SAP’s response to my criticsm

2006 September 9
by Cornelius

A bit over three weeks ago, I wrote a critical post about SAP’s restrictive blog policy. What I neglected to mention was the response from SAP, which came promptly and closely addressed the points I had raised. Busy and somewhat forgetful as I’ve been lately, I simply didn’t get around to posting the exchange sooner. So here it is, with further comments added.

My original post in one of SAP’s access-restricted blogs:

I am aware of the fact that this comment will be removed as it is off-topic, but perhaps this will prompt someone from SAP’s corporate communications department to wake from the coma they are apparently in and get a clue. Never before have I had to *register* to access a blog. And never before have I found a single corporate blog (and I have compiled a database on that topic, for the purpose of academic research) that did not offer an RSS feed but *email alerts*. Since SAP – a highly prolific company – offers just that, I am tempted to say that the 1990s called and they want their legacy technology back. Blogs are widely accepted as a means of facilitating *open* communication with the public at large. Obviously SAP targets its potential customers, industry experts and other stakeholders with its blogs, but dear Jesus, what could ever be the benefit of coercing these people into a registration that 90% will probably fake anyway? Not being syndicated via RSS means that your blogs have *exactly* the same impact and valency that a press release would have. Which begs the question: what is SAP so terribly afraid of? Finally you might not agree with me, but possibly you agree with other people who are showing a bit more vision and understanding of the new genre. Enjoy the links – hey, guess what, no registration required at all!

http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan

http://www.novell.com/ctoblog/

http://www.orablogs.com/orablogs/

http://blogs.msdn.com/heatherleigh/

Best, Cornelius Puschmann

And here is the response from SAP’s Business Community Manager, Richard Nikolic:

Mr Joe Doe [name I used to register],

Please note that we have deleted your below comment posted to the SAP Executive Blog site in the SAP Business Community as it was off topic.
[quote of my post]
In fact, SAP does request registration prior to access to assets that reside in the SAP.com area, including SAP Executive Blogs. This may be different from other corporate sites; well, fine with me, but easy registration is how we do it. Also, we at SAP think it’s fair to request a member profile and then provide compelling assets in return. Needless to say: valid customer data (through member profile) is important to enhance SAP’s customer communications. I don’t want to repeat here what benefits come with community membership, but there is much much more than just reading and commenting on blogs. 300,000+ members worldwide have registered to date; so apparently registration doesn’t seem to be an annoyance. As always in online communities, a certain number of users may be fake – so what … the majority of people joins in for business. As for RSS, SAP.com provides automatic news updates via RSS, which replaces previous email notification.

I’m really looking forward that my message will reach you. And honestly hope “Mr Joe Doe” or “Cornelius Poschmann”, dear Jesus, is not one out of 90% fake users ;-)

Best regards,

Richard Nikolic

SAP Business Community Manager

Here’s my response:

This may be different from other corporate sites; well, fine with me, but easy registration is how we do it.

I don’t question SAP’s right to do whatever it pleases with its blogs, but this equates to “we do it that way because we do it that way”. Shouldn’t it make you think that others don’t do it that way? Not paying attention to what your neighbors are doing seems like an odd attitude for a global software business to me.

Also, we at SAP think it’s fair to request a member profile and then provide compelling assets in return.

Assets is the key term here. To me, it suggests that SAP is giving its customers something here that they should be darn grateful for. Even if that’s going a bit too far, it stresses that this exchange is unidirectional: members are expected to provide their information, giving them a means to communicate with the company and thus helping SAP to better understand its clients’ needs is not at the center of attention. Note that I’m not saying that this is what SAP intends, only that this is the impression it is likely to give the outside observer.

Needless to say: valid customer data (through member profile) is important to enhance SAP’s customer communications.

Richard, customer communication is what you and I are having right now (well, except that I’m not a customer… but I could start a business and become one, couldn’t I?). Before I get up on the stage and strip – which is the equivalent of of filling out a 20-field form, 18 of which are required – before I do that, I want to know what you need that information for and why what I say is only relevant if you have my postal code and know who my employer is. Mistrusting me is likely to make me mistrust you. Not a good starting point if you want to engage with your customers openly.

I don’t want to repeat here what benefits come with community membership, but there is much much more than just reading and commenting on blogs.

That’s an extremely relevant point. I have absolutely no doubt that being a member of the SAP community has countless benefits and I fully understand that you have to register for this. But why are your blogs only accessible to the community? What about people like me who are only interested in your blogs and nothing else? What about people who aren’t part of the community but would still like to hear about your “vision and strategy”? Potential customers, bloggers, competitors… ironically I see your blogging on a larger communicative scale than you do. That doesn’t mean that I’m right – you choose what you want to say, how you are going to say it and who will be addressed. But that doesn’t mean people that you didn’t think of won’t want to listen.

300,000+ members worldwide have registered to date; so apparently registration doesn’t seem to be an annoyance.

How many would be listening if there was no registration?

As always in online communities, a certain number of users may be fake – so what … the majority of people joins in for business.

Those who are already doing business with SAP are unlikely to provide false information and they certainly have good reason to register. It’s the rest of the world’s population (well, minus a few billion who have other concerns than business software) that I’m thinking of.

As for RSS, SAP.com provides automatic news updates via RSS, which replaces previous email notification.

I was talking about RSS feeds of your executive blogs, which, as far as I can see, still won’t be available. ‘News updates’ sounds like something else to me – correct me if I’m wrong.

I’m really looking forward that my message will reach you. And honestly hope “Mr Joe Doe” or “Cornelius Poschmann”, dear Jesus, is not one out of 90% fake users ;-)

It has reached me, even though I’ve been “in a coma” (to quote myself) when it comes to timely responses lately. Mea culpa. Oh, and it’s Puschmann with a “U”, as in “Why R U nagging about our blogging policy so persistently?” ;-)

I’m going to email Richard and refer him to this post. One thing that I’d like to stress: this is not me acting all cocky, trying to ‘nail’ a software company for how it handles its customer communications (at least that’s not my intention, really). I’m simply asking why SAP chooses to do things differently and to better understand their reasons. My impression is that they simply see blogging from a different, more restrictive perspective than others do. Perhaps there’s more potential than they realize. Either that or I’m making unfounded judgments about a community that they undoubtedly know better.

What do you think?

4 Comments
2006 September 15

[...] When does a blog have an effect opposite of that which was intended And is it really a blog if you have to register to see it? SAP should be thanking Cornelius. Instead, he gets a defensive e-mail from their “Business Community Manager”. Yeah, you read that right…the person responsible for managing their business community. I love when job titles are ironic. Communities are a great thing. People join formal communities (that require registration) because there is something specific they want to get from that community.  Blogs can build community, but are a more open medium that sit outside the myopic scope of traditional member-based communities. Companies may want to protect themselves by only allowing the converted to access their blog content, but the real interesting conversations happen where people have differing interests. It would be like me requiring that you send me your resume if you want to read my blog. Kind of defeats the purpose. Come on SAP. Figure this one out. Your products and your brand are being talked about (both positively and negatively) whether you acknowledge it or not. You have a choice as to whether to be part of the conversation. And there’s a lot of value in the conversation. By the way, a little plug for Cornelius’ blog, which I just discovered today through Technorati: CorpBlawg is a web log on corporate/enterprise/business blogging that is maintained by Cornelius Puschmann. Cornelius is currently a PhD student at the Department of English Language and Linguistics of the University of Duesseldorf, Germany. His interest in corporate blogging stems from the fact that he is writing his dissertation on the corporate blog as a genre, claiming (somewhat optimistically) that he can find linguistic features which are unique to corporate blogs. Yeah, what that says is that Cornelius is pretty much smarter than the rest of us ; ) Filed Under: Blogging [...]

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2006 October 3

I have never heard of a blog that required registration. It seems counter productive, kind of like putting up a billboard and then putting a curtain across it. They should make the blog open and use it to hook people in, then turn them into members with other online content such as forums, white papers and downloads. An open blog is far more likely to get trackbacks, search engine ranking and new visitors.

regards Vincent, ITToolbox WebSphere blogger

2006 October 3

Their assumption seems to be that only people who’ve signed up for the SAP business community will be interested in the blogs. The possibility that others might also want to join the conversation – and perhaps become customers that way – in simply not anticipated. The other thing is that they regard their blogs as “assets” which are in essence traded for user information. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” – except that a conversation is not a piece of real estate, and putting a fence around it won’t increase property value.

2008 October 22

[...] Cornelius Puschmann – SAP’s response to my criticsm [...]

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