Q&A with SAP's Social Networking and Marketing Strategist

Steve Mann is helping SAP chart its online marketing and customer-engagement strategy. So just what is his job, what is SAP's social-media strategy and what have they learned so far?

SAP's Steve Mann is a blogger, a big Twitter user and is hooked into many other online services—LinkedIn and the Social Media Collective, to name just two. Mann is wedded to and embedded in all things related to social media.

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He's trying to do the same, in a sense, with SAP. As a vice president of global marketing, he is tasked with leading the German software giant's evolving social-media strategy. Mann has been at SAP for six years in variety of roles—from marketing innovation and intelligence, to competitive strategy, to customer experience.

Steve Mann
Steve Mann, SAP's social media strategist

Not only is SAP's own marketing department using social media tools (virtual meetings, blogs, wikis) to bring teams together, share best practices and save some money, Mann says, SAP as a software company is using social media to listen to and interact with their customers in new ways that provide insights into exactly what SAP customers want. (For more on SAP's strategy, see "Five Things About SAP's Strategy That You Need to Know.")

CIO.com Senior Editor Thomas Wailgum talked with Mann about his job, the social marketing strategy and the results so far. "At the end of the day," Mann says, "customers want to be in control. They want to be delighted, and they want us to be credible and proactive."

CIO.com: What exactly is your job?

Steve Mann: Currently, I'm focused on developing a comprehensive social media strategy for the marketing enterprise. Now since it is social media, you can't just silo it within marketing. So out of necessity, we're also involving the development organization, communications, services and support, the partner system—all the major functional organizations of SAP. The goal is to really deliver a strategy to provide greater customer engagement and really jump into the conversations that are happening in the market about SAP.

Wherever those conversations are happening?

Mann: Conversations don't always take place where you want them to, so the goal is to participate. Organizations that are just going to implement social media for social media's sake are going to fail. But when you approach social media from the perspective of: I have specific business objectives as an organization that we want to address, and you tie social media directly to those business objectives, and you use it to turn up the volume on the customer experience that your customers will have when they're trying to engage with your company—that's a recipe for success with social media.

Our strategy has been to tie social media to specific business objectives, and the reason why we're focused on customer experience is that as an organization we've recognized that a lot of the power in the market has shifted. Traditionally, vendors were very much in control of selling cycles; we don't believe in selling cycles any more. We believe there are buying cycles now, and in buying cycles, the customers are in control.

So our focus around social media has been to ensure that we're giving customers the tools they need to be empowered, to make the right decisions regarding the software services and selection process, and that will predispose them to do business with SAP.

But isn't it hard to always be "on message" on the Internet?

Mann: You raise a very good point, in that organizations are used to tight message control and tight management of their brands. Organizations will always have, to a large degree, control over their message and brands. But now with the advent of social media, the customers and prospects in the market, in general, participate in the management of that brand.

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