Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dell Ideastorm: Groundbreaking crowdsourcing platform, atrophy, and 2012 renewal

In February 2007, Dell launched a groundbreaking ideation (and community engagement) crowdsourcing platform called Ideastorm.   In 2012, Dell updated Ideastorm in response to a community challenge to re-engage.  This story highlights that a company’s Social Media Strategy involves continuous engagement and renewal as well as rigor.   Robert Wollan et al. argue that rigor, part of the 5th “P” (People) of a Social Media enabled Marketing Mix, involves consistency and reliability of a company’s operations and how those operations deliver the right customer experience via Social Media.

Since Jeff Howe coined the “crowdsourcing” term in 2006, there has been a proliferation of applications and business models leveraging the “power of the crowd.”  Open Innovations and Ross Dawson provide good market mappings.    A number of corporations, ranging from Lego, Threadless, Starbucks, and Dell operate platforms targeted at engaging their customers for product, services and brand feedback.  The potential values include (1) greater customer involvement, engagement and Loyalty, (2) timely and richer, direct customer feedback, (3) higher granularity customer insight, and (4) access to new sources of ideas, potentially customer brainstormed.   

Ideastorm, essentially an online suggestion box, was unique when it launched during the early days of Social Media.  It was viewed as a bold, groundbreaking corporate initiative - enabling customers to openly engage Dell and each other (providing both negative and positive Dell feedback).  It was built on’s Ideas platform and featured an ideas voting/tagging system which was novel at the time.   Voting enabled community based ideas filtering.  An initially skeptical, Howe, would even later gush about Dell’s success.   Some of the key issues (loss of control concerns, change management, leadership involvement, competitive intelligence issues, ROI, etc.) for Social Media strategies highlighted by Wollan et al. are addressed in Dell’s Vida Killian video and written interviews.  Some success contributors included CEO drive (it was Michael Dell’s idea), Dell’s Direct to Customer Culture, and Dell’s Social Media culture change underway to address its earlier Dell Hell and related publicity fiascos that inflicted reputational and financial damage.  Negative or positive conversations were going to happen with our without Dell.  It was better to be involved.   Ideastorm was part of a Social Media strategy that ultimately would see Dell named 2011’s #1 most social brand of 100 top brands.   Over the 4 years since its inception, Ideastorm generated 15,000 idea submissions, 490 of which were implemented resulting in $100s of Millions ($10,000 average value per idea).  Members generated approximately 50% more revenue than non-members with over 50% in the top decile of LTV scores.

Six Years of Experiments and Experience
(Source:  B. Johnston, Dell)
As Dell slowly shifted focus from its on-board platforms, Ideastorm became a victim of its own success.   Dell’s participation waned, the platform atrophied, and ideas piled up.   Many diehard members stayed, engaging each other despite Dell.  Advocates turned into critics.  Dell’s Bill Johnston notes that “They thought that Dell had become disrespectful.   Dell took notice.  End-Of-Life or renewal?   An analysis of corporate benefits and customer needs resulted in the March 2012 launch of an updated Ideastorm.   The platform was modernized including better profile integration with other Social Media platforms.  New tools were introduced to improve voting, idea triaging, idea archival, and idea evolution (iteration and mashups).  Better contributor recognition was introduced including from the Dell Community Rockstar program.  Most importantly, the backend process was improved with greater Dell Idea Partners involvements - more Dell representatives as well as 28 corporate partners, that represent various stakeholder divisions. Dell even hired one of its advocate-turned-critic to help improve community engagement.

Ideastorm 2.0 Platform
(Source:  B. Johnston, Dell)

Ideastorm 2.0:  Updated Idea Management Process
(Source:  B. Johnston, Dell)
Note:  Ideastorm 2.0 incorporated some SBUX best practices.  Ironically, Michael Dell had earlier shared his experiences with Howard Schultz to help them build SBUX's mystarbucksidea platform.  Both use's Ideas platform.