Dave Gardner on Using Social Media to Connect With Big Companies

Recently, my friend Dave Gardner (president of Gardner & Associates Consulting) shared his story of how he used social media to reach (and start a working relationship with) a big company (Dell.) The story was fascinating and it was very different from the stories that are common out there. The common stories have a general theme of increasing your presence and getting more followers. I am confident that you will enjoy reading what Dave has to say.

So, here we go:

Rajesh Setty: I understand that you are a member of Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel. How did this come to be?

Dave Gardner: This is a very interesting story, Rajesh. I have been a Dell customer since 2004. Back in 2009 and 2010, I experienced a few Dell business execution issues. I heard another story or 2 and decided to write about it on my Fast Company Expert Blog. I wrote the article on a Friday afternoon and pushed the article to Fast Company that evening to be published the following week. I chose a provocative title: “Dell used to be a fast company,” probably not the title that Dell would wish for in Fast Company! The article wasn’t mean-spirited or ranting—it simply pointed out areas where Dell had stumbled and could improve.

Rajesh Setty: I imagine in this day and age that Dell noticed this article.

Dave Gardner: They sure did. Dell uses Radian6 which is now owned by Salesforce.com to monitor what’s being said about them in the social media space. A Dell social media person contacted me via email about 90 minutes later on a Friday evening—before the article had even been officially published by Fast Company—and asked if we could talk the following week. I said, “Sure.” Soon, I was invited to be a member of Dell’s Customer Advisory Panel (DellCAP). Dell felt I had insights that would valuable as they sought outside perspectives to improve their business by learning what real customers are experiencing.

Rajesh Setty: That’s amazing, Dave. Was this what you believed would happen when you wrote the Fast Company posting.

Dave Gardner: Actually no—I had not anticipated that this would happen. I am constantly on the look out for stories to write about for my Fast Company blog. One area I write about is business execution. The blog post about Dell was just to point out some business execution areas where I thought they could improve. I never expected Dell to reach out to me.

Rajesh Setty: So what has this experience taught you?

Dave Gardner: Most people seem to think that social media is about attracting followers, “friending” people, liking this, that or the other, or spending hours trolling Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. It doesn’t have to be that way. So, I learned—quite by accident—that you can attract big companies to you by using social media.

Rajesh Setty: Quite a nice accident, Dave.

Dave Gardner: Thanks, Rajesh. My understanding comes not as a result of a carefully crafted social media strategy but as a result sitting back and simply watching what has happened. I learned there are 2 potential avenues to be aware of when leveraging social media:
The big company you are targeting is most likely monitoring social media
The public relations (PR) firm used by the big company you want to connect with is also likely monitoring social media

Rajesh Setty: That’s very interesting, Dave. How have you been able to leverage this understanding?

Dave Gardner: Was it important that the article was in Fast Company? Not at all. None of the other 29 social media folks invited to participate in DellCAP blogged for a prominent media outlet like Fast Company. Dell, like many big companies today, trolls the Internet to find out what’s being said about them so they can reach out and help as well as implement corrective action.

PR firms are also on the lookout for their clients and troll the Internet. A few weeks later, Dell’s PR firm contacted me about meeting them in their San Francisco office. Knowing that I blog for Fast Company, they offered to make introductions to senior executives who come into town for pieces that I might want to write, they see that I’m invited to media events, and they said they would look for opportunities within Dell to make introductions. All of these things happen with regularity. I enjoy a wonderful relationship with Dell’s PR firm.

Rajesh Setty: So, in essence, you are simply leveraging what Dell and their PR firm are already doing to enhance your relationship. Do you think this is an aberration?

Dave Gardner: Great question, Rajesh. In a Fast Company blog post called, “What Dell is doing to create customers for life,” I challenged a PC World survey that was unfairly critical of Dell and HP. HP’s PR firm contacted me the same day the post was published to thank me for defending HP and offered to make introductions to anyone I wanted to meet. This is when I reached the conclusion that social media monitoring is not an accident—the big companies do this with great discipline and follow-up as appropriate.

Rajesh Setty: Are there any other examples where you’ve been able to leverage your social media strategy with Dell?

Dave Gardner: I wanted to meet some of the executives from Dell’s recently acquired business units. I strategized writing a blog post with Dell’s Consumer, Small and Medium Business internal PR team before attending a major media event that enabled me to meet and interview the heads of four recently acquired business units plus the Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy. I wanted to learn about the “secret sauce” of Dell’s merger and acquisition process which seemed to be superior based on what I had observed from my limited vantage point. The article research opened the doors for me. I doubt I’d be able to pick up the phone and get these people to speak to me out of the blue. This piece forged relationships in a fun and exciting way. The Fast Company blog post “If I sell you my company, will you respect me in the morning?” was published in December.

Rajesh Setty: This is really amazing, Dave. A great story. What would advise my readers to do?

Dave Gardner: Do you ever see areas where a prospective client could improve that you could write about? Of course you have! Social media can be a terrific way to create your superhighway into big companies. You have to use the right bait:

  • Talk about what you’ve observed,
  • Be provocative, and
  • Encourage them to do better.

Then, when you hear from the company or their PR firm, begin to create an enduring relationship. This is a very effective way to create marketing gravity.

Rajesh Setty: Thanks for sharing your insights, Dave.