How Dell Stormed into Social Media-Driven Idea Generation

jamie.mccormick    October 22, 2015


Title of Post:
 How Dell Stormed into Social Media-Driven Idea Generation
Organization Name: Dell
Industry: Information Technology (IT)
Name of Contact: Multiple calls for comments not returned over 5 days.
CEO: Michael Dell
Web references:,,,,


Given the unprecedented advances that technology has made over the past few decades, it has become clear that the only limit to what can be accomplished lies in the confines of the human imagination.  That despite the marvels of technology and engineering, it is still a process governed by humans’ ability to conceive and imagine what is possible.   Hence, in the modern world, ideas are the new currency in technology.  The science of IT is merely providing more efficient ways for ideas to be developed and actualized.

So if ideas and concepts are the most valuable resources in the technology world, what are the best ways to mine for these gems?  Enter crowdsourcing.

By definition, crowdsourcing is a means to obtain information and input by enlisting the services of a number of people, typically via the Internet.  Put another way, it is using groups of people of generate ideas and thoughts, all communicated online.  “Using the talents of the crowd.” (Jeff Howe, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, Wired Magazine, 2006)

It is this crowdsourcing concept that lies beneath the quickest growing form of product development and innovation in business today.  It is businesses seeking input from its consumers – and user communities overall – to help generate ideas and concepts for their products and services, and the medium to collect this information is social media.  Going to the people, to get ideas from these people, for products and services that are created for these people.

One company in particular has used this approach with great success, going so far as to establish a complete division to look after the process.  Dell, with their IdeaStorm group, originally set out to create an online suggestion box, but eventually created, not just an industry-leading process, but THE industry-leading process for soliciting ideas and feedback from their communities of users.


But the road to becoming the model for ideation and innovation was a winding one.  What started out as a feedback device, evolved to the point where it appeared to have run its course, until revitalized by Bill Johnson, a social media and online communities expert who was tasked with “dealing with” IdeaStorm.  And while Johnson struggled through process and perception issues, he ultimately came to recognize the change that would govern how organizations approach social media to this day.  He realized that the process of seeking input from users had a shelf life if the users did not feel that their input was being legitimately considered and discussed.  Johnson subsequently opted to enter the conversations – to become a contributing member of the community it had created, thus establishing the beginning of businesses creating communities of users, where, as Shel Israel said in Forbes magazine, Johnson transitioned the process from a “message-sending monologue into company-customer dialogue“.

Michael Johnson - IdeaStorm

This evolution was the catalyst for bringing together business with online communities, a world where discussion and dialogue were the keys to ideation and innovation.  Where users and supporters of Dell could have a voice in the discourse that surrounded new products, product tweaks, and user needs.  These conversations eventually became the go-to places for users, and social media became the hosts to these discussions.

Today, organizations seek to establish communities on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, user forums, and proprietary user discussion groups, amongst any number of other social media platforms that populate the online business landscape.  By offering an outlet for like-minded users to offer their insight, feedback and thoughts on products old and new, existing and developing, companies gain valuable information that can help shape their products and services moving forward.  Dell’s experience served as a model for this process, and it’s success has been undeniable:

  • 15,000 suggestions
  • Over 500 ideas fully developed
  • Over 700,000 promotions of ideas
  • Over 100,000 comments

So how can your business benefit from this approach to product innovation and development?  How can you tap these most valuable of resources today – ideas?  Well, here are 3 simple ways you can implement this approach immediately:

  1. Go to where your users are already.
    While there is a temptation to try to create the means for users to meet on your site, with your monitoring and ability to post and follow the comments, it is not a quick approach, and it leaves users feeling suspicious of your motives and authenticity.  Instead, meet your users where they congregate online – join their communities.  This can be done by looking for forums, review sites, industry associations and social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  2. Participate, don’t advertise.
    Users of these groups typically belong because they have sought out like-minded people who are interested in the same things they are, and who are seeking communities where they can openly and freely talk without fear of being sold to, or tracked for business purposes.  Don’t violate the integrity of these groups by trying to sell to these people.  Not that they would let you anyways.  But offer feedback on their thoughts, stay objective, and do it in a conversational tone.  This is not the place for marketing blurbs and advertorials.  These are people places, with users who have already bought into your industry and interests.  No selling required – or wanted.
  3. Share.
    The best way to garner trust and respect with your users is to offer up insight and information about your company and products.  Make them feel like they are part of an inside group that has access to information because they are part of this community of users.  This tends to make users feel more free to share their thoughts and reflections on things, and is the first step towards establishing meaningful dialogue and discussion.  It is from these discussions that the best suggestions and thoughts tend to arise, so remember to read carefully.  The information is in there, provided you are open to receiving it

In conclusion, as idea generation has become the new currency for IT, there is no better way to source these ideas than by taking it to the very people who use and interact with your products and services on a regular basis.  By establishing a sense of community with your users and customers, you earn the opportunity to access their thoughts and insights, and it is the most valuable market information you can collect.  Social media provides the best means for creating these communities, provided you follow the very firm social protocols expected of users of these platforms.  Dell established this very approach through their IdeaStorm division, and it served to provide them with over 500 fully developed and gone-to-market products and services, and it’s why they are often cited as being the creators of this approach.