Can social networking really drive business value?

12 April 2011

Mark Yolton

Mark Yolton

Senior Vice President

How Social Media is benefiting customers who engage in SAP's
Community Network

In recent years, social media tools have exploded in their active use, their high profile, and their relevance to business.  Today, social networking and the communities they form are becoming business imperatives as they deliver efficiencies, insights, innovation, and value to those who participate, and risks of obsolescence or irrelevance to those left behind. 

Social Media's rapid rise

We first saw exponential growth in membership in and activity on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, then Twitter, Baidu, Sina Weibo, and others.  We noticed the metamorphosis from casual, playful consumer use to these sites becoming more important - if not core - to modern business.  And next we started to track the value being delivered to the most active participants in these social networking communities … from professional skill-building, the improved personal productivity, and greater influence of highly networked individuals, to the abundance of unfiltered peer insights and recommendations that guide IT users and influence business leaders in their technology purchasing decisions, to the sharing by peers of best practices in the use and application of those products, and even to the development of new or improved solutions that better meet the needs of individual customers and broad markets through outside-in feedback.

Today, IT and business professionals acquire market intelligence and insight from peers and experts through blogs and online user communities; they influence the design of new vendor solutions through vendor-hosted social media tools and processes.  They demo potential solutions on community sites to get a tangible sense of those solutions and then further streamline the technology evaluation process on the way to making online purchases, executing downloads, and then enjoying immediate productivity.

Social Media becomes social business

The increased use of social media tools and social networking communities among IT and business groups is propelling momentum for social networking platforms and practices to become widely incorporated into best business practices.  A 2010 survey from SmartBrief (The State of Social Media for Business: Select Themes 2010) found that the use of social media in the business environment has exploded to the point that more than 60% of US companies are now using social media: "Once just a way for individuals to connect and share with one another, social media has developed into a promising business tool."  In fact, the survey shows that after two or more years of experience using social media, companies confidently and purposefully leverage social media for specific business objectives. SAP customers derive business value from Social Media

My company, SAP, has not only recognized, but has embraced, promoted, and turbo-charged the value of social networking for its business - all of its business lifecycle end-to-end, from building software to selling solutions to supporting its customers post-sale.  It provides SAP and our partners strong and proven business benefits, but more importantly, SAP has long invested and led in social networking because we know that it helps our customers to efficiently and effectively maximize the value of their technology investments in ways that were never  possible before.

The expansive SAP Community Network (SCN), a key component of any SAP user's social media universe, is a clear sign of that commitment. Within customer organizations, it serves various job functions and roles, including developers and IT professionals, business analysts, consultants, purchase decision makers, line-of-business people, and end users.  On SCN, the social network for SAP professionals, you'll find the world's largest aggregation of SAP experts, including partners, industry opinion leaders, customers large and small representing every industry and from everywhere on the planet, and SAP employees collaborating to increase the return on customers' SAP investments.  Well over 2 million members - with 1.5 million visiting monthly and 100,000 contributing thoughtful solutions and insights - are connecting, collaborating, and sharing for mutual benefit.

Today, as we approach our 8th birthday, the SAP Community Network is delivering a range of business and individual benefits on four key pillars of value:

  1. social innovation
  2. social intelligence
  3. social commerce
  4. social insight

SCH4Pillars

Value #1: Social innovation

We believe that innovation must be a collaborative process. SAP product managers and even customer and partner developers now tap into crowd-based ideas and innovation, while end users gain insight from other users, experts, and vendors to address specific business challenges. Over time, software designed with social aspects and features built-in can be an effective conduit to rapid solution implementation and collaborative innovation for end users, business leaders, IT professionals, and developers.

A tangible example of how our social network helps SAP users innovate collaboratively is the "idea place", an innovation crowd-sourcing tool hosted by SAP that enables customers and partners to give input to SAP products in design, being tested, or previously launched.  In the "idea place" on the SAP Community Network, product managers get direct, customer-driven input on specific projects for which SAP is seeking feedback - input on requested features and functionality, or on whole new product directions.  The SAP team reviews user input and may incorporate it into new product designs - enabling SAP to embrace open, crowd-sourced innovation from the concept phase until execution.  The results will be realized through prioritized feature requests that allow focused targeting of development investments, the benefit of many bright minds working in sync on common challenges, and solutions that better meet market and customer demands.

Value #2: Social intelligence

As budgets continue to be under strain, social media tools provide IT and business users a wealth of information to help them develop precise business cases for technology solutions and projects, the benefit of collective knowledge about approaches to business or technical challenges, and best practices in operations. Through active, broad-based knowledge sharing and open information exchange by and between customers, partners, vendors, and opinion influencers, we strike at the core benefit of social media, social networking, and social business.

For SAP customers, the SAP Community Network provides an ideal starting point to gather intelligence on specific solutions, business process innovations, and more. With 6,000 bloggers - the vast majority of whom are not SAP employees but, in fact, are predominantly customers and partners, SCN provides ample opportunity for anyone in the SAP ecosystem to share their knowledge and experience, provide solutions or best practices, and to solicit input from other SAP users, internal SAP developers and executives, and SAP Mentors (the most engaged experts in the SAP social universe) when building their business cases or technology plans. Customers are also turning to the resources on SCN to educate teams and individuals, in order to up-level skill sets, improve business results, to achieve greater success rates and faster project implementations, and to work more efficiently.

Value #3: Social commerce

By obtaining feedback from fellow SAP Community Network members, customers learn about other companies' experiences with SAP or partner products and implementations, which reduce the time and effort needed to evaluate various alternative solutions. When selecting a solution or a service, customers have a reliable source - other SAP users - to help them assess whether a certain product would meet their individual needs, and even which service provider might be best-suited to help them implement, customize, or operate those solutions.
 
Business leaders and IT buyers are progressing beyond solely using social media to gather opinions and information on new solutions - they also use these sites to demo, test-drive, evaluate, and purchase their technology solutions. It's a logical extension: IT and business users are researching products on community sites, so it makes sense that vendors should offer their solutions just a click away. In fact, software and services providers are increasingly viewing social media sites as a low-cost, highly efficient, convenient, and effective channel for marketing and selling their solutions.

The SAP EcoHub provides SAP customers that option. In addition to more easily discovering potential solutions, then accessing online demos and customer reviews and ratings to evaluate their options, companies initiate the purchase of SAP and partner solutions on the site. Recently, SAP EcoHub expanded to allow customers to review SAP service partners as well as software solutions, as a way to provide a more holistic and complete experience for customers. And, importantly, the SAP EcoHub is tightly connected with the broader SAP Community Network where prospective customers can gain insight into real-world value from existing customers. 

Value #4: Social insight

Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky attributed some of his success to skating to where the puck was going to be.  Imagine the power behind knowing early about an emerging trend that will be important to shaping the future of business or technology, or of the ability to anticipate key market movements, or of more deeply and fundamentally understating new customer requirements. Social networks can provide rich input to that future forecasting, anticipation, and customer understanding. 

At SAP, by actively observing, closely listening, and then extracting intelligence from customer behaviors and conversations in our communities, we are better able to equip our product, service, and field teams with actionable information that can help them best meet the needs of individual customers and of entire markets. 

The right quantitative analysis offers deep insight into customer hot topics, burning issues, and new opportunities that equip our product designers and developers with the clues to know which features and functionality customers will demand and buy in the future, it alerts our service and support teams about issues or needs they can then address proactively, and equips our field teams with an edge in hitting the "sweet spot" of business and technology requirements when engaging customers. It paves the way to giving customers a world-class experience by anticipating opportunities, pre-empting issues, addressing those issues, and providing the best possible solutions so they can be - as we say at SAP - "best run" companies. 

Social business: Paving the road ahead

Clearly, social media and social networking are growing up, and have become powerful business tools.  What were once playful diversions for kids and consumers have exploded onto the world stage to play a significant role for business leaders and technologists across the entire business cycle from product development, go-to-market, and commerce, to support, operations, and innovation processes. 

At SAP, we are proud to be leading the charge, experimenting, and establishing best business practices in social business.  You're welcome to join the conversation on the social network for SAP professionals - the SAP Community Network. You will also want to engage in other social networks and communities relevant to your specific skills and business.

I invite you to engage and explore - to connect and collaborate with your software vendors, service provider, partners, customers, influencers, and prospects in online social networks and communities - and to thereby capture the tangible business and professional benefits of the new social business for yourself and your company. 

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Mark Yolton has been leading the SAP Community Network for all of his five years at SAP, by way of Sun Microsystems, PeopleSoft, Oracle, and Unisys. His background includes field, regional, and headquarters roles in marketing, communications, the web, and eBusiness. He has degrees from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and has completed MBA coursework and continuing executive education at LaSalle University (Philadelphia, PA), at INSEAD (France), and at Stanford University (California). You can email Mark at mark.yolton@sap.com or follow him on twitter.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bluefin Solutions Ltd.

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Mark Yolton

Senior Vice President

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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