The Importance of Online Communities with Cloud Computing
By Jeanne Carboni, Senior Director of SAP Community Network, SAP
Software companies around the world are transforming, to provide cloud offerings. This is disrupting the way they do business. Companies that previously focused on multimillion dollar deals with fortune 500 customers need to recognize that millions of smaller businesses are now making buying decisions with respect to their IT options. Although these deals are much smaller in scale, there are millions of them and that adds up to big money.
With this change in customer base comes change in the way sales are executed. For software in the cloud the sales cycle resembles more of a subscription service than a traditional software sales cycle (think of signing up for an internet service provider). That means that the deals are happening online, based on peer-to-peer recommendations and word-of-mouth versus formal meetings with a sales representative.
Another factor that effects sales in the cloud is the ease of changing vendors. When a customer subscribes to software in the cloud the choice to try other products becomes exponentially easier than it was before. Gone are the days of multimillion-dollar investments in hardware, software, and implementation fees that would preclude making a change.
With these changes in the marketplace, software companies are more dependent on brand loyalty than ever before. It is critical that customers are happy with the decisions they have made for software providers during all phases of the customer experience lifecycle. One way that software companies can achieve strong brand loyalty is by having a vibrant, responsive online community.
At SAP, for example, we established an online community in 2003. It was primarily aimed at technical discussions about SAP products. By 2004, we had over 100 thousand registered members and one million forum posts. In 2005, we expanded the community to include additional topics such as industry solutions to help address business questions as well as technology concerns. In 2014, SAP Community Network (SCN) had 24 million unique visitors (unique people who visited the site more than once during the year).
Content matters. People are drawn to SCN by the relevant content that helps them do their jobs. Most of them are SAP professionals—customers, partners, developers—who can typically find answers to their questions in the community very quickly. Currently, there are 68 thousand blogs and 2.6 million questions and answers to support 568 topics of interest.
It is important that the content on SCN is accurate and of high quality. To make sure that visitors find what they need, we have a small team of global moderator(s) and more than 300 volunteers who review contributions and manage the process of cleaning up submissions that do not meet standards the community expects. The moderation of SCN is critical to SAP because it also weeds out content that could be deemed inappropriate, including spam, profanity, and copyright violation.
"Our vision is to provide a world-class experience for anyone on any device, to engage and participate in relevant conversations, and to help improve the world through our software and technology"
So how do we motivate members to share their knowledge? Approximately 700 thousand visitors from more than 230 countries have provided content to help each other by sharing best practices, tips, and tricks. Early on, we used a points system and levels to demonstrate members’ knowledge of SAP systems. Then, in 2013 we introduced a sophisticated reputation system including missions and badges that are associated with the contributors’ profile to help build their online persona. In addition to the online representation of the person’s expertise, we offer topic leader recognition once per year to those who contribute the most high-quality content in strategic topics on SCN. These members are recognized at SAP events as well as online.
Another way we recognize community members is through our SAP Mentor program. SAP Mentors are a group of about 150 customers, partners, developers, and SAP employees who excel in sharing SAP expertise and influencing the market and SAP to continuously improve offerings. SAP Mentors are known in the community as leaders and help organize events to help people grow their knowledge and abilities using our technologies.
In addition to sharing knowledge in the community, members also exemplify an altruistic approach: They regularly engage and collaborate to support charitable activities, such as the World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), by raising funds through online and face-to-face activities.
So what is next for our community? Our vision is to provide a world-class experience for anyone on any device, to engage and participate in relevant conversations, and to help improve the world through our software and technology. We are working collaboratively with our community members and development teams to integrate our websites and provide innovations and improvements, including single-sign-on functions, intuitive search, simpler contribution tools, code downloads, online purchasing, and support through a single and seamless user experience. New releases for the community will be available in early to mid-2016—followed by regular updates.