A Secret Twitter Feature and The New Dell Streak Tablet

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By: Hillel Fuld

Here I was, thinking I knew everything there was to know about Twitter (follow me here), and a short private conversation I had yesterday changes it all. Let me back up a little. It is no secret that I am a big sucker for new shiny mobile devices, so when Dell announced that they are entering the new tablet market, I was of course very excited. All the tech sites were reporting that Dell was releasing their 5 inch mobile phone/tablet device dubbed the Dell Streak and that it would be available in the US unlocked for $500.

To put that in proportion, this is a device with not one but two cameras (one regular and one front facing), a Snapdragon processor, and the newest version of the wildly popular Android OS. The device also has a 5inch capacitive WVGA touch screen, a removable battery, 3G, Wifi, Bluetooth, and a MicroSD slot. Besides its impressive specs, the device is paper thin at 10mm.

So, now  you are probably thinking, what does the Dell Streak have to do with Twitter? Well, if there is one company that maximizes Twitter’s social potential, it is Dell (there are many others too, but they might have been first). They have the Dell Outlet Twitter account, which they use to communicate with their customers and offer exclusive deals not found anywhere else. They really get it.

So, when I first read about the Streak and watched the amazing videos, it occurred to me to reach out to Dell on Twitter and ask them some questions about the upcoming device. Now, even though over the years I have communicated with some pretty amazing people on Twitter, people I would never have imagined I would get the chance to talk to, it always amazes me when big companies or celebrities really take the time out to respond to people.

So, when I wrote this tweet to Dell asking them if they have a PR Twitter account that can sell me on the device, I did not expect to get this response back. However, that was not the big surprise. What happened next really blew me away.

First let me give you a little background. On Twitter, there are a few ways of connecting with people. There are general tweets, which are short updates of up to 140 characters. When you send a tweet out, all your followers can see it. Then there are replies. Replies always start with a @ followed by the person’s Twitter name. Those replies are only seen by people following you and the person you are talking to. Hold on, there is one more…

The final way of writing someone on Twitter is something called a DM. DM stands for Direct Message, and that is a private message that only you and the person you are speaking with can see. Now with all the celebrities, athletes, and politicians on Twitter, what is stopping 100 million people from sending Barack Obama DMs 24 hours a day? Good question! The answer is that you cannot DM someone who is not following you. This is to prevent unsolicited spamming via Twitter. If someone is following you, the assumption is they either know you or are interested in what you have to say, hence they do not object to receiving a private message from you.

Now, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Many people on Twitter abuse the right to DM someone and configure their account to send out auto DMs when someone follows them. These auto DMs often contain promotional material and sometimes even worse (viruses). This is something almost everyone agrees is an illegitimate marketing strategy and should be stopped. I for one, unfollow everyone who sends me an auto DM of any kind.

Now back to our story. When dell sent me that DM asking what I was looking for, my first instinct was to reply to them via DM. I forgot for a second who I am talking to and that Dell has over 1.5 million followers and that they only follow 28 people back. By the time I remembered, it was too late and I had already pressed Send. I expected to get the Twitter error saying “You cannot DM this account because they do not follow you”, but no such error ever appeared and the DM went through. Suffice to say, I was surprised and confused.

There were now two options. Either Dell just started following me, which is what I thought was the case (silly me), but then why would an account with over a million followers and only 28 “following”, follow me?  The truth is, at that point, this was the only possible explanation I could think of.

However, turns out there was another possibility, which is something neither I, nor anyone else on Twitter, knew existed. I DMed back and forth with Dell for a half an hour or so talking about different people to contact about the device, and then I decided I wanted to look at who they were following. I saw 28 Dell accounts and no sign of me. Now, I was really confused. How was I having a conversation over DM with an account that was not following me? Who else would know the answer to that question better than the Twittersphere? So I, tweeted this.

I, of course, got no answers from anyone, at least no logical ones. So, I decided to ask Dell how it was that I was DMing them and they were not following me. They explained that they had set up their account so that anyone can DM them. This was news to me, I did not even know there was such an option, nor had I ever seen it in my settings anywhere. So, I asked them how one does that? They replied that it is a feature enabled for corporate accounts only. To  be honest, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound too dumb, I did not even know Twitter had enabled official corporate accounts. I knew there were verified accounts, and I had heard talk about corporate accounts, but as far as I knew, this was just talk and it was never enabled. Turns out, there were a few things I did not know about Twitter.

I thought about this concept of configuring a company’s Twitter account so anyone can DM the company, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was brilliant. As Dell told me, it helps “manage customer care issues”. Why is it brilliant? Well, from the consumer’s point of view, it is direct and personal access to a company’s customer support. This can be used for feedback, positive or negative, technical support, or even sales. From the company’s point of view, not only do they enhance their support, but in the case that a customer has problems with their product, or wants to do some complaining, DMing the company keeps it out of the public eye. Like I said, brilliant.

However, as awesome as this feature is, a company has to opt in and configure the account to accept all DMs, and it would help if Twitter would make this feature public knowledge. One more thing I learned from this whole encounter besides some new Twitter features and the fact that I do not know everything there is to know about Twitter, is that Dell is one impressive company.

They truly understand what good customer support is, which was my experience with a netbook I had of theirs, and was reconfirmed by the way they conducted themselves with me on Twitter and on social media in general. Oh, and I also learned that I want the Streak, because that looks like one amazing device.

So, what do you think of this new feature? Are you going to enable it on your company’s Twitter? Please let us know in the comments.

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Hillel is Co Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at ZCast, a company taking on the pain of modern audio broadcasting. Hillel also blogs for many influential sites including TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat, and others. Additionally, Hillel mentors startups across Israel in different accelerators including The Google Launchpad, the Microsoft Ventures accelerator, Techstars, The Junction, and more. Hillel has been named Israel's top marketer, has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, and many others and was recently added by Google to its marketing experts program. You can find and talk to Hillel on Twitter. He is @Hilzfuld.

  • shawn

    Well it’s nice to know Dell’s twitter customer service is good, because their phone customer service is pathetic. I’ve had nothing but problems with them.

  • Sorry to hear that Shawn, but try to write them on Twitter and you will see what good service is.

  • This isn’t a new feature. You could always DM your followers. So since you follow Dell they can DM you.Its just that you can’t DM Dell untill they follow you back.

  • This isn’t so much of a secret — all of Twitter’s Twitter accounts can be DM’d w/o the need for them to follow you back. This is how to best communicate with @Spam & @Support. If they could do this for themselves, then obviously it must be possible for them to do it for others. 😉

  • Yeah , that always-on DM feature was announced for (presumably paid) business accounts a few weeks back. Good to see it working in the wild.

    Re: the Streak, seems priced a bit high at $500, given that that is the entry price for the much larger (almost 4x) iPad.

    I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 7″ Streak before X-mas, which seems like the perfect form factor to me. I didn’t buy the iPad b/c I thought it was too large, even though I REALLY wanted to have it to experiment. I want to run Swype as the main text input, and 7″ in portrait mode seems pretty ideal for that.

    Dell needs to price these at about $297-397 to really pick up momentum though. If they end up costing nearly as much as the iPad, there’s no way they’ll overcome the Apple “aspirational” branding factor.

  • I have never had to communicate with Dell, but I am a big fan of their products. The only type of computer hardware I would consider buying for a Windows based system is Dell. Everything is rock solid.

    Streak looks amazing!!

  • Richard, I think you are a little confused. Dell is NOT following me and I am able to DM them, that was the whole point.

  • Great article, at first I was thinking “OK another DM on twitter piece” but you blew me away with a totally to the point analysis.

    And yes, the Streak looks great but I’m lusting after a Dell Alienware Mx11 or 15 right now 🙂

  • c_bethWalters

    I am still new to the many facets of Twitter; it’s encouraging to find intuitive information on Dell’s Twitter acct. My thanks to Stephanieatdell for including the link. I will look into the streak and maybe Allenware, too.

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