SAP confuses bloggers with journalists

September 12, 2006 at 11:02 pm 24 comments

At its TechEd event today, SAP made a big point of inviting bloggers to its press and analyst conference. The bloggers were all from companies in SAP’s developer network and included Robert Scoble, now at Podtech. Sources tell me the bloggers in the pack stuck to softball questions – such as what the SAP developer of the future would look like – and left the tougher questions to the journalists.

So should SAP be applauded for embracing bloggers in this way? In this case, I think not. The bloggers in question were all part of SAP’s ecosystem and therefore not impartial. Surrounding yourself with a sympathetic audience might seem attractive, but you’ll end up isolated from reality. Love them or hate them, journalists perform an important role in asking the hard questions that force companies to substantiate claims and confront the facts.

I’m not saying that SAP shouldn’t embrace its blogging partners, but don’t confuse them with the media. I can’t imagine that the journalists in the audience were happy with the situation. And I reiterate my point from an earlier posting: “citizen journalism is no substitute for the traditional media with professional writers, editors and codes of conduct.”

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  • [...] Judy (not sure what her last name is, but her about page says she’s a PR person) makes a point that SAP confuses bloggers with journalists and that I only asked softball questions. [...]

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  • [...] Heheh, a little cross-company smack talk going on over on the Virtual Earth blog. They link to all their competitors and say they have better imagery. Actually, what they are demonstrating is their new collections feature where you can gather together a collection of interesting places and put a link to that on your blog. Very useful! By the way, that and more are explained on other posts on the Virtual Earth blog. [...]

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  • 3. Charlie Wood  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    I think you’ve gotten your facts a big off. I’m one of the bloggers invited by SAP and attending the show, and I I’m not from ivolved with SAP’s developer network. Neither are my fellow bloggers Michael Cote, Tim Marman, Mike Masnick, Niel Robertson, and Ismael Ghalmi.

    We are however being hosted by Mark Crofton, who is a blogger and an SAP employee, and have spent some time with other SAP bloggers including Craig Cmehil and Mark Finnern.

    SAP is doing a pretty incredible job of supporting an ongoing conversation with the (non-SAP-ecosystem) blogging community. I don’t know how the journalists an analysts here have reacted, but that’s a great question. I’ll ask some of them when I get back to the press room.

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  • 4. Charlie Wood  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    (Oops-sorry for the dupe comment. I misspelled my URL in the first one.)

    I think you’ve gotten your facts a big off. I’m one of the bloggers invited by SAP and attending the show, and I I’m not from ivolved with SAP’s developer network. Neither are my fellow bloggers Michael Cote, Tim Marman, Mike Masnick, Niel Robertson, and Ismael Ghalmi.

    We are however being hosted by Mark Crofton, who is a blogger and an SAP employee, and have spent some time with other SAP bloggers including Craig Cmehil and Mark Finnern.

    SAP is doing a pretty incredible job of supporting an ongoing conversation with the (non-SAP-ecosystem) blogging community. I don’t know how the journalists an analysts here have reacted, but that’s a great question. I’ll ask some of them when I get back to the press room.

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  • 5. Judy  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Charlie, thanks for the clarification. If you guys are not part of the SAP community, I stand corrected. I agree it’s a good thing that SAP is engaging in conversation with the blogging community (specifically those who don’t do it for a living), I’m just not sure that the press conference is the right forum. I’d be interested to hear any of the feedback you get from others in the press room.

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  • 6. Dennis Howlett  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Judy – I’m not at TechED LV but will be at the Amsterdam gig. I’m also part of the network to which Charlie belongs. Trust me – SAP gets beaten up with almost boring regularity by a number of us. They take notice and they respond.

    SAP is doing the blog thing because it’s execs see value in the questions that enterprise practitioners like Charlie, Niel and the others raise. That’s the difference between ‘us’ and the hacks. Hacks want news, practitioners want answers to problems they’re trying to solve. A very different thing.

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  • 7. Charlie Wood  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I’m interested to hear what the press & analysts think too. I’ll report back. I’d also be interested in talking to your source, since he/she apparently doesn’t approve. Have them email me at charlie.wood@gmail.com or call me at 512-217-6551 if they are interested in discussing it. I think it’s an interesting topic, worthy of discussion.

    (It’s also probably worth noting that more than one of the bloggers in our group are actually an industry analysts, including Michael Cote of RedMonk and Mike Masnick of Techdirt.)

    Reply
  • 8. Niel Robertson  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Judy,

    I am actually the one that asked the “developers question” at the press conference. My name is Niel Robertson, i am the CTO and co-founder of Newmerix. I am not affiliated with SAP other than being a ISV development partner. I am also an Oracle partner, and Microsoft partner. But i do sell products into all their customers, so i know them well.

    The issue I wanted to raise is that my question was actually not a softball question if you understand SAP development teams. Basically most SAP development teams are ABAP programmers (which is the old programming language R/3 installations use – R/3 being about 96% of the installed base right now using SAP’s numbers). If you listen to all of SAP’s technology announcements, while they will support ABAP indefinitely, all the new tools are Java based and XML BPEL based. They also are promoting PHP, Struts, JSF, etc..

    The non-softball part of this is that to get to NetWeaver (mySAP ERP 2005) which they made a big announcement about at TechEd, you actually have to completely retool your whole SAP development team. That’s includes new skill sets, new languages, new tools, new process modeling experience, new SOA management and testing tools, etc.. Moving to mySAP ERP 2005 is not just about the applications and frameworks, its about the team that has to implement it (and the cost of retooling that team).

    And this is the value of bloggers in many cases. We know the reality of making this stuff work in a way that some (by no means all) journalists do not. In addition, in that meeting there were 4 questions from bloggers, only 1 from press (the Register) and 3 from analysts. I am interested to know what other questions you viewed as “hardball”.

    To your point about press room etiquitte, i have been on both side of the press equation for almost 10 years now (ugg!) and the reason i phrase my question the way i did was because of the press-room context. Had I been more callous or inexperienced I would have asked it more directly (like I did with my .NET question to Shai in his roundtable). I guarantee you that Peter and Zia knew what I was asking. And as a side note, this got one of the most out-on-a-limb repsonses from Peter I have ever seen. He is classically very protective of his answers.

    In addition, I have published many articles as a “journalist” in both short lead as well as long lead press since the mid-90s. So I must respectfully suggest I disagree with your view and that traditional press and bloggers have a lot to learn from each other. You may be surprised to find we’re not just a bunch of rough edged renegades with a Typepad subscription.

    And again, knowing who you are and your affiliation would be great in terms of context/persepctive.

    Reply
  • 9. Jason Wood  |  September 13, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Judy,

    I am not at TechEd, but am part of the blogging contingent that was present at Sapphire, and collaborate with a number of the bloggers at the conference in a looselly coupled unit we call the Enterprise Irregulars (to which Niel, Charlie and Dennis are also a part).

    I can tell you that my affiliation with SAP is as a shareholder, and I would like to think I’ve done my fair share of taking the company to task. Frankly, I would contend that the depth and breadth of understanding of SAP and its nuances runs deeper on average via the invited bloggers than it does conventional media.

    Frankly, the lines are blurring between bloggers and press and, like anything else, there is a distinct mix of quality on both fronts.

    If you’re wondering whether we bloggers are capable of being critical of SAP, I beg of you to link through to some of our blogs and search for SAP. You will be pleasantly surprised.

    Best,

    J

    Reply
  • 10. Steve Mann  |  September 13, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I would agree with Charlie… as one of the folks who helped initiate the blogging relations function at SAP, I see first hand the delta between bloggers and journalists. On the whole, the bloggers we have invited to SAP events have a great grasp of the technical and business issues that both SAP and the market face. And, they are able to go down to level of detail that has made the heads spin of some of the SAP executives whom they have interviewed. Check out the Enterprise Blogger Wiki where their posts are aggregated:

    http://www.socialtext.net/sapphire/index.cgi

    And, as Charlie rightly points out, many of the bloggers are not associated with SDN what so ever – they are “independents” and professionals in their own right who are interested in an open and honest conversation with the Market. So come ask us some hard questions!

    Reply
  • 11. Jeff Nolan  |  September 13, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Judy,
    As the person at SAP who originally made the list of bloggers to invite, I can certainly tell you with any abiguity that the bloggers we invited were (and still are) on the list because they are independent thinkers with a keen grasp of the enterprise software business, our strengths, and our weaknesses.

    I don’t want to make this a bloggers vs. press issue, but after Sapphire I received a lot of feedback from our executives that the bloggers were the ones bringing up the complex and intricate issues in a thoughtful way, not looking for soundbites but rather trying to develop insight. I was really proud of what the bloggers did, primarily because of how well they worked as a group and the respect that they earned from senior executives who were wary of blogs but came away as fans (and readers). Niel is a standout in this respect, his posts (among many others) are a must read for our executive leadership now.

    Reply
  • 12. Jeff Nolan  |  September 13, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    oops, sorry… should have read before posting. That first sentence should read “… I can tell you without any ambiguity that…”

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  • [...] Scoble reports on accusations that the SAP TechEd bloggers are biased. Judy says SAP is confusing bloggers with journalists.   [...]

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  • 14. Phillip Molly Malone  |  September 13, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    I see the Robert picked up your post. What do you think about Robert and the fact that he doesn’t disclose that the company he works for has a business relationship with SAP?

    I personally think that you should always disclose even if there can be no question of the motives behind things!

    JMTC
    Molly

    Reply
  • 15. Robert Scoble  |  September 13, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    Molly: we disclose it right on our home page! Anything in the “corporate bar” has a business relationship with our company. http://www.podtech.net/

    But that wasn’t the question you asked me on my blog. You were trying to tie some sort of business relationship to why I was at SAP. I wasn’t asked to go by the business people. I was asked by the community team at SAP to be there. I didn’t get a payout to attend that.

    Reply
  • 16. Mark Yolton  |  September 13, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Great conversation going on here. Here’s another comment from a different direction: I’m an SAP exec (and responsible for SDN – the SAP Developer Network), so maybe I’ll add yet another perspective…

    First point: the bloggers I encountered this week (Scoble on Monday and the group of 8 or so guys listed by Charlie Wood in comment #3 above) are viewed by us (other SAP execs) as very bright, direct, insightful, connected, influential, and just as neutral and potentially dangerous (in a “playing-with-fire every time you open your mouth to make a comment, so you’d better get it right” kind of way) as the media or analysts.

    They’re mixed-in with the press/analysts in one giant room, I think primarily so they can have great network connectivity even while in a cavernous hotel, easy access to execs who come into the area to meet with press/analysts, access to printers, phones, etc. in order to be productive and efficient, and centrally located food so they can remain upright from early ’til late.

    All of these bloggers have free run of the SAP TechEd conference and are speaking directly with customers, partners, employees, and anyone else they’d like. They are independent; the company provides them space to work and access to conference events and to people they can grill on any topic they’d like.

    Point #2: You’re mis-characterizing or misunderstanding SDN. SDN is *not* SAP’s outbound communication channel for company-sanctioned messages and soundbites. It is a free and open *community* of developers, some sys admins, some enterprise architects, and other technologists working together collaboratively to solve technology puzzles, overcome challenges, share solutions and best practices, and otherwise push SAP’s platform and technologies to their limit and beyond as they implement, operate, and extend SAP NetWeaver and other technologies.

    Only 7% of SDN members are SAP employees (and even we rarely if ever go thru legal or marketing to approve content), so it is 93% (or more) a non-SAP-employee community. You can be a member and have a contrarian opinion, and you can even express that contrarian position on SDN (tastefully and respectfully) without retribution (except of course you open yourself to whatever the community at large wishes to unleash if your ideas and theories are lame or unsupportable). So even if any of the bloggers at the SAP TechEd conference were SDN members — which they say they’re not — it still wouldn’t mean they were co-opted or compromised… 97% of SDN members are independent of SAP themselves: developers and other technologists who may be SAP customers developing on NetWeaver or working for an ISV or systems integrator or independent company somehow engaged with SAP or our platform.

    All that said, I’d be happier to have those 8+ bloggers (and most anyone else) join SDN (at http://sdn.sap.com) to participate directly in the community, to understand it better, and to influence it from within, versus standing outside in some self-imposed exile and criticizing what they don’t really understand. My open invitation to anyone: join SDN (it’s free and registration will take you less than 5 minutes) and get a sense of it yourself.

    My personal view: I hope to see more bloggers at more SAP events, and in the meantime engaging informally with SAP customers, partners, and employees on a regular basis. It will lead to a better understanding of the company, its products, technologies, and communities. It will lead to “pleasant surprise” about what SAP has to offer, its direction, and its refreshing philosophies. And besides, the blog posts add a whole new flavor and a lot of spice to coverage of what we’re doing.

    Mark Yolton

    Reply
  • 17. Dennis Howlett  |  September 13, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    To Mark’s point about SDN and for the sake of transparency, I visit SDN quite frequently. The idea is to get insight into what the SAP ecosystem people are doing, why they’re doing what they’re doing, alongside reading about the potholes, barriers and successes they encounter along the way. It’s a good learning environrment. Show me another enterprise vendor willing to go that far with its customers?

    Doesn’t stop people like myself and others having a pop at its business model or questioning its commitment to technical innovation but that’s another story.

    Reply
  • 18. Albert  |  September 14, 2006 at 1:07 am

    Hardball journalism is OUT. It makes people zap the channel or website.

    Reply
  • 19. Cornelius Puschmann  |  September 14, 2006 at 2:51 am

    What I find somewhat strange are the different approaches for SDN and the SAP Business Community (SBC). SBC requires user registration in order to access the executive blogs, while SDN does not. This also means there is no RSS feed of the executive blogs, only email alerts.
    I’ve been nagging about this in my blog for a bit now – my apologies if it’s getting stale but I’m truly baffled by this kind of “doors shut” strategy, especially since SDN seems to be quite different.

    Reply
  • 20. james governor  |  September 14, 2006 at 3:18 am

    I am confused by this blog.

    I was not at the event either but what is this “sources tell me” claim? Is this the New York Times? I don’t know you so I won’t go in too hard, but you say in “about” that you’re opinionated. that’s fine -but shouldn’t the opinions be based in fact, where possible?

    *None* of the bloggers in question blog on Sap Developer Network as far as I know, though one industry analyst does.

    SAP is not confusing reporters and bloggers and analysts – its just trying to work with all three groups, which do overlap.

    “Don’t confuse them with the media?” I think you’ll find we *are* the media. http://wethemedia.oreilly.com/

    I used to be a tech reporter – five years at Computing, then InformationWeek UK. I have been to hundreds of press conferences in my time, as both a reporter and an industry analyst. Please spare me the “hacks ask the tough questions” pablum. You know softball is an American sport, don’t you?

    There are some great great reporters that do ask the tough questions, and have the knowledge and experience to make them stick. People like, in no particular order, David Berlind, Ashlee Vance, Stephen Shankland, Dan Farber, and John Udell. But there are also plenty of time-servers out there that never get to know their beat and wouldn’t know a tough question if it pushed their face into the floor and said cry uncle.

    I know many of the people that were invited through Bloggers Corner- Cote, for example, works for me – and as Charlie says, if you actually read their blogs you will see that they are equal opportunities curmudgeons.

    Finally – what is wrong with building an influencer ecosystem? That is how to succeed in the technology business.

    Reply
  • 21. John Furrier  |  September 16, 2006 at 10:24 am

    This post is very interersting. Don’t confuse the ‘old way’ with the ‘new way’. Blogging develops community and discussion. On the bus ride to the developer dinner I overheard people talking about a “bar camp” in canada. BarCamp didn’t exist two years ago and now it is becoming one of the most influencial gatherings around the world.

    Judy, SAP should be applauded for their innovation. I am surprised that you can overlook that. The fact that is undisputable is that journalism is changing.

    Other than the fact that most bloggers don’t pay attention to grammer and spelling like traditional professionals … I submit that your post is way offbase.

    Judy: I challenge you …what is the job of the journalist… what is their role… please put that in context to the new global net environment.

    Reply
  • 22. Dennis Moore  |  September 19, 2006 at 8:04 am

    Speaking as an SAP exec who was grilled by the bloggers at SAPPHIRE, I can’t believe someone thinks bloggers lob softball questions. Maybe fast pitch ;-)

    Reply
  • 23. SAP to adopt the Social Media Release « Das Textdepot  |  September 28, 2006 at 8:35 am

    [...] SAP especially seems to be concerned in relationship building. Yet, they have a large developers’ community online, and they also work on their relations with customers – and with bloggers. Some weeks ago they invited Bloggers to a Press Conference. Not everyone liked the way they did it (here is another view), but I think it was a start and every company still has to learn in the field of blogger relationships (and in the Socialweb at all). So, to me it seems consequent when Bill Wohl, Head of the SAP Global Communications Product & Technology Group, motivated his team to adopt the Social Media Release. A first draft should be published for discussion within the Blogosphere in the next weeks. [...]

    Reply
  • 24. Andrew LAwrence  |  October 1, 2006 at 10:03 am

    I’ve come rather late to this debate, although as the editorial director of Information Age in London, I’ve been hearing about the number of bloggers taking our seats and drinking our coffee at SAP press conferences for a while.

    Here’s my pennyworth: this is the “long tail” at work. At the big, fat end, there’s a lot of quality, integrity and influence, but there’s also a lot of laziness, both in behaviour and in thinking. And down through the long thin pipe, there’s also a lot of hard workers, deep thinkers and influencers, and a lot of time wasters. Its not always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff, but one thing is sure: you wont’ find it on the business card, nor in the business model, of the person concerned.

    Some of us who are media professionals would like to cut the tail and keep the privileged access and corporate entertainment to ourselves. But its not going to happen that way any more. And speaking personally, I like competition – briing it on.

    I think SAP and eventually all companies will, if they are not already, eventually become very discerning about who they invite to their events. And that will be the really interesting thing to follow. At some supplier events, malcontents and hard ballers may be excluded, often on the grounds that they don’t have sufficient influence. Equally, soft ballers without influence will not be worth inviting either.

    My guess is that it will all work its through in a year or two. Half a dozen good bloggers will get invited alongside the professional media, and the rest will be lopped off. Its not just expensive, its time consuming to keep everyone happy. Especially if accredited blogger starts to demand the luxuries to which us journalists are so accustomed.

    Reply

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