July 17, 2013
Case Study

B2B Social Media: SAP Latin America boosts followers 900% [Part I]

SUMMARY: Social media is a B2B marketing channel, and potentially a very powerful channel when approached with an overall strategy. This case study takes a look at social media at SAP, and takes a deeper dive into social media at SAP Latin America.

We heard the global perspective and insights from one of SAP's six worldwide regions on how the multinational implements its social media strategy across many markets. Not every marketer is dealing with that challenge, but the basic principles presented in this article can be applied by almost any size B2B enterprise from SMB to, well, SAP-size.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter


The social media marketing channel should be a part of almost any B2B marketer's active campaigns, but at the same time it's still an emerging channel and many marketers are still trying to figure out how to implement social media and also what to expect from those efforts.

SAP is global company active in six major regions worldwide and many countries. At the same time, SAP has developed a very effective social media program across those regions and on a global corporate level.

Today's case study takes a look at both SAP's social media strategy and tactics in Latin America, and also provides insight into the overall global strategy.

Why focus on Latin America? Social media is huge in Latin America (see comScore data below).

For this article, MarketingSherpa was able to interview both Adriel Sanchez, Vice President of Demand Generation and Todd Wilms, Head of Social Business Strategy, both of SAP. Sanchez provided insight into SAP's Latin America efforts, and Wilms provided the global perspective.

Sanchez and Wilms will also be co-presenting a transferable case study at the upcoming MarketingSherpa Lead Gen Summit 2013 in San Francisco, "Win Together: Using social business to help local and global teams engage their audience."

The information MarketingSherpa was able to obtain on this strategic effort was so thorough, this case study will run in two parts over the next two weeks of B2B Marketing Newsletters. This week, we look at building the social media strategy, and next week we will cover managing social media, including analytics, at SAP.


Here are some data points from comScore:
  • 176M social media users in Latin America

  • 7.5 hours spent on social networks per month (highest worldwide)

  • 68.9% of Internet users engage with social media (highest worldwide)

  • Top region for user-generated content on news websites worldwide

One major reason for these numbers, according to one analyst cited by Sanchez, is the plaza culture in Latin America. Cities in Latin America have many plazas where people congregate and share stories, opinions and just enjoy each other's company. This culture translated very easily to the digital world in the form of social media.

"When social media came around, that culture of sharing and that culture of storytelling and that culture of community just extended itself to the online space," Sanchez said.

Step #1. Build the social media strategy

Sanchez said because of that culture and those communities, SAP saw a "tremendous opportunity" to accomplish the company's objectives and leverage that audience.

He added at the beginning of 2012, there was no global social media strategy in place so the first step was to reach out and learn what SAP was doing in other regions.

Sanchez believed Latin America had an advantage in its smaller regional size compared to some of SAP’s other global regions and the advantage was the ability to be more nimble and quickly apply SAP's social learnings and implement a social media strategy.

He said the Latin America region was late to implement a formal social strategy at SAP, so the team tapped into that institutional knowledge to learn:
  • What should our objectives be with social media?

  • What are the tools available to us?

  • What is the governance process we might want to follow?

Sanchez said he was basically looking for guidance before even beginning the process of building the social media communities within the new strategy.

Wilms added SAP was gaining knowledge at regional, country and even local levels. He said the company was seeing good work being done in pockets — a team in one country was doing exceptional work while another team in another country working with the same challenge was struggling.

The global challenge for SAP was to make sure the successful teams were sharing information and knowledge to allow other teams to make smart, empowered decisions at a local level while aligning to a global strategy.

Because social media works differently in different parts of the world in terms of preferred platforms and more, SAP's global strategy sought to answer one question:

"How do we enable that cross-cultural information to be shared around the company, and to do it in an efficient manner?" Wilms asked.

He continued, "It's the community experience of allowing people to share information — great stories and great ideas — to do that internally so they can be smart about how they deal with their customers. That's really the heart of what we’re trying to do with the social strategy."

Step #2. Consolidate social accounts

This concept was put into place to help achieve a critical mass of social media followers and users.

Wilms said the concept was difficult at a company as large as SAP with around 65,000 employees.

The team encouraged each employee to create their own social experience and create a social voice. This was a major change from previous marketing and public relations practices where maybe five or six people constituted the "voice of the company."

"Now you have these multiple voices, but if they create that experience and then walk away from it, and don’t manage and maintain it, then you're leaving this sort of disconnected experience for our customers," Wilms said.

SAP employees created Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presences, but often were not able to properly maintain and manage those accounts in the way SAP wanted to see.

On top of accounts that weren't being maintained, there were also very specialized groups, such as a Twitter and Facebook presence for "SAP Slovakia Banking." Those groups were for very specific geography and industry group.

Wilms stated, "We started to come in and say, 'Let's find a way to not necessarily close them down, but [to] consolidate. To move people to better forms of communication, to get them to engage with a wider set of audiences and to create great content and great experiences within those broader experiences."

The strategy then became to apply some governance and structure around social media.

"You enable people to have that enthusiasm and that voice in the marketplace. That voice to engage with our customers, engage with the market, engage with other thought leaders and not put too much control around that, but also to steer and guide people so they know how best to use that enthusiasm and not allow it to be as unbridled as it was before," Wilms explained.

For example, the answer for the Slovakia Banking social media was to consolidate into a finance channel to promote many conversations and cross-educate on many topics.

Wilms said SAP is trying to steer people away from those "small microcosms" and steer them toward broader contexts and communities.

Consolidating the Latin America social media presence

Sanchez said in Latin America, this process meant shutting down about 24 social media accounts.

The team used tools provided by the SAP Social Media team to look at the audience for each of those accounts to track number of followers and engagement over a six-month period.

The governance question was "How specific do you want your accounts versus do you want to build a critical mass?"

The result was a focus on building a critical mass, and now SAP Latin America has four Facebook accounts, four Twitter accounts and two LinkedIn accounts.

Step #3. Understand how your audience consumes and reacts to social media content

This step actually involves several different aspects of social media, but the first is social platforms.

Because SAP is a global entity, each region has to be aware of what platform performs best in that area — sometimes down to the country level — and also how those audiences react to each platform.

For example, Wilms said the U.S. audience uses Twitter primarily to broadcast and promote, but in Europe, LinkedIn is the preferred platform for those functions. In the U.S., LinkedIn is used for community engagement with LinkedIn Groups and for personal branding experiences.

Beyond that, there are issues with some platforms such as YouTube being blocked in a number of countries. Groups in those countries utilizing video can’t take advantage of YouTube because the target audience would never see that content.

In response, he said SAP tried to create good content that can be utilized locally across many platforms and then provide local resources to take advantage of the platforms that work best in each area.

Wilms said, "We want to have that content created and distributed so that people are making local smart decisions about what channels and tools to use."

Language, not country, is important in Latin America

Sanchez said the team learned instead of offering social media outlets for each Latin America country, it was more effective to offer social media by language. This meant Portuguese for Brazil, and then another set of social accounts for the Spanish-speaking countries.

He added the team does engage in geotargeting within the Spanish-speaking countries for promoting, say, an event in Mexico or Colombia.

"We definitely decided to focus on a language versus country model," Sanchez explained. "Number one, it gives everybody exposure to the content that would be of interest to them, and number two, it makes it a lot easier to administer."

Sanchez added this learning led to an expansion of the overall social media strategy:
  • Year one was about building critical mass of users

  • Year two was about targeting the messaging

  • Year three will be about turning that critical mass into measureable business results

He added the entire process is fluid — if the Mexico audience becomes large enough from a critical mass perspective, the team might create accounts specific to Mexico. But, the number one goal was building a community.

Step #4. Manage the social media accounts

The strategy is in place and the audience is understood, now it's time to actually manage the social media accounts.

SAP's Latin America region decided to bring on an external agency partner early in the process on retainer to administer community management.

With the agency the team had a set of dedicated individuals that work closely with Sanchez’s team to the point the agency group helps the team to create a content calendar that leaders from each business unit, country and Latin America region can tap into.

The agency group had 100% visibility into the content that was promoted and where they could plug in specific promotional items, add third-party content, or even general interest content around a particular line of business or the IT industry in general according to Sanchez.

There is also a content type ratio in effect with social media.

"We try to keep it pretty balanced," Sanchez said, with promotional materiel comprising 20% of social media content at the most and the remaining 80% valued-add information for the community.

The agency group helps with community management, and has access to all of SAP's internal tools used to monitor social media activity — such as listening platforms. Also, the group has tools that uncover new accounts being opened to watch for any social activity that might be flying under the radar of the overall strategy.

There are service-level agreements around any interactions that require a one-on-one response.

"The point is," Sanchez explained, "they've got a scalable operation that finds that type of interaction that requires a one-on-one response and gets back [to that person] immediately."

He added one goal has become even more scaled out than SAP Latin America social media already is.

Sanchez said, "I think there are a lot of things that we could be missing."

Wilms and the SAP Social Media team regularly interfaces with Sanchez's team to keep that group up to speed with what is working in other regions, and also:
  • Has a vendor manager with the agency

  • Engages stakeholders with vested interests in promoting specific types of content

  • Ensures the content calendar is up-to-date

  • Analyzes the reporting coming from the agency

  • Finally, takes the strategy to "the next level"


For SAP Latin America, one year after implementing a formal social media strategy, the metrics show the value in an organized social effort:
  • From February to December 2012, followers on external social media sites grew from just over 10,000 to close to 95,000. That number is now over 100,000, an overall lift of 900%.

  • Across SAP’s 233 global Twitter accounts, @SAPBrasil is ranked number 10 in followers and engagement. @SAPLatinAmerica is number 19.

  • Across SAP's 112 global Facebook accounts, SAP Latinoamerica ranks number four, and SAP Brasil number five.

  • Across the region there is a 17% interaction rate.

  • Latin American subscribers to SAP’s internal social media community has increased 25%.

  • A campaign featuring a social app targeting specific buying centers drove over 12,000 visitors and a 15% engagement rate.

Sanchez said his key takeaway from the program was understanding that social media could be used for a multitude of things, and at the same time, realize the channel is very good at some marketing activities, but also needs to be supplemented with other tactics for some other marketing activities.

He also mentioned ROI will be an ongoing question and challenge for social media marketing.

Wilms added SAP is seeing social media is truly a cultural phenomenon and that the concept of "cost of entry" is something that enterprises need to embrace.

"Organizations need to come to terms with the realization that this is just how business is being done, and how business is being run," he explained. "You can either embrace it and engage with your customers head-on in the marketplace, or you can shy away from it and lose your customer to somebody else."

Advice for social media marketers

Wilms stated social media is about empathy and understanding the needs of your audience.

"What is it that they're going through? What is it that your customer is facing? Who is it that you are trying to reach?" he asked. "Once you understand that, developing your social strategy, developing your content, all the tactics that go into that become really clear."

Sanchez said it's important to have an objective in mind.

He explained, "If your objective is just to drum up some noise to further buy-in from executives, that's a fine objective, but it's going to change your tactic mix a little bit. Maybe you have a bigger goal down the line to really get the resources to put in a social media strategy, and maybe in order to get there you just need to do some quick wins and just make that your objective."

Impact on Sales

Wilms said SAP doesn't have a number for this metric, but in an internal poll, the company found Sales realizes social media is accelerating the pipeline and this was a change from even a year ago. He stated across the board, SAP now wants to see training, programs, campaigns, budget and resources going to social media initiatives.

SAP Latin America has aligned the social media program with Sales in a number of ways:
  • Social selling: the social community has provided Sales with a starting point, and Sales now looks to social media to uncover opportunities, and inform and expedite the sales process.

  • Social Media Ambassador Program: Sales and sales support subject matter experts participate in social media through posts, tweets and blogging.

  • Events: the social media communities are now a vehicle for measuring the impact of events beyond the physical presence by accessing sentiment and extending the conversation after the closing ceremony.

Todd Wilms will be answering your questions about SAP's social media marketing efforts in the MarketingSherpa webinar, "Social Media: How one company operationalized social for replicated worldwide success" — Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 2:00 - 2:30 p.m. EDT.

Creative Samples

  1. Facebook

  2. Twitter

  3. LinkedIn



Related Resources

Lead Gen Summit 2013: September 30 - October 3, 2013, in San Francisco

Aberdeen Group research on social selling

Testing and Optimization: SAP's Test Lab increases digital leads 27%, leads to 20% budget savings

Testing and Optimization: SAP's Test Lab increases digital leads 27% [Part II]

Social Media Marketing: Social metrics from "likes" to ROI

Social Media Marketing: Which type of content is appropriate for different platforms?

Four Ideas on Marketing to Digital Natives Versus Digital Immigrants

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