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In a recent conversation with SCN Altvater Craig Cmehil, we discussed the relationship between SAP and the community. Asked Craig provocatively, “What community?” Here’s my best answer to Craig’s question.

SAP Community vs. SCN Community

The SCN community is without a doubt the largest community in the SAP ecosystem between whose members any meaningful exchange takes place. Recently, the number of 1.8 million visitors per month was published – that’s an awful lot.

But we have to acknowledge that while the SCN community is huge and should ultimately become a homestead for everyone in the SAP ecosystem, there are other communities beside it that are just as vibrant and legitimate while having little intersection with SCN. 

  • Take, for example, ASUG, DSAG and other national user groups. They form something like a parallel SAP universe with their own conferences, online groups, excellent content and highly profiled community members (many of whom are, thankfully, also active on SCN or as SAP Mentors).
  • SAPfans and ITToolbox have a lot of good, original content and great community members as well as leaders.
  • Think also of communities that lack a central technical platform but exist nonetheless (often quite close-knit), such as the community of developers employed, the community of architects at SAP, the community of developers and consultants working in the SAP field, and so on.
  • The Business Objects world is now part of the SAP world although integration at the people level is still at its beginning.
  • The same is probably true for the Sybase mobile development community to an even stronger extent.
  • SAP is only just now building a reputation and gaining a foothold in the Java EE community.

SCN reaches only a tiny fraction

Based on many conversations with people working in the SAP field – in many different companies, industries, roles, and seniority levels, SCN reaches only a tiny fraction of the SAP community as a whole. Let’s face it, no matter how huge SCN is, most people in the SAP community as a whole as just barely aware of its existence.

At the same time, SCN does the right thing and tries to reach out to the different communities. It has transformed from Developers Network to Community Network, founded the Business Process community, the Business Objects community, and surely others will follow. The community evangelists are doing a great job fostering and shapping their respective communities, encourageing active contributors and providing leadership and enabling creative processes coming from the community. But still, SCN is far from saturating large parts SAP community. So how can SCN reach a bigger part of the SAP community?

 

Fig. 1: SAP Community Space

Acknowledge other communities and reach out to them

The first step would be to acknowledge the position of SCN as one of many communities in the SAP space. In fact SCN isn’t really a community but a community platform containing two to three community with different degrees of overlap. Understanding its strengths as a platform, SCN can reach out to other communities and ultimately aim at becoming the preferred platform for these communities while preserving their unique features.

Don’t preach to the choir – go out on the streets

SCN contains a lot of material that encourages people to use SCN. Logically, this material never reaches people who don’t use SCN. To bring new members in, we must move outside SCN and tell those people to come and give SCN a try. Where can we do this? 

  • in the workplace
  • in other online communities
  • in weblogs and forums outside SCN
  • in the “social media” (misnomer if you ask me) twitter, Facebook, and so on
  • IT related magazines
  • at (un-)conferences
  • in national and regional user groups
  • at trainings
  • in consulting situations 

Understand the role of the community beyond SCN

In some discussions about the role of community processes at SAP I get the impression that people tend to equate SAP community with SCN community. So when they want to reach wider parts of the SAP community the best they can think of is to address the SCN community. And again, while SCN is surely the biggest SAP-related community, it’s important to understand that the SAP community is much larger and, as of today, mostly found outside SCN. 

So when we talk about SAP community, let’s be aware that this means also discovering and reaching also those communities “in the outside world” and to look beyond SCN.

Develop a vision for a global SCN community

While reminding ourselves humbly that SCN is only a fraction of the SAP community, we should also work on a vision where SCN is indeed the home of the entire SAP community. What must change for SCN to be the most desirable place for all kinds of SAP professionals to connect? How can SCN provide more value to all those sub-communities that currently prefer other online and offline waterholes? I look forward to a fruitful discussion.

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20 Comments

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  1. James Oswald
    I hope this is the first in a series that discuss Mentors, Partner/Customer relationships, bloggers, moderators, formal wear, etc.  This is a great beginning…
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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author
      Thank you, Jamie, I hope so too. There’s a lot to discuss about the current and future role of SAP Mentors in the relationship between SAP and the community. I thought the community would be the best corner of that triangle to start the discussion with. 🙂
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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  2. Community User
    Dinner was great btw, can’t believe it took a visitor in town to show me a great place to eat in the town I live in 🙂

    As for your statement that “we should also work on a vision where SCN is indeed the home of the entire SAP community.” is that really a realistic vision or expectation to have? Or should it be more that SCN as the platform you describe become a central hub where all of the SAP community intersects with each other with various interactions, touch points and integrations and not that we should be moving all of these communities onto the SCN platform? I think that is certainly a distinction we need to make.

    When I first started with the SDN community my goal was to build and make the most advanced and encompassing developer community that ever existed. I quickly learned that it simply was not possible that I was better off working together with the other existing communities to encourage interactions and content exchanges – I’ve always believed that “you should never bring your audience to you but rather you should go to your audience. This is for the simple reason that once you take the audience out of their comfort zone they are going to be less than their normal highly motivated selves to interact with” (sorry can’t remember where I first wrote that to link to)

    With that in mind I think we should strive to make SCN the central hub but not necessarily “the” platform for all. This of course is something all, everyone one of the members here can actually do by simply spreading the word and sharing the great content and interlinking the great stuff they find.

    Just my schnitzel and beer induced ramblings 😉

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author
      Hi Craig,
      from my current vantage point I agree that it is more realistic to attempt to reach out and connect to existing communities rather than roll over them like the Roman Empire or assimilate them like the Borg. 😉 But on the other hand, I think it is worthwhile discussing how and if SCN could indeed provide value to them as a platform. If we apply some imagination and inventiveness we can turn it into a platform that is so awesome it will act as a magnet for all kinds of communities – similar to the way Facebook does today.
      But for now I’ll be happy if everybody agrees that there’s something when we look over the rim of the teacup, and that it’s time to make plans about what to do with respect to what we find there. (And I hope the answer will not be the same that the people of Krickit found when they discovered the rest of the universe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krikkit#Krikkit.)
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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    2. Anonymous
      But SDN IS THE GRATEASTETEST Community in da whole world. All others will be extinguished within 5 years.
      SAP was a bunch of software before Craig gave them the light of communitism. Now SAP consists of a bunch of vapor ware. And it shines.
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  3. Mark Chalfen
    It is great being part of a community.

    However, I have two further comments

    1 – You need (and people have done this before) the people that use SCN. Are they browsers, contributors etc. There are plenty of people that just read, a smaller chunk that ask questions, and then a smaller chunk that reply to forum posts, write articles and blogs.

    2 – Community. I believe there is a single community but that is too massive for everyone to interact together. So people stick to certain areas and contribute there. This is dependant on their areas of interest and skillset.

    How to increase SCN even further – could there be a link or an add to it on the main SAP dot com website?
    Could the EIC stuff link directly to SCN, so when a user has a fault in SAP, it references the wiki and forums on SCN – think of that !!!

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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author
      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comments. Good points, but how often do you visit http://www.sap.com? But perhaps you mean a tighter integration with the SAP Library (online help), notes search, SAP education and all the other SAP web sites that draw many visitors, in which case I agree completely.
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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      1. Mark Chalfen
        Hi Thorsten,

        I think the point I was trying to make was that the full SAP community is made up of a number of individuals.

        I am not saying they all use sap.com – however the make up of people that use sap.com will be different to those that currently use SCN – so you will get a different ‘crowd’.

        I think linking it directly into SAP would be great – however the downside could be that we get duplicate questions on forums (another popular topic !!)

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  4. Natascha Thomson
    Thorsten, as an SCN marketer I could not agree more that we need to get the world out even further. Thanks for contributing to that. We are trying to link back form other sites and create awarness, e.g. through our social media channels. More work to be done!

    Note: There are actually links from SAP.com back to SCN, but I agree that there could be more.

    A great blog with great comments. 

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  5. Susan Keohan
    Hi Thorsten,
    I love this blog!  I had an amazing experience just the other day.  Someone who has been in the SAP field for about 10 years asked me where to find something.  They were going to ask a question on a LinkedIn group.  I said, well that may well work, but I would go straight to the source.  They had never heard of SCN!  Light dawns on Marblehead!  I think that sometimes just because *I* am aware of this great community, that others are too.  Now I know the ugly truth, and must continue to bring our message of community, passion, engagement wherever I go.

    Thanks!
    Sue

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  6. Twan van den Broek
    Hi Thorsten

    Great discussion you have over here.

    I agree with you that SCN is more a platform than a community. We can find the community on Twitter for example. So how to grow from a platform to a community, well I hope that with the “next major release” of the SCN platform we can find new functionality in it like Twitter and Facebook:
    – Build your own SCN friends network
    – See the friends of your own friends
    – See who is online
    – Chat on a blog or article
    – See what webinar is scheduled and how to attend
    – Get blogs from your friends pushed

    How about that?
    Twan

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  7. Matthias Steiner
    Hi Thorsten,

    nice blog. I think we can all start with ourselves #(wo)man_in_the_mirror and use SCN on a daily business and share our experience with our communities. “Think big, start small!” and “Think globally, act locally!” is equally true for SOA as well as social communities IMHO.

    Keep’em blog posts coming! 😉

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  8. Michelle Crapo
    Great Blog!  I agree with all the points.  And it makes me think that I have to be even more proactive getting people to SCN.

    But I have to ask the question – did you post this outside of SCN? 

    🙂

    Michelle

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    1. Natascha Thomson
      Agreed. And I’d like to add here that I am here to help get your stories out. So I rely on you active SCN members to contact me (natascha.thomson@sap.com) to tell me how SCN has helped you and your customers, so that I can promote these quotes and stories. That is one of the best and most proven ways to get attention! So please leverage me as a resource.

      (On a different note, Michelle, thanks for the shout out in your “My Way” video, at least I assume you meant me :-)).

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  9. Tammy Powlas
    and I also enjoyed reading the replies – any reference to one of my favorite shows, Star Trek Next Generation (the Borg) is awesome.

    Great work, Thorsten!  Definitely food for thought.
    Tammy

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  10. Gail Moody-Byrd
    Thorsten,
    Your blog expands on a topic that has been hot since a meeting with the Mentors in Orlando lasr May. Coming soon: (as Tammy P. and others know):
    1. Why Join? (to non members)
    2. How and why should I be more active (to members)
    3. How do i get more people in my company join? (from members)
    The text will be crisp and the distribution methods easy.
    We do rely on members, consultants and SAP Field  to spread the word. Its a 9 legged beast we are conquering day by day. Appreciate you raising it in a blog.
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  11. Marilyn Pratt
    Well Thorsten, while examining the blog queue to allocate points for good content found myself here and CHEERING.  One of my proudest and fondest memories of my decade + at SAP is partnering with Bhanu Gupta (ASUG leader) for an ASUG meetup and then meeting Gretchen Lindquist, Karin T., Sue Keohan, Jim Spath and knowing that with folks who have collaborative spirits cross-community activities are possible.  I’d love to see the other SUGs connected and embraced as actively.  The Inside Track events are also cross-community activities but what about other entitites like Customer Value Networks, Industry specific SAP groups, special interest groups like the Association of Business Process Management Professionals.  Lots of opportunity and all it takes is a bit of reaching out, acknowledgment of the skills and expertise outside of our known ecosystem.  I’d love to see mentors be emissaries of that kind of cross-community collaboration. 
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    1. Thorsten Franz Post author
      Hi Marilyn,
      Good to hear from you as always. 🙂 I agree, and have taken steps. After becoming active in ASUG thanks to the motivational powers of Sue Keohan and Tammy Powlas, I attended my first DSAG (German equivalent) meeting and volunteered for more work… the first meeting was a good display of presence because with Jörg Nalik and myself, two Mentors were present, plus Benny Schaich as an officially registered “Friend of the Mentors(tm)”. When Jörg presented the Best-Build Apps initiative, he outlined the Mentors’ involvement, thus adding meaning to the buzz about the mysterious blue man group.
      Cheers,
      Thorsten
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  12. Kumud Singh
    Hi Thorsten,
    Another good blog in succession.
    I would say SCN should be compulsorily promoted within all the teams working on SAP, not only when posting questions but for exploring many areas within it.Being active on it means getting updated with all the latest changes happening within SAP and knowing great people.
    Many people say that there should be constant trainings happening for the team members to be updated with latest happenings. Alternative is be active on SCN.

    Regards,
    Kumud

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