When Everyone Has a Suitcase Nuclear Weapon

As many of you are aware, SAP is taking a rather bold initiative at our annual SAPPHIRE customer event held this week, we invited a group of bloggers to attend and liveblog the event. We are paying their way, giving them a place to work, full access to the conference, and a centralized scheduling service for executive one-on-ones.

I was a primary instigator behind this, which is no surprise given my long interest in social media, but by no means was I alone in calling for what is now referred to as the Bloggers Corner. Bill Wohl is one of our most senior executives on the marketing and communications side of the business and someone I have known for a long time, at first he was skeptical about blogs but over the last year I think it’s safe to say that Bill has moved into the “true believer” category. Mike Prosceno is one of my Apollo colleagues and runs our captive marketplace communications team. It was through Mike’s tireless efforts (and budget) along with one of his team, Stacey Fish, that the bloggers row at SAPPHIRE became a reality. Of course it goes without saying that the guy I work for, Steve Mann, provided no small amount of political capital and endorsement to make this happen as well, and it’s really his unwavering believe in social media that affords me a wide degree of latitude here to pursue things that interest me.

When it came to a list of blogger names it was easy, I rattled off a list of 13 people I know at some level, have a keen insight into enterprise software, are disruptive of the status quo, and lastly, are diverse in their backgrounds and current roles. Of the original invites there were a couple of schedule conflicts (JavaOne is this week, as is the Gartner Symposium) so I had to put on my thinking cap to add a couple of substitutes (and in retrospect they should have been on the original list).

There’s always a lot of talk about “A-list” bloggers and we certainly have some of that in our bloggers row, but without exception each individual we invited to SAPPHIRE is someone I know and respect, not just someone who gets a lot of traffic. This is a great opportunity for each of the bloggers to expand their audience as well given that there will be attention focused on what we are doing with them, in particular I am keen on driving some media attention and from the early feelers I put out it doesn’t appear that will be a challenge at all. I didn’t realize this at the time this was conceived, but we’re really pushing an envelope with this initiative as it relates to “traditional” software mindset.

I have mentioned in the past what we are doing with bloggers at SAPPHIRE but I have never said why I am doing it. When I look at what is happening with user generated content and personal publishing I get really excited at the prospect of an information marketplace operating as a meritocracy where audience goes to those deserving of it based on the quality of their ideas and ability to communicate them. It’s an idealistic view, and somewhat naive, but I continue to believe this is possible. When I look at an event like SAPPHIRE I am struck by two distinct thoughts, the first being that these very large vendor sponsored events may be a thing of the past, and secondly that the potential for word of mouth promotion spawning out of an event like SAPPHIRE is enormous and fully unrealized.

It may in fact be that large SAPPHIRE like events are outliving their utility but we won’t know that for several years. However, they are here today and the ability to leverage the event as a platform for word of mouth is absolutely something we can do today, and that’s the crux of what I want to achieve with the bloggers corner. If I could come out of the end of this week with a pretty deep del.icio.us
and technorati feed then I’d be satisfied that we did something at SAPPHIRE that had never been done and we did it well. There will no doubt be a test for us when someone writes something that is critical of SAP and if we can get through that without anyone getting pissed off then I think we will be able to say we have made a substantive change toward being more conversational with our marketplace.

I will be posting more about this experience, and SAPPHIRE itself in the coming days.

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