IT users and buyers don’t make decisions today the same way they did 10 or even two years ago. The explosive growth of social media and social networking tools has offered an entire universe of unfiltered peer insights and recommendations to consult when making IT decisions.
IT professionals now can gain market intelligence and insight from peers and experts through blogs and online user communities; they can provide direction in the design of new vendor solutions through vendor-based social media tools; and they can even demo and buy new solutions on community sites, streamlining the technology evaluation process.
Social Media Becomes Social Business
The increased use of social media among IT groups is propelling social networking tools to become broadly accepted business tools. According to a recent Forrester Research report, “As a source for answers to business problems they need to solve, and for the ability to tap into a broader network of peers, business decision makers are making greater use of social media for business purposes” (see Figure 1).1
A 2010 survey from SmartBrief found that the use of social media in the business environment has exploded in the past two years — to the point where 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.”2 In fact, the survey shows that after two or more years of experience with social media, companies start to confidently and purposefully use social media for specific business objectives. More than 50% of those companies “have a well-developed or fully developed social media strategy, which is further evidenced by the use of multiple platforms.”
||Business decision makers plan to use various forms of emerging social media and information sources to make educated purchase choices; the top source among respondents is “forums and discussion groups,” one of the strongest features of SAP Community Network
How SAP Customers Can Derive Business Value from Social Media
SAP has not only recognized and embraced the value of social networking for business, but also invested in it with the belief that it helps SAP customers maximize the value of their IT investments in ways that were not possible before. The expansive SAP Community Network (SCN), a key component of an SAP user’s social media universe, is a clear sign of that commitment. It is a social network for SAP professionals. Within customer organizations, it serves people in various roles, including developers, IT professionals, business analysts, purchase decision makers, and end users. It hosts the largest aggregation of SAP experts, partners, industry opinion leaders, and SAP employees collaborating to increase the return on customers’ SAP investments.
SAP Community Network is focusing its strategy and delivery of benefits on three key pillars of value for 2011: social innovation, social intelligence, and social commerce. Let’s take a closer look at each pillar.
Value #1: Social Innovation
Sustainable innovation must be a collaborative process.3 Software designed with social aspects and features can be an effective conduit to collaborative innovation for solution end users, IT professionals, and developers. Developers and product managers can tap into crowd-based ideas and innovation, while end users can gain insights from other users, experts, and vendors to address specific business challenges.
Perhaps the most practical example of how social media can help SAP users innovate collaboratively is Idea Place, a crowd-sourcing tool hosted by SAP that enables customers and partners to share input on SAP products already launched or currently in design or testing. On Idea Place on SAP Community Network, each team of product managers gets customer-driven input on specific projects for which SAP seeks feedback. The team reviews the input and, in many cases, incorporates it into new product designs.
Idea Place is an effective, direct method of using social media to solicit user feedback on products. Ideas with the most votes are prioritized for review by respective product or solution teams and will often get incorporated into future releases. SAP has received such useful input from this forum that it is building mechanisms to enable users to provide feedback directly through its products. Idea Place has already received over 1,400 ideas for improving a range of SAP solutions and products. The advantage of tapping into our existing SCN community of over 2 million members, combined with product teams implementing Idea Place as their primary feedback channel, enables SAP to embrace open innovation from the concept phase all the way to execution. You can submit your ideas in two categories: Products and Solutions and Services and Communities.
As another example of social innovation, we host Code Exchange, an area of SCN in which SAP developers and community members share code, templates, and tools, and collaboratively develop prototypes. Code Exchange is aimed at individual developers who want to showcase their ideas, solicit feedback from the SAP developer community at large, or find other developers who may want to join their project. The platform supports code and release management, online discussions and blogs, document management, and issue tracking. To learn more, visit www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/code-exchange.
Value #2: Social Intelligence
As budgets continue to be scrutinized, building a business case for an IT project is now more important than ever. Social media tools can provide IT users with a wealth of information to help them develop those business cases. According to a 2010 survey from Toolbox.com, more than 55% of IT professionals use social media to make better decisions based on insights from like-minded professionals.4
For SAP customers, SAP Community Network provides an effective starting point for gathering intelligence on specific projects. With more than 2 million members and 6,000 bloggers, SCN provides ample opportunity for customers to share knowledge and solicit input from other SAP users, internal SAP developers and executives, and the numerous SAP mentors when building their business cases (see Figure 2). Customers are also turning to the resources on SCN to educate their teams to help them make better decisions and work more efficiently. (See the sidebar for two examples of companies that benefited from the social intelligence available in the community.)
||IT professionals and business decision makers increasingly turn to SAP Community Network to connect, collaborate, and co-innovate
Value #3: Social Commerce
By seeking feedback from fellow SCN members, customers can learn about other companies’ experiences with products to reduce the time and effort needed to evaluate various solutions. When selecting a solution, customers have a reliable source — other SAP users — to help them assess whether a product would meet their needs.
And now, IT buyers are progressing beyond using social media just to gather opinions and information on new solutions; they are also using social media sites to demo and even purchase their IT solutions. It’s a logical extension. If IT users are researching products on community sites, it makes sense that vendors should be able to offer their solutions only a click or two away. In fact, vendors are increasingly viewing social media sites as a low-cost, highly convenient method of marketing and selling their solutions.
SAP EcoHub gives SAP customers that option. Along with accessing demos and customer reviews and ratings, companies can initiate the purchase of SAP and partner solutions on the site. SAP EcoHub has expanded to allow customers to review SAP service partners as well as software solutions.
SAP partner CyberSafe says one of its recent customers came to it via SAP EcoHub when the customer was seeking an SAP-certified single sign-on (SSO) solution. In mid-2010, the customer began researching SSO security products with a demo of a CyberSafe product on SAP EcoHub. As the customer considered the solutions available, the ability to access ratings and reviews from other customers on SAP EcoHub provided important insight. Knowing the company had scored 5-star ratings on all of the customer reviews online, as well as consulting with a CyberSafe reference customer, the customer was able to confidently decide to purchase CyberSafe’s TrustBroker Secure Client product on SAP EcoHub. The customer has since posted its own 5-star rating for the CyberSafe TrustBroker Secure Client solution online. You can access SAP EcoHub at http://ecohub.sdn.sap.com.
Social Business: The Road from Here
Clearly, social networking has entrenched itself as an important step in the software buying process for business decision makers. According to a 2010 study, 83% of business professionals polled said social media is “here to stay,” while a scant 9% view it as a “flash in the pan.”5
We encourage you to become a part of the robust information exchange taking place within SAP Community Network. You can increase the return on your company’s investment in SAP solutions, while benefiting from one of the most innovative dimensions of the SAP experience. Join the conversation at http://SCN.sap.com.
Mark Yolton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Vice President of SAP Community Network (SCN), the social network for SAP professionals. SAP Community Network uses social media tools and best practices to enable more than 2 million individual members to interact around the clock in more than 200 countries and territories. Mark can be found on Twitter: @MarkYolton.
1 Forrester Research, Inc., “When to Socialize Online with B2B Buyers” (December 2010). [back]
2 SmartBrief, “The State of Social Media for Business: Select Themes 2010” (June 2010). [back]
3 For insight into the importance of collaborative innovation, see the article by Steve Graham in this April-June 2011 issue of SAPinsider. [back]
4 Toolbox.com, “2010 Toolbox.com/PJA Social Media Index: Wave VI” (August 2010). [back]
5 The Counsel House and Pilotmax, “The Social Networking Report” (May 2010). [back]