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Continuing the “Building Community” Blog Series with a Focus on ROI  

Earlier in this series of blogs on “Building Community,” I discussed the SAP Community Network’s (SCN’s) initial traction Building Community: How do I attract and grow members? with engaged members and incentivizing them to help Building Community: Encouraging Collaboration and Member Content. To keep the momentum and support going, we needed to show the benefits to all our stakeholders – internal and external, companies and individuals.

In our case, we have a number of different constituent groups, each looking at SCN through a different lens. These groups include: 1) customers, 2) partners, 3) SAP itself, 4) individuals, 5) outside influencers who may fall into all of the above categories plus bloggers, analysts, press, and so on. Each constituency uses the communities differently, for different goals, and to gain different benefits.

Benefits for Customer and Partner Companies

Occasionally, we hear concerns that if employees are participating in social networks and communities, they aren’t being productive on the job. However, many more employers have found that participation on SCN enhances productivity rather than detracts from it. Instead of taking a week or more to troubleshoot an issue or research a business process, customers and partners can learn from each others’ experiences and connect directly with experts in the field. Employees who participate are building their skills through articles, downloads, eLearning, and access to a global network – what essentially amounts to free training from established leaders in the field.

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“SCN has been a very helpful resource for many questions that we encountered during the development phase of our SAP implementation; easily saving us 10-20% of overall project time. Finding a similar solution ourselves might have taken an extra 2-3 weeks, in some cases.” – Faisal Mehmood, Global Information Technology at Colgate-Palmolive

Among the many benefits our customers have experienced are:

  • Free access to subject matter experts =  fast implementation + issue resolution
  • Many support resources reduce support costs and TCO – access to global best practices, solutions, innovations
  • Increased employee knowledge at low cost – peer learning and eLearning modules provide individual training and development
  • Increased influence by connections with peers and partners, benefiting both individuals and companies
  • Co-innovation by connecting experts with others for surprising results
  • Crowd-sourced solutions to shared business or technology challenges

Partners also gain by:

  • Connecting with subject matter experts for solutions, innovation, and market insight
  • Reducing support costs through the many implementation examples and best practices resources found in SCN
  • Expanding their influence and generating leads by demonstrating expertise to >2 million global community members
  • Showcasing their solutions to and gaining sales leads from the community, especially via the SAP EcoHub marketplace

Hear stories straight from the horse’s mouth in the SCN Success Story Center, which aggregates several stories and quotes from  customers, partners, influencers, members, and more.  I also just came across The specified item was not found. by Matt Harding, where he does a great job laying out the case for knowledge sharing.

SAP + Customers + Partners (connect, collaborate, co-innovate) = (faster, better, cheaper) Innovation

While some companies might perceive Web 2.0 strategies as a necessary evil or a frightening disruption, we’ve chosen to embrace these mechanisms as an integrated part of a whole solution created by the SAP ecosystem … identifying the strategic value to help extend our core.

At  SAP, we’ve experienced many intangible benefits (insight from trusted external voices, higher customer satisfaction and loyalty, etc.), and we’ve also leveraged the communities to help drive our business forward (early feedback on product development, high quality lead generation, viral buzz around events like #SAPSummit and #BS7 launch, etc.)

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Just a small sampling of benefits we’ve experienced include:

  • Cost-savings and efficiency gains in information collection and dissemination … stores and flows
  • Accelerated ramp-up of the introduction and adoption of new products in the market
  • Reach and speed of message delivery into the global marketplace
  • Speed, agility, better decision making, and risk reduction via rich insights
  • Higher customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Better retention, up-selling, and cross-selling
  • Improved product and information quality with outside-in feedback on our products, services, processes, and customer experiences 
  • Growth in the skills base of workers worldwide who can help SAP partners deliver expert implementation and customizations to customers
  • Grown in available workers in the market who are experts to help customers operate and optimize SAP installations for their businesses
Benefits for Individuals: Share, Learn, Gain Fame (and Maybe a Measure of Fortune)

Through participation in the SAP communities, members build their knowledge and share expertise to establish credibility, gain career advancement at their company, find new clients already familiar with their capabilities and body of work, and much more.

Previously, I mentioned the Contributor Recognition Program, which included several of the altruistic reasons contributors participate on SCN. These include the simple satisfaction of sharing knowledge and helping others in the field, solidifying expertise by teaching peers or collaborating with other experts, and showcasing these skills to a global audience – some of whom could be future customers, partners, or employers.

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The SAP Mentor Initiative is another way we recognize the top experts and influencers in the community. As hands-on experts, passionate about their work and SAP, they are peer-nominated to this elite group of fewer than 100 members based on the reputations they’ve earned through their community contributions and willingness to help and motivate others. They are trusted advisors to SAP, granted exclusive access to executives and other SAP insiders, and offer candid outside feedback on SAP products, services, and initiatives. In one of many examples we’ve heard, SAP Mentor Dipankar Saha shared how contributions to SCN “The specified item was not found..”

“I’m more proud of my affiliation with SAP Mentors than just about anything I can think of.” – Jon Reed, JonERP.com

We’ve compiled a number of testimonials from customers, partners, SAP Mentors, analysts, and Standards participants in the eBook: SAP Community Network: Driving Business Value: Quotes and Testimonials. These all give glimpses into the benefits SCN provides to a wide variety of different people and companies. 

Benefits for the Wider Ecosystem

The SAP ecosystem consists of many elements, including the groups above along with observers and influencers like independent bloggers, industry analysts, and members of the press. The vast majority of content is publicly available for anyone to access, and anyone can become a member.  This level of openness allows:

  • Proof of SAP’s strong commitment to ecosystem enablement and success
  • Lead generation for the ecosystem – SAP and partners
  • Co-innovation by connecting experts with others = leadership
  • A gateway to solution certification
  • Awareness, insight, and influence over SAP’s solutions, policies, practices, direction, speed, and priorities  

In just a couple examples from last year, Altimeter’s Ray Wang gave the ecosystem the only “A” grade in his evaluation and cites it as one of SAP’s strongest assets.  Forbes.com referenced an Introducing New Terms of Service To Users – A Comparison by SAP Mentor http://weblogs.sdn.sap.com/pub/u/251951534 [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] in an article about SCN as a social network – demonstrating how traditional media can tap into our community resources for sources and background information.

Show me the ROI

Measuring the ROI of social media is no easy task. For SCN, we gauge our success via a health index, which is comprised of metrics like: 1) membership growth, 2) site traffic and activity, 3) user-generated content and activity, 4) member satisfaction.

Membership is one easy metric – we want to attract, grow, and support new members at a faster rate than existing members drop off.

But if those members aren’t repeat visitors, reading and consuming the vast content and resources, then we aren’t providing value to them. This is why another important metric is traffic and site activity: number of visits, unique visitors, time spent in the communities, number of pages viewed per visit, posts per day, total page views, etc. We use these metrics as a proxy for the value we’re delivering, working off the assumption that people wouldn’t view content, return to the communities, or consume content unless we provide value and quality.

Similarly, we measure user-generated content using the highly active contributors as a proxy. Again, this trove of knowledge and information-sharing by hands-on experts provides value to our members and visitors.

Finally, we run a member survey to gauge satisfaction, prioritize areas of improvement, identify strong areas to highlight, and learn about new emerging needs or desires from our community members.

Lessons Learned:
  • Individual benefits are typically non-monetary. For community members, we found that incentives help, but don’t need to be financial/monetary or even tangible. As discussed in Building Community: Encouraging Collaboration and Member Content, individuals are motivated to participate for different reasons. They might include personal recognition, ability to build reputation, formal recognition/reward programs (and disincentives which could include simple public embarrassment for carelessness, to ostracizing for egregious violations such as copyright infringement or personal attacks).

 

  • We were fortunate to have executive air cover early on, giving us the leeway and protection to experiment and build the community before proving ROI. Then, once the community was seeded with rich content, valued members, and gaining traction, we were able to step back and examine ways to leverage the network of experts we’d gathered. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” –  Albert Einstein

 

  • Providing a platform to facilitate discussion among SAP constituents enables the scenario where hands-on experts help fellow members – thus allowing our customers to save time and energy on solutions and resulting in higher satisfaction. Often, customers receive quicker and even higher quality answers in our forums because they are able to connect with peers in their same industry who have encountered similar situations, versus a call or email to SAP engineers who have product expertise but not necessarily specific industry expertise.  There is a place and a definite need for formal product and tech support — but our communities augment these with a different perspective and model.

 

  • It’s a win-win situation: Customers resolve issues faster, saving time and costs, while SAP reduces the expense of non-support calls and can plow that savings into product innovation and true support issues. Higher customer satisfaction leads to higher customer loyalty, which results in lower costs since retaining existing customers is less expensive than chasing new customers. Combine this with the ability to publicly log and search the issue – helping prevent similar future questions – and the multiplier effect of grassroots community-based support via online forums is significant. In fact, on a webcast put on earlier this year by The Social Customer, fellow panelist Michael Chui of McKinsey noted that their studies have found social media drives up to a 10x reduction in customer contact.

 

  • But SAP employees stay deeply involved in these discussions – monitoring, channeling feedback, participating when relevant. Having 2 million members at our fingertips means that SAP can immediately tap into a wide constituency to help buoy launches, announce issues and fixes, and generally have a wider and faster reach than traditional media allow.
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