Last June, when I took part in the 2008 Social Commerce Summit, I blogged about the impact of customers talking about businesses they either like or don’t like. That trend continues to increase, and the only way to have a good sense for those conversations is to learn how to monitor them in social media realms.

Everyone says they listen to customers. But what does that mean from a social media standpoint? While the concept of listening is rather simple to describe, the actual execution is anything but. The challenge is similar to entering a large sports arena with 100,000 fans. And tens of thousands of conversations are occurring simultaneously. Now increase the number of conversations to millions across every language – that equals the daily web activity.

Dell first started to tackle this challenge back in April 2006 when we started looking for conversations about Dell in blogs. It’s something that I know Lionel has blogged about several times and he’s said we started from pretty humble beginnings. In those early days, I know we started tracking things with a customized Technorati search string and an Excel spreadsheet.

Fast forward to today and it’s even more complex, primarily because there are many more places where conversations are occurring. It’s not just blogs—they’re also happening on sites like Friendfeed, YouTube and Twitter. As an example, the Vostro keyboard issue started in a Flickr discussion thread.

Over the last couple of years, we looked at a lot of services to help monitor this growing amount of activity. Many of those services do specific pieces pretty well. But until recently, we’ve hadn’t found a good way to monitor all of them collectively—to get a good feel for both the individual voices and the bigger picture of what those voices are saying.

These days we’re using a web-based tool called Radian6, and it’s a big leap forward compared to our early days in monitoring. We’ve been working with the team at Radian6 and are pretty excited to be part of what’s happening next.  Radian6 and Dell share the same approach to social media.

  • Listen to your customers
  • Join your customers online wherever their conversations are taking place
  • Help your customer tell their stories

In this video, their CEO Marcel LeBrun discusses how Radian6 sees brands participating online in new ways.