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The Ideas You’ve Been Missing

SAP is known for its products. But there are also many good ideas floating around this place that never make it into a product. They are interesting ideas worth sharing. But for a number of reasons, they never make it into SCN.

That’s why they hired me (I’m not just an SAP employee, I’m a marketing employee).

If your reaction to that is “Yuck,” then this is the point at which you should move on to reading something else on SCN.

Because this post is about marketing.

If you’re still hesitating, it’s fine. Go ahead. Leave. Really. It’s okay. I’ll try not to take it personally.

Why I’m Here
I work at SAP doing what’s commonly known as “thought leadership.” Many people consider that term a joke. I must admit I’m not fond of it either. It’s often used to describe warmed-over brochures that have been given an expensive, four-color, coffee-table-book treatment—nothing leading or thoughtful about that. But it’s the most recognized term for what I do, so I use it when I have to.

One of the reasons SAP hired me was to bring a more journalistic approach to the way that the company does thought leadership. I’ve spent most of my checkered past as a journalist—most recently 13 years at CIO magazine after spending years at newspapers and magazines, including a stint starting up a magazine about cycling (which remains a major passion of mine—but hey, everybody has to get a real job sometime, right?). Most recently, I was a researcher focusing on how to market IT services to customers (with ITSMA). (If you’re a real glutton for punishment, you can read more about me at my personal blog.)

If you can’t see a common thread in all this, let me help. Some people love to hear themselves talk. I’ve always preferred to listen. What I like listening to best are ideas. As long as the discussion involves ideas, I can get interested in just about any subject—even ERP.

At CIO, some of the other journalists used to snicker quietly at my passion for ERP—and laugh openly at my bad impressions of Hasso Plattner. But I loved ERP. Not because of the software, but because of the stories that the software generated.

Installing ERP software at a company is meat and gravy to a storyteller like me. Some of the stories I wrote about ERP implementations would have made good serial dramas: “This week’s episode: ‘Tears on the Eyeshade: Separating an Accountant from the Spreadsheet He’s Been Using for 40 Years.’” No kidding, people really do cry during ERP implementations.

So What Does This Have to Do With Marketing?
When I heard last fall that my boss was going to start a thought leadership “center of expertise” within SAP to sniff out interesting ideas and create stories about business and IT issues rather than products and services, I asked to sign on. My mandate is to never mention SAP products or services in my writing. Which is great. I’m not opposed to selling stuff, I’m just not very good at it—and I’m even worse with numbers.

If I’m selling anything, it’s goodwill. My hope is that by informing and educating people, it makes them more likely to think of SAP as a company they can trust. It’s the same kind of marketing that the management consulting firms like McKinsey have been doing for decades. It’s just rarer for a product-centric company like SAP to be doing it.

That’s what’s exciting—and frankly, very challenging—about my role. Places like McKinsey have what I call “an idea culture.” Consultants understand that they won’t make partner unless they come up with good ideas and communicate them. Marketing is focused heavily on promoting ideas—indeed, it’s just about all management consulting firms have to sell because they sell services, which are invisible.

Talking about the ideas floating around the products and services at SAP is a harder sell both with customers, who are used to associating the value they get from SAP with products, and with some SAP employees, who think that marketing that doesn’t lead directly to a product or service discussion is a waste of precious budget.

Why Ghost Writing Is Necessary
Feeling sorry for me yet? If you are, you’ll probably stop when you read what I have to say next.

That’s because the way that I’m planning to engage with you on SCN is by channeling other people’s ideas, not my own. Some people call that ghost writing and dismiss it as being inappropriate in social media.

I think that’s short sighted. If we limit the discussion on SCN only to those subject matter experts who have the time and skills to blog, I think we’re missing out. I hear this a lot: “I love the passionate rants. Keep the ‘articles’ out of social media.”

What if I told you that I think I’m pretty good at channeling other people’s passion? And I’m also pretty good at sifting good ideas from uninformed hype. Here are my other arguments for letting me present others’ ideas to you here:

  • Most people—even really smart people—can’t write worth a damn. Why do we assume that anyone can channel passion into his or her writing?
  • Social media is biased toward English. Most of the people I speak to at SAP are German and while most Germans are amazingly skilled at English, that skill rarely translates to the written word.
  • It’s not about the style, it’s about the ideas. One of the best aspects of social media is the opportunity to put ideas to the community and gather feedback. I’m excited about the prospect of not just presenting ideas to this community but also in building ideas with this community. As I interview SMEs around SAP and external influencers like analysts and customers, I want to be able to share the raw ideas in their earliest stages so that you can be part of the thinking process.
  • Transparency is the “hidden” problem. I think what people object to most about ghost writing is that the real people behind the prose are hidden. I will always blog as myself, introduce the ideas myself, and will always tell you whose ideas I’m channeling. I will attempt to respond to all comments myself, based on the work I’m doing with the SMEs. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll go to them and get the answer and come back to you with it. I’ll also give you the names of writers that I have working with the SMEs as we are doing interviews and working towards the “final” products: white papers, videos, etc.

I hope that this approach works for you and that we can engage in a dialogue about relevant IT and business issues and ideas. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll be ignored or flamed. I’m willing to take that risk; though I can also take a hint and will leave if enough people really object to what I’m doing.

How about you? Are you willing to engage with me about ideas that come directly from SMEs’ brains rather than their keyboards?

12 Comments
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  • I like to write blogs!   It’s fun, and it is an expression of myself and my experiences.   To have someone write them down for me.   Well.  Hm.   That would just not be any fun.  

    Now I know people who would love to just tell you something about an idea, have you write it out, and give them some credit.  Either they do not have the time or inclination to do it for themselves.

    So I see where that approach would work for those who don’t want to write it out.  But writing something out here is like jumping off a cliff.  It gets easier as you do it.   So if you don’t do it, you’ll never learn how much fun it is.

    I’m on the fence.   And since I don’t know if it is good or bad – that means the idea has merit.   Someone will love it – but you may not hear from them here.   They don’t really like to write.  😆

  • Hi Chris,

    I do know of a lot of people who do smart things that don’t get the light of day, so I do see the need for your type of Ghost Writing.  One thing I suggest is that you emphasise the ‘Interview-like’ status of it.. i.e. you talked to abc about xyz, which is really good because it does this and this and this for you.

    Even though I’m an SAP mentor (which I think means, amongst other things, that I’m meant to have the gift of communicating my passion for SAP), there’s plenty of times I’d welcome someone like you to take an idea I have and write a blog about it.  It’s not so much that the results when I do write are bad, it’s that it takes me a lot of time and effort to get what I want down on screen in readable prose..

    hth

    • Martin makes a great point. I wonder – like Martin – if the amount of time and efforts I spend expressing my thoughts is worth(the idea). I believe I’ve some good ideas but it takes a lot of time to express it as I don’t have a gift of writing; plus English is my second language. I know very well I didn’t do a good job of expressing my thoughts/ideas in my latest blog: http://tinyurl.com/6quuex4 in spite of spending several hours/days.

      I also have been struggling to responding to the responses I got to my comment in this blog: http://tinyurl.com/7lwx2tj.

      The idea Christopher proposes looks great and timely. However not sure – like anything  when you want to try something new – if ghost writing will help or hurt or do nothing to me.

      Chris,

      Can you provide examples for ghost write-ups?

      Thanks,

      Bala

  • I think the proof on this idea will be in the pudding. (I can see Christopher telling his first partner… “Never use cliches that may only make sense in your country of origin!”)  By that I mean, this could be very, very welcome addition to many folks or it could create a lot of “fluffy” content without much substance. We’ll only know after we see the first few articles.

    I have seen many blogs on SCN that desperately cry out for the loving pen of a skilled editor. This could be kind of a blogger mentoring service. Bloggers could submit blogs for polishing. Too often good ideas get buried under poor writing. When someone’s taken the time to write a blog, you don’t want to discourage them by correcting grammar, spelling, or word usage publicly, so often folks end up leaving vague words of encouragement for a mediocre post that could really be informative and useful if only it were to receive a little polish.

    That’s kind of what I think of when I hear the word “Ghost Writing”, basically a behind the scenes editor. I’ve seen folks on the forums here actually come right out and ask for that kind of assistance. This could act as a set of blogger training wheels for new bloggers.

    I also like the idea of Christopher kind of wandering the halls in Walldorf, looking for good ideas. A good technical writer should be able to put out articles on a wide variety of topics that could give a little insight into what folks are thinking at HQ and the direction things are going. I don’t see any problem with SAP putting professionally written technical articles (similar to the ones you’d see in SAP Insider) on SCN for free.

    If the resulting articles come across as all marketing and no substance, well, there’s plenty of that available already. We don’t need any more of that on SCN.

    I welcome you, Christopher, and wish you all the best!

    Best regards,

    –Tom

  • Ghost writing … is defined differently. You’ll actually post it under your name and give credit to the one from whom you have taken the idea. So, you’ll act as a facilitator.

    Someone with a good idea, but unable to articulate it or simply does not have the time … how will you find him/her?

    How will you engage with the people? Will you search idea place? the forum? go to partners? customers? events? Will there be  contact me form that does not go to /dev/null?

  • Wow, guys. Thanks for these thoughtful responses. I appreciate that you all seem genuinely open to me giving this a try–with conditions 😉 . I think they are excellent conditions, actually. Let me address some of them.

    Michelle: I think you’re right to encourage people to give it a try. The kind of dialogue we’ve begun here is truly exciting, as you’ve pointed out. I can’t get enough of it. I encourage every SME to engage on their own and gently chide them for not having social media handles. But I can tell that some simply don’t have the curiosity necessary to repay the effort involved. In those cases, I make a stark evaluation: are their ideas good enough to be passed on or not?

    Martin: Thanks for acknowledging the sheer effort required to engage in social media in a meaningful way. For a non-professional writer, it can be an intense, draining, and lengthy process. My plan has been to do just what you advise: Here’s who I’ve been speaking to and here’s what he/she had to say. More casual and conversational than an article or white paper. Please hold me to that standard if I start to stray!

    Bala: Thanks for affirming the bias toward English. Unless you are another Vladimir Nabokov, a native Russian who attained a mastery of English prose unmatched by any contemporary native English-speaking novelist, you are probe going to struggle to get your thoughts across in English (you should read my German!). You’re going to accuse me of being facetious, but for good examples of ghost writing, you need look no further than the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review on your bookshelf. It’s all heavily edited or even completely rewritten by the editors (I know many of them, past and present). The short answer is that everyone, except for perhaps Nabokov, needs a good editor/ghost writer. Time magazine used to have an entire staff of writers who did nothing but take the rambling, disconnected reports flowing in from correspondents around the world and turn them into cohesive articles (again, my information comes directly from the source).

    Thomas: As you say, promises are one thing, delivery is another. I will do my best to avoid the fluff. And please call me out on it if you see it! Thanks for the good wishes.

    Tobias: This is perhaps the most difficult part of the job. Finding good ideas and the people who have them. Six ways I’m trying to deal with that:

    1. Evangelize the value of thought leadership across SAP

    2. Create mechanisms for encouraging people to come forward with ideas (idea tools, internal communities, maybe one day awards)

    3.-6. Networking, networking, networking!

  • Christopher,

    It will be important for you to stay in close touch with the SCN team – particularly the Collaboration team led by Jeanne Carboni  This will ensure that your thought leadership blogs, “interview style”, are aligned with the tone well accepted by our members.

    That said, I support the service you are offering. As the leader of Community Engagement marketing for SCN, we interview lots of members who have great ideas but not the time or proficiency to create a compelling blog. Can you make sure that SCN the team knows when your first such blog is published? Do you have a queue of potential interviewees today?

  • Thanks for the introduction to Christopher, Gail!  And Christopher, welcome to SCN.  Your entry into the Community is very timely, as we are about to launch a campaign called “Blog it Forward”.  It is the idea of xMoshe Naveh (Old Acct), who works on my team.  Look for it to be launched sometime next week.  In the mean time, I will have Moshe reach out to you to tell you about the campaign and perhaps enlist your help.

    Something that needs serious consideration is the use of Idea Place.  It is the official forum for submitting ideas about products, services, even the SCN systems and processes. When someone posts an idea in Idea Place, the community can vote it up or down and comment on it.  We monitor Idea Place and submit the most popular / best ideas through the right channels to get them implemented.

    My suggestion would be that you review the ideas in Idea place and reach out to authors who have submitted a great idea that hasn’t gotten a lot of positive votes.  Then you could interview the person about his/her idea, and publish the interview as a blog that points the reader to the idea in Idea Place.

    If you have questions about this, feel free to reach out.  I have members on my team who are skilled at interacting in the community, and who are passionate coaches for anyone who sincerely seeks help.

    Best regards,

    Jeanne

  • Hi Gail and Jeanne,

    Good suggestions.

    I think the issue of tone offers an opportunity to discuss what it really means in social media communities. I have been blogging professionally since 2004 and in my experience the general expectations about tone in social media are universal. In my last job as a researcher at ITSMA I did a number of research projects that confirmed this. Here’s a post on my personal blog that talks about social media policies, which I found varied little from company to company. So I think there are some basic concepts that hold true for all communities:

    • Be yourself. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to a friend. I cringe sometimes when I read things that are written in a tone or style that human beings wouldn’t use in normal discourse. One way to sense when you’ve done it: read it aloud to yourself. If it sounds stiff and stilted, it probably is. Be conversational.
    • No hidden agendas. I actually think it’s okay to promote yourself and the useful things your company is doing every now and then. It just can’t be all the time and it has to be done with full disclosure. A rule of thumb we had at ITSMA was at least three informational tweets (cool sources of information from other entities besides ourselves) for every one in which we promoted an event or member document (with disclosures like “my post” or “ITSMA event.”) I’m lucky in my new role at SAP; my mandate is to never mention specific products and services in my posts. But of course, they’re not paying me to write about my personal passion for cycling, either. My posts will always contain ideas that are relevant to the areas that SAP serves as a  company.
    • Share others’ good content, not just your own. In reality, the sharing ratio at ITSMA was much higher than 4:1–there are a lot of great sources about B2B marketing out there and I love sharing good stuff. After all, educating your audience is a boon no matter where the content comes from–they’ll appreciate you for it. Follow me on Twitter (@ckochster) and see what I mean.
    • Don’t just post, discuss. If all you do is post, then you’re just talking at people rather than engaging in discussion, which is what separates social media from traditional forms of communication. I hate it when I take the time to comment on someone’s blog and he or she doesn’t respond. I respond to all comments. Indeed, the comments are where some of the best content comes from.
    • Don’t type angry. If you are writing a blog in angry reaction to something, just stop. Force yourself to step away from the computer and come back to it tomorrow. Otherwise, you’ll regret it. Your audience will think you’re a hothead. There’s a difference between passion and anger. The first makes for great writing, the second makes for noise. Similarly, no matter how nasty someone’s comment may seem, you can’t respond in the moment or in kind. If you discover yourself responding really quickly to a comment you don’t like, that’s a bad sign. Research shows that the emotional center of the brain is faster and more energized than the rational side. Our rational center is a little on the lazy side and needs time. Maybe the person didn’t mean to be as nasty as you perceive him or her to be. Even if it really is a nasty comment, you’ll look great if you respond kindly and rationally. (Of course, there’s no room for outright bullying, abuse, or profanity in any community–those comments should just be deleted.)
    • Focus on relationships, not RTs. Write for your audience, not for Google. You should write only about things that genuinely interest you and that you think would interest your target audience. It takes longer to build an audience that way, but you’ll appreciate it in the long run. I’ve made some great professional contacts through posting relevant, passionate content as well as a few good friends.

    What do you think? What have I left out about what makes for a good tone in social media communities?

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thanks for asking. I think it has gone pretty well. We have done three “topics” so far that each include multiple blog posts, Q&A interviews, and white papers. We got lots of hits and downloads on the content but the social engagement was less than I’d like. Very few comments. My goal will be to get more dialogue going on the topics in 2013.