Earlier this week I wrote about how social networks can facilitate communication between corporate technology users, mentioning SAP's Community Network as a notable example. Networks like SAP's seem to parallel Dell's successful IdeaStorm community, which is geared toward consumers.
Now Dell appears to be trying to attract more business users to IdeaStorm by offering shorter and more focused feedback opportunities called Storm Sessions. ReadWriteWeb has screen shots of one of the first two Storm Sessions, on mobile technology. (The other involves the redesign of Dell's support site.) According to ReadWriteWeb, early Storm Sessions will be geared toward the education market.
Manish Mehta, Dell's VP of social media and community, writing on The Huffington Post, compares Dell IdeaStorm to the suggestion boxes or bulletin boards sometimes found in a mom-and-pop businesses such as a family-owned restaurant. Customers are invited to submit ideas and the business owners often post responses to their customers, sometimes describing how they've incorporated their ideas. IdeaStorm replicates the bulletin board or suggestion box in a virtual form, he explains.
Acknowledgment of and response to customer suggestions (much as Mehta describes with the small business analogy above) is what makes IdeaStorm so successful, IdeaStorm manager Vida Killian told me when I spoke to her last August. She said:
... we are listening and there are key things we can point to. We give a biweekly update on ideas and actions, for instance. It's not like a suggestion box, where you drop in your piece of paper and walk away. The visibility and the feedback mechanism make this different.
IdeaStorm's biggest challenges are getting more Dell employees directly involved and dispersing ideas to the appropriate personnel, Killian said. The tighter structure and more specific nature of Storm Sessions should go a long way toward meeting those challenges.
Back to the family-owned restaurant analogy, Mehta writes:
It's as if Mom and Pop decided to ask their customers what music to play on Friday nights, and gave them two days to weigh in, advancing the discussion by having each customer build on the suggestions of the ones before. In no time the community has reached a conclusion, and one Friday there's an acoustic guitarist playing in the background.
Or a business-friendly tweak to Dell's support process.