by Thomas Wailgum

The Uncertain Future of SAP’s Social Media Strategy

Mar 19, 20093 mins
Enterprise Applications

Amid SAP’s confirmation of “an undisclosed amount” of layoffs in March (which will total 3,000 when all is said and done) is the curious case of Steve Mann. Who’s Steve Mann, you might ask?

Mann is a well-known social media strategist and was, up until late last week, leading SAP’s Web 2.0 efforts as a VP of global marketing. Last fall, I interviewed Mann about the enterprise software giant’s use of new media tools in the staid world of ERP, CRM, business intelligence and supply chain management applications (see “Q&A with SAP’s Social Networking and Marketing Strategist”).

Mann’s mission was to “deliver a strategy to provide greater customer engagement and really jump into the conversations that are happening in the market about SAP,” he said in September.

He was realistic about the rigors of social media today and where SAP fit into the spectrum: “Conversations don’t always take place where you want them to, so the goal is to participate,” he noted. “Organizations that are just going to implement social media for social media’s sake are going to fail.”

But Mann was also enthusiastic about SAP’s successes (such as with the SAP Community Network and nascent co-innovation programs) and how Web 2.0 communication mechanisms could bolster SAP’s reputation and market presence.

On his blog late last week, Mann announced that after seven years he was departing SAP. It was unclear whether he was leaving on his own volition or if he was one of the unfortunate SAPers who had lost their jobs. He wrote on his blog that he would continue working with SAP marketing “to move the ball on some of the social media efforts that we’ve already kicked off.” (Mann declined to comment on his departure and referred me to SAP’s media relations.)

One potential stumbling block that Mann and his team might have faced was that they were trying to go enterprisewide with their social media efforts—from the development organization, to communications, and services and support, and the partner system—”all the major functional organizations of SAP,” Mann said last fall.

Perhaps it wound up being much more of a nichey, grassroots marketing effort that struggled to gain SAP-wide buy-in. ROI can be hard to gauge with these programs. Or perhaps it simply was a budget call, and with social media still often considered an experimental marketing channel, Mann took the fall.

Jim Dever, a spokesman for SAP Americas, was unable to comment directly on Mann’s departure. But as for SAP’s social media efforts, he told me: “This in no way will affect our investment in social media.”

As to my speculation about SAP pulling back on its Web 2.0 efforts, Dever says: “I wouldn’t agree with that.” He acknowledges that it’s a “big equation” to make it work across SAP’s enterprise, “but I would temper any speculation that this is an indicator [of decreasing social media activity],” he says. “You will see continued commitment and embrace of social media going forward—whether it’s our developer networks or industry value networks.” Dever also noted that, while Mann was a big part of the marketing team, there are many others still involved in the efforts going forward.

I’ve voiced my share of skepticism about social media and Web 2.0 applications (especially given the state of the economy), but done correctly, it can pay nice dividends. (See my colleague Chris Lynch’s excellent article on why you should have a business presence on Twitter and how to actually do it.)

We’ll soon see just how much SAP will continue its burgeoning Web 2.0 marketing and social media efforts—without Steve Mann.