[Guest post] Blogger relations at SAP

Analyst relations is a world of shifting territory, with convergence arising among blogs, traditional analysts, and even the media. I wrote this post to discuss how one software vendor navigates the blogging aspect of these difficult waters.

This post is reprinted from my blog at ZDNet, which is called IT Project Failures.

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Enterprise software vendors are an important part of the blogging dialog ecosystem, along with technology customers, analysts, system integrators, and public relations firms.

Among enterprise vendors, SAP is an industry leader in working with bloggers, so I thought it would be helpful to start the new year with a post that highlights the company’s Blogger Relations program.

SAP’s blogging outreach efforts are successful for three reasons, which other enterprise vendors should consider when creating their own blogging outreach strategy:

1. Ongoing relationship

SAP runs a formal blogging program that includes regular contact by phone, email, and Twitter; invitations to conferences and special events; and other opportunities to interact with SAP senior management, employees, and customers.

There are two primary contacts for bloggers at SAP, each of whom maintains an open-door policy. When I am working on a post and need a source, this means “one-click” access to virtually any employee in the company.

This convenience and accessibility simplifies gaining detailed information about SAP’s activities and products. The clarity of SAP’s message depends on the particular interviewee, but at least the opportunity for dialog is present.

2. Customized programming

SAP is attentive to the professional interests of bloggers in their program. As a result, each participant receives individual attention regarding his or her specific area of focus. In my case, for example, emphasis tends toward discussion around issues pertaining to projects and the intersection of business and IT. Other bloggers engage SAP in areas such as sustainability or enterprise technology.

This customized programming is especially significant when SAP holds events and arranges meetings with senior executives. Matching bloggers and executives who share specific interests helps keep the discussion relevant to all parties.

3. Mutual expectations

The relationship between SAP and bloggers requires substantial investment of time and effort for both sides. My “covenant” with any vendor is simple and fair: I seek straightforward access to information while the vendor has a right to balanced analysis.

Of course, SAP advances its perspective and I write about IT failures, so natural tensions are present. These tensions are healthy and help ensure that blog posts do not devolve into a glorified press release or a one-sided attack.

To learn more about the history and goals of SAP’s blogging program, I recorded this video with Mike Prosceno, the company’s Vice President of Social Media Relations:

Link to Youtube clip of Mike Prosceno / VP Social Media relations at SAP.

THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS

By demonstrating serious commitment to open up and engage, SAP now participates in conversations that previously eluded the company. This kind of personalization is difficult to achieve, especially for such a large company.

The blogging program actually represents an investment in the rapidly evolving future of corporate communications, which has seen barriers drop in traditional boundaries around media and analyst relations. Blogging offers a particular challenge to corporate communications because it does not fit easily into existing media or analyst definitions.

Serious enterprise bloggers are typically professional experts in some aspect of enterprise software, raising strong parallels with industry analysts. Unlike analysts affiliated with established firms, however, most bloggers are independent and have no contractual relationship with the vendor. At the same time, some industry analysts also write excellent blogs, which further blurs traditional distinctions.

To place these distinctions into broader context, I spoke with Jason Busch, Managing Director of analyst firm, Azul Partners. Jason is also a top enterprise blogger on procurement issues, writing at Spend Matters.

Here’s what Jason told me:

I’ve often found the transparency of bloggers to be a breath of fresh air relative to traditional industry analyst firms.

In general, the better tech bloggers in the enterprise space fully disclose clients, affiliations, advertisers/sponsors, etc. In contrast, traditional analyst revenue waters are often murky; you don’t know who is paying them or how much.

SAP was way ahead of the curve in recognizing the rising role of bloggers and the blurring of analyst/blogger distinctions. It’s probably the most prescient thing they’ve done from a marketing perspective.

My take. SAP understood early on that traditional corporate communications has shifted from a message-based orientation to identifying, building, and nurturing relationships with influencers.

Despite the maturity and excellence of its program, however, SAP now faces competition in blogging relations from other enterprise vendors, some of whom are catching up quickly. To maintain its lead, SAP must continue to innovate and invest in this area.

The growth of enterprise blogging as a recognized form is great news for technology buyers, who rely on independent sources of information when making important technology and business decisions.

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