How to avoid Social Media Hell: The Dell Inc Case Study

 Social Media HellIntroduction to Dell Hell

In June 2005, Dell Inc. received some major complaints concerning its customer support services. Blogger Jeff Jarvis posted a series of complaints on his blog , titled “Dell Hell”, about the Dell laptop he’d recently purchased. Jarvis’ posts caught the attention of others who also began to lodge their own negative experiences with Dell’s customer service. It was not long before the “Dell Hell” posts began to catch the attention of the mainstream media. As a result of the bad press and Dell Inc.’s continued silence on the issue, the computer industry giant’s sales and reputation began to plummet. By the time that the unfortunate incident had been resolved, thousands of Dell customers had seen the blog post and many have registered their unhappiness with Dell, on-line. The Dell episode continues to be used as a case study of bad corporate Social media to this day. Many organisations have and can learn a lesson from Dell Hell


Near the end of June 2005, media consultant and blogger, Jeff Jarvis purchased a Dell manufactured laptop as well as the four-year guarantee. Almost immediately after receiving the machine, it malfunctioned. After contacting Dell’s customer support, Jarvis was told that he would need to send the machine back to the company because the technician would not be able to come to his home with the parts he would need. This exchange angered Jarvis so that he began to vent his frustrations on his blog at This initial post received approximately 253 comments, all of which were written by other consumers who’d been on the receiving end of Dell’s poor customer service. Jarvis received his laptop back only to find that it was still not functioning. He continued to write about his experiences from Dell on his blog. Jarvis begins his third post with the phrase “Well my Dell Hell continues…” In this post, Jarvis detailed his encounters with Dell’s customer service. He wrote ‘And I am getting email from Dell people who are clearly not paying attention. ‘Dear Mr. Langley, said one letter to him from Dell. ” I corrected them and said the name is Jarvis.”

The response was misnamed again with: ‘Dear Ms. Kolar.” In this same post Jarvis asks the question “Is anybody at Dell listening?” Jarvis continued to send emails to Dell but he never received a reply. Jarvis also proceeded to chronicle his experiences and his ever-growing frustrations on his blog. He received more comments from other frustrated customers. Some people related their own experiences while others offered advice such a “Get an Apple.” It was not until Jarvis wrote a letter directly to Michael George, Dell’ s Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President for US Consumer Business, that Jarvis received the long-awaited reply. Jarvis received a call from a  customer service representative from Dell (while purchasing an Apple) offering him a full refund for his laptop which he accepted.

What went wrong?

Dell remained silent

Despite the onslaught of bad press & negative blogging, Dell remained silent. While the flames of “Dell Hell” burned, Dell Inc. played the fiddle and did nothing, at least publicly. The company refused to comment on any of Jarvis’s blogs and did not respond to any press statements regarding the incident. As a matter of fact, during the height of Dell Hell, Dell closed its online customer forum. The silent treatment did not work in Dell’s best interests and served to only make matters worse.

Dell did not listen

Dell simply did not listen to its’ customers. It should not have mattered to Dell from which media their consumers were using to voice their concerns, Dell should have listened.

How was it resolved?

A year after the Dell Hell incident, Dell created two new corporate communication initiatives which incorporated social media technology. In June 2006, Dell launched its own blog, Direct2Dell. Dell has also extended its blogging to include a blog for Dell employees as well as a blog for Dell’s investors.  The Direct2Dell blog changed how the company viewed online customer service. Dell now understands the importance of participating  & reacting to online conversation.  On February 2007, Dell launched IdeaStorm, which served as Dell’s online suggestion box. In this online forum, Dell welcomes consumers to post ideas and suggestions on how it can improve their products and services. It also serves as a means for Dell‘s product development team and consumers to co create products. Dell learned how powerful social media can be and how it cannot be simply ignored. It also learned new ways in which to incorporate new technologies into its existing communications platform.

How to Avoid Hell

Put your ear to the ground

Quite simply, companies need to take the time to listen to what is being said about their organization particularly online. In the online arena, it is very easy to see and hear what is being said about a company. Many companies have websites, but many websites are not interactive.

Put your money where your mouth is

Companies should demonstrate how they are listening by implementing some of the ideas that they have received either directly or indirectly. Dell for instance began to manufacture machines pre-installed with Linux because of a direct suggestion from the public.

Don’t be afraid of Social Media

Companies should begin to use new social media tools to interact with the public. If Dell has taught us nothing else it is the power and popularity of social media. There is quite possibly no better or more cost-effective platform to engage with the public than online.

Train your staff

By 2011 , 24,000 Dell employees had undergone social media training. Some 3,000 of them have completed three training courses and become internally certified to use social media on behalf of the company. There are sales, customer service, legal, executive, marketing and public relations employees  among these  graduates, as well as those from many other walks of life.


The fact of the matter is  that Dell now gets it. They understand how chatting with customers online can fuel business. They know that parts of what they do won’t add up to a traditional ROI measurement, but other parts of their efforts will. They understand that it’s not about controlling the message, but making sure that everyone in the organization — or as many people as possible — can be a part of the message.

For Social Media consulting and training contact Chipo on


About chipomaps

A brand reputation, marketing and new media trainer and consultant. Constantly curious, constantly learning.
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6 Responses to How to avoid Social Media Hell: The Dell Inc Case Study

  1. superrue says:

    nice. what immediately comes to mind is that no company in zimbabwe would follow your advice (to ‘perfection’ at least)? why? i personally think there is more to gain from following this wonderful advice

    • chipomaps says:

      Thank you for the comment. I believe that Zimbabwe businesses are in a learning curve and indeed all businesses when it comes to social media. None have arrived, but many are reaping the benefits across the world. And in Zimbabwe as the country gets better internet connectivity and technology that enables people to easily transact on line, engage with customers, get better trained to use these digital marketing channels, there will be more and better uptake and use of social media for business.

      • superrue says:

        In my view even the presence of these tools would not better the situation. my work experience thus far has shown me that the biggest challenge we face as Zimbabweans is a lack of ability. That is where you come in ChipoMaps, consult and educate the nation because eish, people with the resources you are talking about are fumbling as we speak.

      • chipomaps says:

        Thanks. FYI, I m starting training in digital marketing in a few weeks at Mandel Training center and starting with the CEOs an executives. So watch this space.

      • chipomaps says:

        Thanks. FYI, I am starting Digital marketing training at a local training institution in a few weeks time. We are starting with the CEOs and Executives. So watch this space. Chipo

      • superrue says:

        We will be watching.

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