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On Tuesday, November 9, SAP hosted an event for social media in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. A sold-out crowd of corporate social media leaders packed the auditorium for “BlogWell: How Big Brands Use Social Media.”

The BlogWell conference featured eight case studies on the best social media programs at large corporations. GasPedal, a consulting company specializing in “word-of-mouth” marketing, held the event along with the Social Media Business Council, a community of social media leaders from large companies.

SAP is a founding member of the Social Media Business Council, a fact that Chip Rodgers, vice president and COO of SAP Community Network, acknowledged during his welcoming remarks. He told the standing-room-only audience how the council helps corporations navigate the quagmire of social media for big business — tackling topics such as compliance, legal, marketing, branding, and communications.

Chip also shared the evolution of SAP’s online community, which is now at 2 million members strong, with a million unique visitors per month and 5,000 contributions per day. He added that SAP has built social media into its culture and stressed its importance for large corporations.

“There’s a lot of value for us as a company, and I think for you as a company as well, to jump in, engage with your audience, your customers, and your partners, and have a conversation and pull them in,” he said. “That’s what BlogWell and the Social Media Business Council is all about — helping you to understand how to do that successfully.”

SAPPHIRE (here and) NOW

In addition to hosting the event, SAP presented one of the eight case studies. Brian Ellefritz, senior director of Global Social Media Marketing, explained the company’s strategy for a “virtual” SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s flagship event held concurrently in Orlando and Frankfurt in May. The goal was to use blogging, Twitter, and an online presence to generate excitement about the event — and to make those who couldn’t attend feel part of the SAPPHIRE NOW experience.

SAP faced challenges at the time. SAPPHIRE NOW was the first major event featuring the company’s relatively new co-CEOs, and the company had been criticized earlier for not listening to customers. Therefore, the social media strategy emphasized a tone change for the brand — treating the audience members as peers, not recipients — while still making sure key messages were communicated.

To create real-time accessibility, the SAPPHIRE NOW Web site streamed live sessions and offered replays from the Frankfurt and Orlando events. It was a big production. In fact, during the week of SAPPHIRE NOW, the site’s video bandwidth exceeded CNN’s.

SAPPHIRE ambassadors shine

Additionally, to truly provide “eyes and ears” for those who couldn’t attend, Brian’s team recruited and trained social media “ambassadors” to report from the shows. There were 12 ambassadors — six at Frankfurt, six at Orlando, each one dedicated to a specific newsworthy topic: SAP Business Suite, SAP Business ByDesign, SAP BusinessObjects, innovation, SAP Services, or SAP EcoHub.

Armed with Flip video cameras, the ambassadors roved the show floor in search of customers and other experts who could answer questions about their topics. They shot and posted videos, wrote blogs, and tweeted their observations (with hashtag #SAPPHIRENOW, as well as a hashtag for their topic, to make it easier for readers to keep up with what was happening). In the end, the ambassadors contributed 41 blogs, uploaded 152 videos, and attracted thousands of followers on Twitter — with viral reach going much, much further through word of mouth, retweets, and news feeds.

By all accounts, including a third-party audit to measure impact, the SAPPHIRE NOW social media strategy was a success. And it also taught some valuable lessons. For example, preparing all the videos for the live blogs proved overwhelming for the production editor in each location, necessitating a change in the process.

On the other hand, potential minuses turned out to be plusses. Some ambassadors were savvier in social media than others, and with 12 of them on the beat, diverse skill sets might have resulted in chaos. In actuality, however, inconsistencies didn’t hurt overall impact. Combined with news coming out of other teams, such as media relations, the collective activities created real-time energy. That’s more important than individual performance. As Brian advised companies that might want to follow in SAP’s (virtual) footsteps: “In general, you look for the cumulative effect, and you’ll be in good shape.”

On the case

Other case studies came courtesy of pharmaceutical company Pfizer, food corporation Hershey, Scholastic Book Clubs, the Discovery Channel, IT services company SunGard, the BlackRock asset management firm, and Johnson & Johnson, a manufacturer of healthcare and pharmaceutical products. The studies covered all aspects of social media — from getting a program off the ground to launching creative campaigns.

Midway through the event, Andy Sernovitz, CEO of GasPedal and the Social Media Business Council, took the stage to give a presentation called “Social Media Ethics Briefing: Staying Out of Trouble.”

True to its name, the presentation offered tips to comply with regulations from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Specifically, companies must disclose and be truthful in social media outreach (meaning if you pay someone to blog for you, you must state it), monitor conversations and correct misstatements (meaning if a blogger calls your product a “miracle cure,” you must set the record straight), and create social media policies and training programs. To help satisfy the latter regulation, the Social Media Business Council provides ready-to-use templates.

Don’t lie to your mother

Sernovitz had much simpler suggestions to stay safe: Don’t write checks for positive third-party coverage, be honest about your relationship with a blogger, and don’t lie to your mom. In other words, if your mother can’t distinguish paid advertising from editorial in your social media, shame on you.

This approach to social media not only protects companies from the FTC, it also builds authentic relationships with target audiences. If a corporation gets caught paying for a positive blog, it will have a tough time regaining public faith. “Trust is the medium in which we work,” Andy said.

For companies still uncertain about what constitutes unethical practices, Andy closed with one final piece of advice: “If you have to ask,” he noted, “the answer is no.”

Please turn ON your mobile devices

Unlike other conferences where attendees are reminded to turn off their phones and laptops, BlogWell encouraged people to tweet and blog throughout the day. Based on the hundreds of tweets with hashtag #blogwell, attendees were pleased with the event — praising the sessions, sharing nuggets of wisdom from the speakers (often in real time), and gushing over the Philly-flavored snacks (Tastykakes and soft pretzels: staples of the local diet).

SAP was pleased as well. By hosting and presenting at BlogWell, the company further proved its position as a leader in social media and online communities.

“With so much buzz around social media, it’s exciting that SAP is in such a leadership position,” Chip said. “It’s something we can all be proud of.”

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