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scott hansonScott Hanson and four other technologists manage the Dell TechCenter, an online community that helps enterprise IT professionals unravel the thorniest problems that occur when trying to integrate technology from multiple vendors.
 
Dell conceived of the community in 2007 as a way to enhance loyalty among its largest customers. Members share advice and ask questions of Hanson and the other engineers, who dispense it for free. The community is open and fully searchable, although only registered members can submit articles and comments. The point isn’t to gain sales leads but to become an indispensable source of advice.
And it’s working: In 2008, about 100 people visited the site every day. By early 2010, the count was over 5,000. Active members gain status in the community, and access to information about new products. A core group of 40 to 50 very active members have been designated "Masters," which means they get special recognition, advance information and even the occasional T-shirt. “What our users really want is to be noticed,” Hanson observed
 
Hanson and colleagues Jeff Sullivan, Kong Yang and Dennis Smith are celebrities of sorts in the community of enterprise customers, who frequently seek them out for meetings at trade shows and during visits to the company’s executive briefing center. Their fame has paid off handsomely for Dell: Hanson won’t let us reveal specifics, but Dell has estimated that the TechCenter is indirectly responsible for many millions of dollars in sales each year.  Suffice to say that Hanson’s job security is insured for years to come.
 
That’s despite the fact that Dell TechCenter doesn’t sell anything. The site carries no advertising and the member list is never used for promotions. The Dell TechCenter team is adamant about that. “The last thing IT people want when they come to a technical resource is an ad asking them to buy a laptop,” Hanson says. In this interview, he talks about the philosophies that underlie the community’s success.
 
This interview is guest hosted by Paul Gillin of Paul Giilin Communications and was conducted in association with research for an upcoming book on B2B applications of social media, to be published later thia year or early next year.
 
SHOW NOTES:

3:30
Why Dell Tech Center was started
4:40
What’s unique about Tech Center; why customers would come there in the first place
7:30
How Dell built awareness for the community; adding Technology Center links into every product.
8:45
Why content is openly available and not hidden behind a registration wall: “We really don’t want to use this as a vehicle to collect sales leads.”
9:45
Growth: From 100 to more than 5,000 daily visitors
10:45
How monitoring conversations guides administrators toward appropriate content
11:30
The content that resonates well: ‘Anything that makes the IT admin’s life easier.”
10:00
The Dell Masters Program raises the visibility of the top 40-50 participants
15:40
Who are the characters on the site and why the chemistry is important
17:20
Calculating the ROI of the Dell Tech Center; the team touches a lot of customer spending each year (specifics withheld at Dell’s request)
19:10
The importance of personality in makin the Dell connection: “It’s probably the most important thing.” A single Dell Tech Center ID didn’t resonate as well as giving individual administrators their own presences.
22:15
The importance of not trying to sell to members of the community
23:30
The nature of customer relationships on Dell Tech Center: “These people a friends.” How business relations create personal connections.
 
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About the Guest Host
This episode was guest hosted by Paul Gillin (@pgillin) of Paul Gillin Communications.  Paul was founding editor-in-chief of TechTarget, one of the most successful technology media entities to emerge on the Internet. Before that, he was editor-in-chief and executive editor of the technology weekly Computerworld for 15 years.
 
He wrote The New Influencers, Secrets of Social Media Marketing and the Joy of Geocaching and is currently co-writing a book with Eric Schwartzman about business-to-business applications of social media.
 
Paul writes a regular column for BtoB magazine and contributes to various blogs and online publications. He’s also a Research Fellow and a member of the advisory board of the Society for New Communications Research.
 


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