that the investment community is in a broad way using these tools.
- Over 40% today are currently reading blogs and following up on information that they find in blogs and vlogs. And we find that to be true in our own experiences.
- And 20% have made investment decisions based on information they have read on a blog.
I don’t measure engagement and success based on how many blog posts we receive. I measure it based on the feedback that we get and the responses that we’re getting through phone calls, through email and through other mediums.
So when I look at what we’ve done over just two quarters with the use of Twitter and StockTwits and these other tools that we’ve begun to use more actively recently, we know that we’ve grown our reach from 1.5 million initially then to 5 million to 12 million.
[Rob] And so these are big numbers. And I think it’s highly indicative of where this is going and where it can go. And the last point I would make is that this is the reality of the environment that we find ourselves in today, and if we don’t embrace these new tools and technologies, then we’re not doing the right thing.
If you would have asked someone 110 years ago what they wanted in terms of transportation, they would have told you that they wanted you to breed a faster horse. Well, guess what? That’s not where it went. I mean, today we’re, you know, building hybrid cars and electric cards and that’s where it is today.
And if you look at what’s happening today with communications and disclosure, we’re moving from a world where it was very paper based into a world where it’s very much based in the Internet and on social media. And we just have to recognize that those changes are happening and we need to embrace that change and drive it forward and do it in a way that’s efficient. And so we believe the engagement, it’s there, it’s just that the classic measures don’t really capture what’s really happening.