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Social Media + Events ... More than Just Marketing

Over the last few years, what started as experiments with social media technologies have become an integrated part of SAP communities and SAP events, such as SAP TechEd and SAPPHIRE NOW. These conferences blend physical and virtual events together in real-time, incorporating many social media tools which help extend our reach to potential attendees, provide early feedback, build excitement, and keep attendees engaged. Social media and social networks have become key components of our planning strategy before, our execution during, and our follow-through after our events.


Several SAP Mentors chose to display their Twitter handles on their special rugby jerseys which made their debut at SAP TechEd 2009. Photo courtesy of @dahowlett via Flickr.


Pre-Event - Get Started Early

Collaborative Planning: Particularly for some of our grassroots events like Inside Track - community-driven local "unconferences" planned by SCN members and SAP Mentors - social technologies play a key role in the planning and execution stages. Wikis are used to share best practices, capture key information, plan speaker sessions, and collect registrations.  Similarly, the BPX community's Process Design Slam at SAP TechEd used a community wiki to help plan and document the outcomes of the evening event.

Hype up the Crowd: Kicking off the 2009 SAP TechEd season, we held a live video event about a month before with keynote speakers Vishal Sikka and Ray Kurzweil, streaming the Twitter feed next to the video box to show commentary and gather viewer questions. This helped build excitement for the upcoming conference, and even generated some light controversy and debate among the 600+ viewers who tweeted 340 messages during the 45-minute webcast. Additionally, session speakers use blogs to share presentation abstracts, create conversation around SAP TechEd topics, and poll attendees prior to their sessions. And Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all used to promote the event, drive conversations, and provide location-specific updates before and during the conference.


Notice the Twitter comments and questions in the right half of the screen next to Vishal Sikka on the webcast with Ray Kurzweil prior to SAP TechEd'09.  The webinar "debate" between Vishal and Ray generated excitement and interest before the physical event.


Engage with Attendees: For the upcoming SAPPHIRE NOW (held May 16-19, 2010 in Orlando, Florida and May 17-19, 2010 in Frankfurt, Germany), updates, contests, and sample planning agendas are shared through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Like the SAP TechEd accounts, these social media channels aren't just an extension of the official SAPPHIRE NOW websites; they are more than simply another venue to push out marketing information. A quick look at the @SAPPHIRENOW and #SAPPHIRENOW tweet streams shows how social media lets attendees connect with each other, with event organizers, and with speakers beforehand. For the SAP Solutions Tour, held in 12 stops across North America, attendees were encouraged to RSVP to the event page on LinkedIn and share it with their connections. Social media outlets enable us to engage with attendees and make it easy for them to spread the word to their networks.



Amplify the Message: Giving attendees a platform to share their enthusiasm with non-attendees - to amplify and push messages out to potential registrants - is a key benefit we've experienced through our social media engagement. In addition to maximizing our reach, and incorporating some viral world-of-mouth techniques to spread the word, it adds a flavor of immediacy and authenticity to the message. It's more meaningful to hear the reasons why a colleague is excited to attend, or provides the excuse to meet a contact in person at an event he or she is already attending.  Social media can generate the excitement needed to get more attendees, and we leverage sites like bit.ly to help track results. A bit of math here: If a top-notch speaker charges $50,000, and the conference fee is $1,000, then it only takes 50 net new attendees to cover the costs of someone extraordinary.


During the Event: Get the Pulse of Attendees

Onsite at SAP TechEd 2009, in-person attendees could follow the live, streaming #SAPTechEd Twitter feeds at the bottom of the plasma "ticker screens" that provided event agendas and updates... these large screens were placed throughout the event venue in high-traffic areas and hallways.  The feed was also integrated into laptop screensavers in the session rooms which displayed the current Twitter discussion in a fun, creative, and colorful way. Over the course of the Phoenix event, hashtag #SAPTechEd09 generated more than 9,000 tweets in just 4 days.



Hashtags are one measure we use to gauge the success of an event. Whether it's positive or negative, it's valuable feedback listening to what people are saying. For example, before the event, we can capitalize on what's getting them excited to attend, any problems they're experiencing with registration, or feedback on program content. During the event, we're able to monitor whether the messages are clear and resonating, whether there's any problems or controversy.  Plus, our engagement with influencers helps amplify our message and generate buzz - during the 2009 SAP Influencer Summit, the hashtag #SAPSummit became a trending topic on Twitter.

For speakers, Timo Elliot, Senior Director of Strategic Marketing at SAP, created some clever tools that engage the backchannel using SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius. During sessions, speakers can embed Twitter feeds into their PowerPoint presentations using his tools.  It's an innovative way to gather audience questions, take polls, and even automatically tweet out key points.  I think you'll enjoy what Timo has developed and offers to anyone to use.


Bring the Fun to Viewers at Home

Constant Twitter updates from attendees, presenters, speakers, and organizers shared the SAP TechEd 2009 experience with virtual attendees, who could see the live Twitter stream on the SAP TechEd website next to live interviews of speakers, experts, and influential community members every hour, on the hour, from the show floor. These SAP TechEd Live videos - also posted on third-party sites like YouTube,  Vimeo, and Viddler - helped extend the experience to virtual attendees, particularly during a difficult economic year when travel and training budgets were reduced or cut. They also extended the longevity of the event though on demand replays and promotions in community blogs and newsletters, receiving 62,000 Views of SAP TechEd Live Videos four months after the event.  


Chip Rodgers and Salim Ali are broadcasting worldwide, live from the events floor at SAP TechEd'09 in Vienna.  Viewers tuned-in every hour for fresh video-casts over the web, and could come back anytime to catch the captured video of dozens of interviews with executives, product managers, SAP Mentors, and others.


Psst...Sneak Preview of SAPPHIRE NOW: Many bloggers and SCN members take personal videos at these events to capture and share their impressions. It's a great way to get an unscripted perspective of what's happening, so at SAPPHIRE NOW, we'll put simple video recorders into the hands of SAP Mentors and bloggers to enable their reports from the event. If you're at the event, keep an eye out for these roving reporters recording interviews and perspectives from the show floor. If you're watching from home, be sure to catch these firsthand accounts - since it's unscripted, anything could happen!


After the Event - Keep the Conversation Going

The SAP TechEd Twitter account has close to 4,000 followers; the Facebook group has more than 2,500 fans.  We don't let these accounts sit dormant once the event has passed, then try to resurrect and re-energize the crowd when next year's event rolls around. We capitalize on the post-event momentum, encouraging attendees to share their photos on Flickr and view videos of sessions they might have missed. Virtual TechEd subscriptions offer the best of SAP TechEd lectures accessible both online and offline. For €300 per license, subscribers gain access to more than 600 SAP TechEd sessions recorded from 2006-2009.

We also use the Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts to cross-promote related events throughout the year, such as SAP TechTour and SAP Solutions Tour, which leverage SAP TechEd content at local events, and SAP Virtualization Week. Some of this content is then shared on sites like SlideShare and Scribd where they can be discovered by those users - again, extending our footprint beyond just the people we can reach first-hand, and maximizing the longevity and the value of the event.


A Supplement, Not a Substitute

There's a lot of opportunity still to come as we continue to discover the best tools to use and the best ways to engage on social media for events. But as we play with the latest fad, it's important to keep in mind that these channels are best viewed as extensions of our social and professional relationships, helping us connect virtually and bridge location-specific barriers. They're not a substitution for the IRL connections and relationships we build in real life (in person) at physical events like SAP TechEd and TechTour, SAPPHIRE NOW, or SAP Solutions Tour. Online training is not a wholesale replacement for hands-on learning sessions led by subject experts, or in-person demos of the latest SAP solutions, or hand-on sessions (always the most popular sold-out aspect of every SAP TechEd). Social tools complement old-fashioned, face-to-face communication and make it easier for more people to engage with us and each other, so I still hope to see you in person at these physical gatherings throughout the year.


Stay in touch with our great event staff - tell us what's on your mind, get the latest news and updates, and I hope to see you soon at SAPPHIRE or SAP TechEd: