SAP: Using Social Media for Building, Selling and Supporting

SAP has run its online community network for nearly ten years. Now, says Mark Yolton, senior vice president of SAP Communities & Social Media, it’s also using social media for “outside-in” market insight and as a mechanism to immediately tell the world about its new products.

Mark Yolton, senior vice president of SAP Communities & Social Media

As senior vice president of SAP Communities & Social Media, Mark Yolton oversees a huge array of interactions.

They include everything that takes place in the SAP Community Network, a hosted online community of nearly three million members including customers, partners, employees, influencers and competitors. They also include SAP's participation on third party social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google Plus and SlideShare. In addition to that he is responsible for in-person events for members of SAP's community and broad ecosystem, including SAP TechEd which will host 35,000 attendees at four locations around the world in 2012. And just recently, he took on the additional responsibility for the company's official website, SAP.com and its 72 localized country websites in 40 languages.

"Even with a company as complex as SAP, with 60,000 employees around the world, we really only do three basic things," says Yolton. "We build solutions, we sell solutions, and then we support our customers to be successful in using those solutions. And in each of those three areas, social media plays an important role."

In a conversation with David Kiron, executive editor of Innovation Hubs at MIT Sloan Management Review, Yolton talked about how SAP has continually modernized its online forums, how it nurtures idea development through crowd sourcing at its Idea Place, and the value of being able to communicate directly with millions of customers whenever it launches a new product or service.

The SAP Developer Network (now SAP Community Network) launched online almost ten years ago. What was it like then, and what's it like now?

Like a lot of companies, I think, we started down the online networking path with developers and technologists because those were the people most comfortable with the state of online collaborations in those days. The tools were pretty uncomfortable and not very beautiful, and perhaps not very intuitive like the way that they've evolved today.

Over those nine years, we've grown a community of nearly three million registered members. They're from all countries and territories around the world.

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6 Comments On: SAP: Using Social Media for Building, Selling and Supporting

  • nancy | August 7, 2012

    Great article and information from the enterprise wide system for social and community management. This goes beyond the realms of “engagement” to a strategy for consumer listening and product development. Very insightful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lou Leporace | August 10, 2012

    I especially like the emphasis on using social tools for listening, product prioritization, and roadmap development. Thanks for providing an in depth view of the social effort within SAP. The points and lessons are relevant for SMBs as well as enterprise.

  • bernie | August 13, 2012

    A terrific and candid review of SAP’s strategic thinking on social media. I especially appreciate the last sentence: “We are transforming ourselves into a social business.”

    My question to Mark is does he have management and cross functional support to become a social business?

  • Emerging Technologies ECs 8/10/12 - AdaptableOrg.com | August 13, 2012

    [...] SAP: Using Social Media for Building, Selling and Supporting (MIT Sloan Management Review) Big Idea: In a conversation with David Kiron, executive editor of Innovation Hubs at MIT Sloan Management Review, Yolton talked about how SAP has continually modernized its online forums, how it nurtures idea development through crowd sourcing at its Idea Place, and the value of being able to communicate directly with millions of customers whenever it launches a new product or service. [...]

  • jerome.pineau | August 18, 2012

    This is truly a spectacular article and should be used as a roadmap in any large complex technology product organization IMO.

    The whole marketing shift Mark describes is absolutely on the money (no pun) and few folks get that. Take immense courage to pursue something like this internally.

    Brilliant dude :)

  • chris.kaufman | September 1, 2012

    Social Media is Big Data… Social Data is being driven from the edges of PR and Customer Support or even end of the tail of Marketing and being brought kicking and scratching into the core development cycles of JIT Businesses.

    Community Management is just a component of social engagement, providing insights into how the product/services should be delivered. Just as listening to and responding to tweets are. Is a community URL better than a hashtag? Hmmm, if I was SAP, I would see breaking down the walls and URL of custom engagement coded walls is like reading the clue train manifesto and getting started on building an AOL dial-up network…

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