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In Responding to SAP’s Social Media Guidelines for Employees – Riffing on Their Blogging Suggestions, Part One, I shared some responses to the blogging advice SAP provided in its Social Media Guidelines for Employees. In part two, I’ll jump right into some of the additional blogging guidelines I didn’t have time to comment on in the first part before the post got plenty long. As in part one, SAP’s guidelines are in italics, then my comments. I will also include SCN examples of people who I think are doing things in the right way. The numbering scheme is mine and continues from where I left off in the last post.

6. Be Engaged and Be Informed. Read the contributions of others. Know what the current conversations are and what people are saying in order to see if, and how, you may be able to contribute a new perspective. Participation is the fuel of social computing. And remember?

Even though it’s a lawn constantly sprouting new weeds, my RSS reader is invaluable to me. Why? I want to know what others are saying before I chime in. Otherwise I am operating in a smaller world. People want you to connect the dots of an issue with your own take; you do that by staying on top of the storylines in your skills area. I think it’s also helpful to cast a wide net and track industry leaders that span beyond a narrow focus. Even though I often write on SAP skills trends, I track blogs across the IT marketplace. When you combine focus and broader context, you have the best chance of advancing the conversation. And when you advance the conversation, you can achieve “must read” status.

It’s not about the tools; some people accomplish what I do on RSS with a social bookmarking site like Digg. You can even do it with real-time sites like Twitter, though I miss a lot of stuff without checking my RSS (Google) Reader setup also. One person in the SCN community who does a great job with this is Craig Cmehil. On his Friday Morning Report, he often brings in perspectives outside of SAP. Recently he devoted a show to Hugh MacLeod’s new book “Ignore Everybody,” which led to a great discussion on creativity in blogging and other endeavors. A more recent show on Women in Technology, with special guest Maggie Fox, was another example of how he is willing to take on important issues beyond an SAP scope.

7. Aim for Quality, not Quantity. Offer your contribution with context whenever you can. Provide links to other blogs, media articles or whatever sources you think are necessary. Make your content rich and interesting for others to read. Consider attaching documents when necessary (but not SAP internal documents, confidential or not, of course!). And in every case, keep the language simple and flowing. If you start a blog, encourage feedback and conversation – make sure your readers can add feedback to your blog and respond in a timely manner. A two-way communication exchange allows for a more meaningful conversation.

I was really happy to see the “quality over quantity” emphasis in SAP’s Social Media Guidelines. When it comes to blogging advice, you don’t see quality underscored nearly as often as quantity (“try to blog every day”), because it flies in the face of some misguided notions about Search Engine Optimization and building influence by pinging people all the time. In my opinion, most regular bloggers post way too much. Exceptions: there are some fantastic daily bloggers out there. On the independent analyst side, Dennis Howlett finds a way to post substantive pieces almost every day, and Vinnie Mirchandani has a real knack for putting out something short that still gets you thinking in new ways. But make no mistake, those guys are riffing on a lot of due diligence, akin to the guitar soloist who jams off hours of scaling practice. No, I’m not saying Vinnie and Dennis are Clapton and Townshend, but they might appreciate the discipline behind the posts. Those guys are the exceptions.

I would rather see one really substantive and thoughtful post rather than a frantic series of short and inconsequential ones. I Tweeted on this a couple weeks ago: “Reading fluffy blog posts. I guess some think if you don’t feed a blog daily it will starve. Let it go hungry till you have something good.” You build influence by creating memorable posts. Within the BPX community, SAP Mentor Dick Hirsch is someone who really puts thought into his contributions, and this is in turn reflected in the visibility his posts tend to receive. There are many other SCN examples.

When you do quality work, especially with original data or images, others will then link to it and share it with others. This is a natural viral effect we can’t force. I also agree with SAP’s guidelines on links: linking to outside resources within a post is important. It’s not something I adhere to every time, but I do make an effort to “link out to context.” Those who never link to outside thinking come off as insular. It bothers me a lot when sites like CNN.com write about other web sites but refuse to provide outgoing links (though CNN has lately shown improvement in this area, so maybe they are finally getting it). As for responding to comments, that may seem self-explanatory, but part of blogging is being willing to step into the fray with those who come along with feedback. Those who view blogging as one-way broadcasting are not getting the most out of the medium and can even hurt their reputations by coming off as aloof.

8. Don’t Pick Fights. When you see misrepresentations or patently false statements about SAP by bloggers, the media, analysts or anyone else for that matter, you may certainly address these misrepresentations, even by joining someone else’s conversation. But stick to the facts and make sure the facts you rely on are publicly available.

It’s impossible to win a fight on the Internet, though I have tried a few times. Online skirmishes tend to reflect badly on all participants, regardless of who went in with the moral high ground. Unlike a heated phone call, the record of that online altercation is usually permanent. I’m much more likely to pick up the phone when things get testy, rather than settling scores in a blog comment thread. I have seen business reputations negatively impacted in a matter of days with an ill-thought post or even some chest-pounding Tweets.

This is serious business in a world where reputations and livelihoods are tightly linked. Exception: a really vigorous discussion about an idea that matters, such as say, open source standards and whether ERP vendors should adhere to them. Being passionate about ideas can be a virtue, but once it gets personal, it’s time to take a step back. One of the biggest mistakes I used to make: I would get upset about a blog post and fire off an angry retort – without knowing more about the background of the person doing the posting.

Now I look into that person’s overall body of work andmake sure I know what I am stepping into. Diving into the fray with a questionable blogger who does not have credibility in the community might be foolish. And yes, I do send back channel feedback when I object to a blog post but do not feel it’s appropriate to go public yet with my concerns. Challenging people on their viewpoints is important, but I make an effort to get my facts straight first. I also give some thought to my own motives. Standing up for ideas I care about, great. Having the back of friends in the industry – important. Worrying about how a blog post might impact my narrow financial interests – not as important (though it can feel like it at the time). Making sure my reputation is not harmed by poor judgements and the wrong affiliations – vital. We make an impression not just with the force of our arguments but on how we treat people we disagree with. SAP obviously wants its employees’ online behavior to reflect well on SAP. As someone who is in business for myself, I have a similar concern. I can’t separate my behavior on Facebook or on Twitter or on a blog comment thread from how I am perceived professionally in general. Everything is now connected.

9. Protect Your Privacy. Never disclose personal information.

This was one of the few guidelines in SAP’s social media guidelines I found to be a little incomplete. Sometimes it is appropriate to disclose some personal information. On my Twitter feed, for example, I recently disclosed that my post-college career began as a grocery bagger. This lead to a great Twitter conversation about wacky jobs people have had and the obstacles they have overcome. The tradeoff: if you hold your cards too close to your chest, people won’t end up relating as well to what you do online. Participating in online communities means sharing more than technical expertise. Those who are more transparent about their lives tend to form more bonds with fellow community members.

On Twitter, there’s no question that those who are more personal and transparent form more powerful connections. I’m not talking about follower count here either, but industry influence. For an example of how the personal connects to the professional, look no further than some of the fantastic SCN profile videos that were created and will be awarded at TechEd as part of the “SCNotties” awards. Another example: The Enterprise Geeks share info about their lives (such as their virtual office rigs, inspired by Ed’s recent move down south) in their podcasts, and it comes off the right way. So, privacy is a judgement call that each of us must weigh out. But certainly there should be a higher discretionary standard for disclosing something online.

I enjoyed sharing a few comments on SAP’s social media guidelines. It’s a good set of policies, and I hope it inspired more SAP employees to find a bit of time in their schedule to blog or Tweet or YouTube. This is a “learn as you go” environment and we are all still experimenting, but guidelines are still needed. Yes, these pursuits take time, but done properly, they will enhance your industry recognition and help you build a network you can rely on. But that’s another blog post.

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3 Comments

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  1. Richard Hirsch
    Thanks for the mention

    Although you don’t link to them directly, I also find your blogs excellent reading and I’m always surprised to see how many blogs you produce in the various venues in which you participate while still maintaining such high quality standards.

    And all that orginates from a one-time grocery bagger.

    D.

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  2. Mark Yolton
    Hi Jon:

    Thank you for this blog series.  It puts into words some of the reasoning and rationale we used behind-the-scenes to craft the guidelines.  I think alot of people will find your commentary very helpful for context. 

    Based on your comments on guideline #9, maybe we already need to revise the wording to say: “9. Protect Your Privacy. Be thoughtful and careful in disclosing personal information.”  I agree with you that sharing some personal info is often appropriate and beneficial to the conversation, the topic, and to forming relationships … but individuals need to think through how much, with whom, in what channel, and what might be negative repercussions of sharing too much…

    Appreciate your commentary. 

    Mark Yolton

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    1. Jon Reed Post author
      @Dick – thanks for the kind comment. We are all the harshest judges of our own work so it’s good to see that the effort can shine through. I have lots of great colleagues to learn from there.

      @Mark – I agree that a more nuanced version of the privacy guideline would be more effective. You say, “‘9. Protect Your Privacy. Be thoughtful and careful in disclosing personal information.”  ..but individuals need to think through how much, with whom, in what channel, and what might be negative repercussions of sharing too much…”

      Agreed. I do think a privacy statement is needed in the guidelines and your more nuanced version suggested here would be more helpful than simply an absolute. The other thing that is covered in the guidelines that may be worth reinforcing in the privacy area: even the areas outside the bounds of SAP, such as personal Facebook pages or commenting on a sports message board, also become part of how we are perceived professionally. I think folks are beginning to understand this, but in particular on Facebook I see things regularly that are a bit jaw dropping, not part of what I would want associated with my professional identity, and I have some pretty honest things about my life online so that is saying something. But some seem to think there is a kind of identity firewall they can setup between what we do personally online (say in a personal blog) versus, say, what we post on SCN, and that may be true to s certain degree, but not when hiring managers are checking us out online, for example. Google certainly doesn’t make that distinction and indexes everything it can find not behind a log in. 🙂

      Thanks for the dialogue.

      – Jon

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