Manish Mehta: Turning Our Customers into Colleagues

Much of the discussion about the best use of social media focuses on the importance of listening--monitoring customer online chatter and letting customers give feedback by phone or e-mail. That's certainly a good place to start. But listening is only the beginning of a genuine partnership that the most effective use of social media creates between a company and its customers.

At Dell, we think about social media in terms of the "Mom and Pop" business. Imagine the best-run family-owned restaurants in your neighborhood. How do they keep getting better? By acting on their customers' ideas. They might have a suggestion box, or perhaps a bulletin board on which you can pin your thought for the other patrons to read. After a while the restaurant's owners will write a response and describe what decisions they reached.

Replicating the suggestion board in virtual form is what got us excited about IdeaStorm, our customer suggestion site, when we first launched it in 2007. But our customers had an even better idea--Storm Sessions, topic-specific and time-bound idea-generating digital discussions whose purpose is to take customer insights and turn them into improved Dell products and services.

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.

This is a new way to think about how to listen and respond to your customers. Gone are the days of solely relying on traditional focus groups or phone and Web surveys. Social networks have the power to harness that intelligence in a much more organized and efficient manner than ever before. There is value to the business, which can implement enormous changes that are destined to succeed. There is value to the customers, who are taking the time to provide their best thinking to a business they patronize. It's a partnership that begins--not ends--with listening.

Golf Ratings Suffer Dramatically Without Tiger, And Networks Know It

NEW YORK — The television networks already know what life without Tiger Woods looks like, and they were going to take that knowledge into their upcoming negotiations for the next contract with the PGA Tour.

The tour's six-year deals with CBS and NBC expire in 2012, and negotiations are expected to begin late next year.

Knee surgery sidelined Woods for eight months after his stirring win at the 2008 U.S. Open, slicing television ratings in half while he was gone. Now Woods is taking an indefinite leave from golf after admitting to marital infidelity.

During the last round of negotiations, NBC focused on securing rights to tournaments that Woods was likely to play, said former MAGNA research chief Steve Sternberg.

But even before a stream of sordid allegations led Woods to step away from the game, the networks had received a harsh reminder that the lofty ratings they receive when he's in contention aren't assured.

"The television business is about guaranteeing ratings to advertisers," said analyst Larry Gerbrandt, a principal of Media Valuation Partners.

The networks sell ads based on a promise of a certain rating. They can't afford to be frequently caught in the position of needing to make up for ratings that fall short, Gerbrandt said. Networks know how high ratings would be if Woods is in contention, but they can't base their rates on the assumption that he will be.

"You can't run a business that way," Gerbrandt said.

The networks must decide how much money they're willing to pay the PGA Tour based on how much money they believe they can make from advertisers.

"The negotiation to some extent is based on a worst-case scenario," Gerbrandt said.

By the time the negotiations start, the networks might have a better sense of the scenario, good or bad. If Woods has already returned to the tour, they'll be able to gauge the effect of the scandal on ratings and his level of play. The longer he stays out, the more uncertainty will permeate the negotiations.

"If Tiger returns to golf and performs well, ratings will remain high," Sternberg wrote in an e-mail. "But if he is not back yet, it will definitely impact how much the networks will be willing to pay."

CBS and NBC declined comment.

"We're under no illusions. We're much more prosperous golfers for having Tiger Woods playing in our era," golfer Graeme McDowell said. "There's plenty of global superstars on the way up to replace him. But they're not just quite ready to replace him yet. We need him to hang out for another four or five years."


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Naples, Fla., contributed to this report.

“Jay Leno Show” #1 In Product Placement

Finally -- a Nielsen chart in which "The Jay Leno Show" is a dominant No. 1.

But this probably isn't a measurement that NBC will care to emphasize. According to Nielsen data, "Leno" boasted more "product placement activity" -- 1,015 mentions -- than any other regularly scheduled broadcast and cable series in 2009.

Book of Tens: Epic Media Feuds of 2009

What a year for feuds. With Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston both trying to get air time, the meltdown of the Gosslin marriage, and The White House declaring war on Fox News, much of what we read and watched was a vesion of "he said, she said." Here's the 10 most annoying spats of the year.

Pepsi May Play Second String in Super Bowl

NEW YORK ( -- PepsiCo is likely to give flagship Pepsi a diminished presence in the upcoming Super Bowl on CBS because the company fears the venue isn't a good fit with its brand message.

CBS Interactive Dumps Ad Networks

NEW YORK ( -- Hoping to get an ad on,, or CNET? Better call CBS. CBS is expected to announce Dec. 14 that it will no longer do business with third-party ad networks, and will instead sell all of its considerable online inventory on its own.