Charlene Li: 15 Lessons from Dell, Best Buy and Starbucks (World Business Forum NYC – WBF10) – Social Media 101

charlene-li.jpgCharlene Li is the co-author of the bestseller “Groundswell”, author of the new book “Open Leadership”, and Founder of Altimeter Group, a strategy firm that provides clients with a pragmatic approach to using new technologies.
Yesterday, she spoke at the World Business Form NY about how companies should and can leverage social media for their businesses. She gave compelling examples and case studies of what works and what doesn’t. Highlighting examples of Best Buy, Starbucks and Dell as companies who “get it”.

How to make sense of social technologies?

If social media was just about Facebook, with only 500 million users, things would not be so bad. However, it’s more than Facebook. You have Linkedin, Youtube, Twitter and other services to contend with.
Business leaders fear being out of control if they step into the waters of social media. They think, what happens if someone writes something bad about me, what do I do?
These are valid concerns.
Looking at Dell as an example. Charlene explained that a Dell notebook exploded at a conference in Japan. Dell’s senior social media person was transparent and met the problem head on.

  • His blog post was entitled: Flaming notebook (quite bold I think)
  • He linked to the product blowing up (again quite bold and transparent)
  • He wrote 12 different blog posts about it. (not ducking the issue but explaining the issue)
  • He responded to angry customers person by person (he put a human face to Dell)

Dell worked with customer service people to get them to point to social (very smart, when customers called or emailed, Dell could have customers look at the blog post that was already out in the open)
Dell didn’t get into social media to create a social media strategy. They got into social media to create new relationships where one did not exist before and to strengthen ones that did exist before. This should be your “strategy”, not get into social media because everyone else is.

Why do we think we can control things with social media? We can’t.

We must learn to give up control. Part of this is learning how to be a successful leader. The definition of a leader is a follower. So how can we be a successful leader:


You can’t have a strategy on Facebook. These are simply tools that you can apply to your overall strategy of communication.
Best Buy’s success with social media.
Best Buy started their foray into social media as a way to connect all their employees with each other.
Everything was not perfect when they started out, but they learned.
Their lead person in this area, one day saw lots of Tweets coming back complaining about something. Upon investigation he learned that Best Buy sent an email to 6.1
million people saying you are a VIP and here’s a special offer. This was supposed to only go to a test of 1,000 people.
Best Buy then wrote another email saying sorry you are not one of the VIPs.

Best Buy had the humility and admitted it was wrong and asked what they could do to make it better and correct this mistake.

It took Best Buy 18 months to develop their social strategy but they did it.
They developed a new site Twelpforce –!/TWELPFORCE – any employee at Best Buy can answer a question, posted by customers, on Twitter through Twelpforce.
On Twelpforce, Charlene asked a question about what kind of phone to buy. An employee Tweeted back and said, buy Android and by the way come by our store to buy a phone and I’ll help you. This is impressive how a large company can be so personal and local by empowering its employees.
What does leadership mean in this space? Not just setting the direction but about inspiring people and setting the direction. Are you thinking social media is a young persons game you can ignore?
Charlene gave another example of how Starbucks used a social media tool to solicit comments from customers and vote on ideas.
One of the ideas was a special station where customers could just swipe their Staples card, get their coffee (those who wanted a simple coffee only) and go. No need to talk to a human.
After some discussion a Starbucks executive thought it was a good idea. But after testing the idea Starbucks said no, due to it not working in actuality in stores. Users, including Charlene, was not upset because they at least had a chance to be HEARD and Starbucks test the idea.

Very few companies have discipline when it comes to social technologies.

Instead of thinking about what the hard ROI is in social media, think about what the value of a relationships is. Can you quantify it? Probably not? Is it important? Absolutely.
Social technologies is all about the relationships we form; we know there is value but it’s hard to put a number on it.
We prepare to succeed but we should also prepare for failure with social media. We need to know how to be successful in failure.
Charlene talked about a sandbox covenant wherein we establish a border and set of rules of engagement for your company (your employees) in social media.
You have to create and define how big and how open you will be online.