September 15, 2011
How To

Social Media Marketing: How SAP identifies and replicates successful tactics across a global company

SUMMARY: Effective social media strategies are well researched and planned. The trouble for larger companies is that, with so many departments wanting to get into the race, how do you make sure they are all running in the right direction?

See how SAP, a global B2B company, looked at its social media marketing, identified what worked, and reproduced it across the company. Check out details on their pilot projects, teaching approach, and overall results.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

In the last few years, teams across SAP began experimenting in social media. SAP is not a small company. The business management solutions provider offers 47 products and services in more than 20 global industries with 53,000 employees. With such a broad organization, it was not easy to ensure each team followed a proven game plan.

"It was very enthusiastic, but somewhat undirected. Kind of a buckshot approach," says Todd Wilms, Senior Director, Social Media Audience Marketing, SAP.

Some of these experiments successfully built an online audience, but many struggled to gain traction. SAP's executives wanted to replicate the successes and formed a team, with Wilms as a founding member, to find out how. Having completed its research, the team now travels the world teaching SAP's employees how to launch successful social media strategies.

Since forming 18 months ago, the team has worked with more than 20 groups inside SAP to raise their "social IQ," which has greatly increased the size of the company's online audience (results metrics below).

Wilms will be talking about his work at the 2011 MarketingSherpa B2B Summits in Boston and San Francisco in the coming weeks. Below are the steps SAP took to turn its early social media successes into a strategy that could be repeated across the company.

Step #1. Review your social history

The team's first task was to review SAP's history in social media marketing. Early programs used a variety of social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs. Some of the programs had been abandoned, and others were still running.

The team needed to identify the right mix of strategy, tactics and channels that made some programs successful and others failures. The team began by interviewing groups and asking what they did, why and the results they achieved.

- Learn from mistakes

Even the unsuccessful programs provided valuable information to the team. For example, one group created a fantastic blog that successfully built an audience. But the group bit off more than it could chew when it shifted its focus to creating videos, which nearly caused the demise of the blog.

"This was like one of those early NASA rockets before the space program really took off where the thing goes straight up in the air, then comes straight down, and then explodes. That is kind of what happened to this blog," Wilms says.

The lesson: realistically gauge the resources you have and the resources you need before launching.

Step #2. Develop proven best practices

Wilms and the team brought a wealth of knowledge to the table and combined that with its research on SAP's prior social media marketing. From there, the team created a library of resources to teach people throughout SAP how to plan, launch and manage a successful social media program.

This content included slide decks, how-to articles and whitepaper guides. The team planned to use these resources to communicate a set of unified best practices to any SAP group working or interested in social media. They are not published externally.

Examples of points and topics in the content:

o Defining the audience
o Finding the audience
o Setting goals and success metrics
o Gauging resources required
o Selecting channels
o Using channels effectively

The content also strives to set the groups' expectations.

"Your goals and objectives are not 'I want to drive revenue,'" Wilms says. Questions the groups have to ask themselves include "How do you want to engage and have conversations? Who are these audiences? How do you empathize with them? How do you find them? And ultimately, what are you going to provide them in return for their trust and conversation?" Wilms says.

Step #3. Tweak existing programs

The team worked with several groups to test its new teaching process. The groups had strategies that needed focusing or adjusting. The team prepared slide presentations for the groups to teach them how to build a successful strategy.

"We want to talk to you about where you are and what you are looking to do. Let us walk you through these kinds of steps and make sure you are coming into this with your eyes wide open and not just saying 'Oh, they are on Facebook, I want to go on Facebook, too,'" Wilms says.

For example, the team helped the ill-fated blog mentioned above to realign its content strategy and editorial calendar. After launching under a new name, the blog was doing 'phenomenally well' six months later," Wilms says.

These initial projects helped the team refine its content and the approach it used to teach each group and steer them toward success.

- Addressing legal and branding concerns

Some of SAP's early social programs were established before the company enacted legal or branding guidelines. Although some programs represented themselves as speaking for SAP, their results did not enhance the brand as much as hoped, Wilms says.

In response, the team created guidelines stating that employee blogs, Facebook profiles, and other outlets could not brand or represent themselves as coming from SAP. Some later programs were allowed to loosely associate themselves with the company, such as the CFOKnowledge blog, but are still kept at arm's length.

"It actually has not been a detriment in that this also frees the CFO team to propose ideas, thoughts and commentary outside the SAP brand, and deliver a wide scope of information that could not normally be delivered in a branded property," Wilms says.

Step #4. Launch a pilot program

The team also took on an early project to help SAP's Financials group launch a strategy to reach business finance leaders, an audience that had a reputation of being unengaged online, Wilms says.

"That audience has typically been more anonymous than others. It is a highly regulated industry, and I think most executives are a little quiet in terms of what they are willing to engage with and say online because of the governance issues," Wilms says.

Wilms' team first had to convince the group's managers to listen to its advice. This required having repeated conversations, explaining, "You've tried this before, now let us try it our way," and sticking to the framework the team built, he says.

- Cohesive strategy

The team looked at the skills sets available in the group and identified people who were natural writers, speakers, presentation developers, and people who excelled in trade shows. Leveraging these skills, the team launched the following:

o CFOKnowledge blog - included a focused strategy and manageable editorial calendar. The team soft-launched the blog without promoting it for the first 60 days to ensure it had a library of content before driving visitors, and to help the team develop its "social media chops," Wilms says.

o Vimeo profile -- for managing videos

o Slideshare account -- for managing slide decks

o Facebook and Twitter accounts

o Calls-to-action in trade show presentations to visit these channels

"We also had some pieces up on the site. Everything was linked to each other, so that when you came into any one of those properties, you were ultimately directed to others or back into the blog, which was the center of the universe," Wilms says.

- Save the blueprint

The CFOKnowledge launch was a success, and the group continues to maintain the blog and other channels (see results metrics below). Wilms plans to use the strategy with other groups going forward.

"That is one of the templates that we are going to use to replicate how to interact with executives through blogging and thought leadership and how to make it work."

Step #5. Replicate process throughout the company

After the team's early projects had enough time to generate results, requests started pouring in for Wilms and the team to help groups across the company. But with five members, the team cannot fulfill every request it receives from the many groups in SAP.

Here are ways the team helps manage demands for its services:

- Prioritize projects

The team does not use an all-or-nothing approach. Some groups are selected for full, hands-on guidance. Others are pointed in the right direction and given content from the team's library, which is generalized to be applicable for any group.

"We need to constantly pick our battles on who we work with, who we do more light-touch consulting with to guide them along, and then who do we do more general training and engagement with," Wilms says.

- Recruit help

SAP also launched a champions program of 28 SAP people across the globe. These social media disciples help spread the team's guidelines in their local regions and help groups develop local strategies. Champions are located in Mexico, Norway, Spain, France, and other countries.

"We provide them content and insight and information and we develop the playbooks and best practice guides. They take that content and use it in-house to help all their local communities," Wilms says.


Although it has been a catalyst helping to unify SAP's social media programs, the programs' successes cannot be solely attributed to his team, Wilms says. These results metrics are aggregated across SAP's social programs, and are the result of collaborations and hard work from across the company.

o 83,900 fans -- over 110% increase from August 2010
o 190 interactions per post average
o 50,000+ clicks YTD
o 250,000 fan page views TYD
o 11,000 photo views YTD

o 11,500 followers -- more than 600% increase from August 2010
o 135,000 clicks YTD

o 36,000 video views YTD
o 41,300 lifetime video views (channel launched Nov. 2010)

o 70,000 followers
o 178,000 page views YTD
o 82 product and services recommendations

- Pilot project results

The team's CFOKnowledge pilot project has since helped SAP's Financials group lure an elusive audience and turn itself into an online authority quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national media outlets.

"This has always been focused on finding new audiences and engaging them in SAP in a different way, shape, or form, and show SAP as the kind of thought leader in the space, rather than SAP forcing another series of products on you," Wilms says.

CFOKnowledge has attracted:
o 1,560 Twitter followers
o 7,500 average monthly page views

"Early on, it was sort of common lore that financial people wouldn't engage in social media. We started to see people at trade shows coming up to us and saying 'hey, you are the guy on the video,' or 'I just read your blog piece, and it was really good,' and we started to see requests for more content," Wilms says.

Todd Wilms is speaking at the 2011 MarketingSherpa B2B Summits in Boston on Sept. 26 and in San Francisco on Oct. 24. See the useful links below for more details.

Useful links related to this article

1. Playbook examples
2. Twitter playbook cover

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011

Lead Nurturing: Fewer emails yield 225% more sales leads

Email Marketing: Triggered emails that target the conversion funnel boost revenue

Email Marketing: A toxic misunderstanding that could kill your response rates


SAP’s CFOKnowledge links:

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