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Dell Uses Social Media to Foster Employee Ideas and Engagement

Original Source: Dell uses social media to gather employee ideas, Ragan Communications, Andrew Analore

EmployeeStorm allows employees to submit company ideas, speak candidly

EmployeeStormWhen it comes to internal communications, global technology giant Dell may have hit on the perfect storm: a social media platform, dubbed EmployeeStorm, which culls ideas from all of its business units and fosters discussion among employees.

Launched nearly a year ago, EmployeeStorm allows Dell’s worldwide community of more than 80,000 employees to post and discuss ideas on topics ranging from product upgrades and innovation to critiques of company policies, facilities improvements and benefits.

“It’s about anything or everything to do with Dell,” says Ellen Rich, Dell’s HR communications manager.

Powered by Salesforce.com’s IdeaExchange engine and integrated into Dell’s intranet, EmployeeStorm allows users to vote on ideas and highlight those they’d like to see implemented. Communications and leadership team members can join the discussion, keeping EmployeeStorm posters abreast of the status of the ideas they submit.

Launched in June 2007, EmployeeStorm is an offshoot of IdeaStorm, a brainstorming and discussion platform launched by Dell to get feedback from customers.

Vida Killian offers tips to those interested in launching their own EmployeeStorm platform.

“We don’t want employees submitting ideas externally. We want to keep those internal,” Vida Killian, manager of the IdeaStorm platform, told Ragan.com.

Ideas submitted by employees through EmployeeStorm are segmented into those for customers, such as new product ideas, and those for employees, such as suggestions for new cafeteria menu items. They are then routed to the right departments for consideration.

Killian’s staff periodically gives out prizes, awarding highly rated and implemented ideas and activity on the site, as a way to boost participation.

Killian says Dell sees the internal communication tool to be an essential complement to its external communications push.

“It’s easier to go internal before you go external. There’s less fear, and also you are engraining your culture with the culture of social media and Web 2.0 and where it’s taking us and how important it is to listen,” she says. “And that’s why we came out with EmployeeStorm as quickly as we did.”

Winning ideas

Some of the ideas floated on IdeaStorm and EmployeeStorm have already made their way into Dell’s product stables. Killian says that Dell has implemented nearly 200 of the 10,000 or so ideas that have been posted on IdeaStorm.

For example, when customers suggested that Dell develop a product with a backlit keyboard that would make night computing easier, the company responded by making backlighting an option on some Latitude notebooks. Also based on discussions on IdeaStorm, Dell decided to offer laptops with the Linux and Windows XP operating systems—instead of Windows Vista—preinstalled.

Meanwhile, a discussion on the EmployeeStorm site led Dell to release a laptop with design and features specially tailored to fans of the online game World of Warcraft.

Both of the brainstorming platforms fit into a theme. Both internally and externally, Dell has positioned itself as a company that listens, a message that is touted often on its Web site with banners that detail product changes or new deals with the slogan, “You talked. We Listened.”

Broadening reach

One of the questions confronting companies that implement communication technology is how it should be deployed. Some companies take a narrow approach, developing and implementing tools for specific business groups, such as engineering or sales, which are seen as having the most direct influence over products and revenue.

By the numbers

3,000+. The number of ideas generated by Dell employees through the EmployeeStorm system within the first 60 days of its launch. Those ideas received more than 48,000 combined votes.

45,000. The number of registered users on Dell’s IdeaStorm site.

10,000+. The number of ideas posted on Dell’s IdeaStorm site since its launch in Feb. 2007. So far, Dell has implemented 200 ideas.

40. The number of people on Dell’s interdepartmental “community conversations” team, which monitors and joins in discussions about the company’s products on social media outlets across the Web.

Source: Salesforce.com, Dell

Dell took a broader approach, implementing EmployeeStorm enterprisewide. “We actually made sure it was available to everyone in the company,” Rich says. “When you are looking at innovation, ideas do not come from those on top of the organization. You get them from everyone in an organization.”

That implementation strategy helps Dell tap the expertise found in its different business group—job shifting at the company means, for instance, that some sales people or call center managers might have engineering or product development experience, for example.

It didn’t take Dell’s employees long to get up to speed on the system. More than 700 ideas were generated during EmployeeStorm’s first week of life. On a typical day, about 45 percent of Dell’s workers participate in discussions.

“We get some hot ideas out of this that generate quite a bit of debate,” Rich says, adding that the site relies heavily on “community policing.”

Be prepared

So what lessons should you take from Dell’s experience with EmployeeStorm? Preparation, particularly for the volume of participants, matters, Rich says, emphasizing that this is especially true if this is the first interactive social media tool your audience has been given. It’s also important to have the backend response team ready, so users don’t feel as if they are sending information into a vacuum.

Culture is another important consideration. For an internal communication system to be effective, employees must feel they can speak candidly about their concerns without jeopardizing their jobs. Dell Employees have to use their real names when they post on EmployeeStorm. The company’s communications team quelled those fears through early discussions in its blogs.

And Dell has established other routes, such as a company ombudsman, that employees can use to communicate about sensitive issues.

“When employees are given an active voice, they are going to talk a lot about programs and policies that they want changed,” Rich says. “So HR needs to be on its toes.”

Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a strategic communications leader with nearly 20 years experience in both internal and external communications. She is a passionate advocate for developing communications that foster a stronger relationship between the organization and its employees. She is a global keynote speaker on employee engagement and HR communications. Elizabeth is a certified professional in Employer Brand through Universum Global's Employer Branding Academy.

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