[For those of you new to this blog, I have been working on the SAP Global Report on Culture, Business & Social Media since June. It has been a massive, revealing and entirely enjoyable project for me, which will be continued before year end.
I submitted a lengthy report on my findings so far, earlier this month. I am working also on an Appendix summarizing what the participants told me.
The report has been favorably received by SAP who has given me permission to publish the report, minus my specific recommendations to them. Upon completion, I will also publish the Appendix.
I will be publishing the report here in chunks over the next several days. This is the first part.]
My assignment was at once simple and monumental. Investigate and report on the state of social media in the world. Do it in three months and report to SAP on what I found.
I would approach the assignment, not as a traditional researcher, which I am not; but as a social media champion who has co-authored a book on business blogging transparently on my blog.
Instead of asking the same series of checkbox questions to a large number of people then compiling numbers onto a spreadsheet, I talked to just 48 people, residing in 25 countries, posting 53,000 words of interview results on my blog. The interviewees were a diverse group, ranging from celebrity bloggers to high schoolers; from South African ERP consultants to Ukrainian citizen journalists, from Cambodian NGO workers and Kenyan orphans to China’s most famous serial entrepreneur.
In giving me this assignment through The Conversation Group, SAP’s Mike Prosceno told me a primary goal was to help SAP become a social media thought leader. That’s a daunting goal but the survey in itself became a significant step down the path required toward achieving it. The transparent approach we took made thousands of people aware of SAP’s interest. By sharing our findings, SAP has already demonstrated it understands that to be a social media leader, one needs to be generous. By doing our work publicly, the public wants to know more. To date, I’ve received six requests to speak on the SAP survey. Mike has so far been asked to speak with me twice.
The process further demonstrates yet another important lesson of social media. Not only must a company be both generous and transparent, it must also understand that control is slipping from its clutches of organizations into the hands of its constituencies. When, I began the SAP Global Survey, as it has come to be called, I thought I was in control, when in fact I was not.
My very first survey respondent, Hugh MacLeod, author of the wildly popular Gaping Void and a Microsoft consultant, posted his answers on his blog rather than mine. Then Tom Raftery, an Irish IT blogger who was not on my list at all, copied Hugh’s questions, then answered them on his own blog. This was followed by Ken Camp, a Microsoft consultant, whom I had never talked with who posted to his own site. However, he apparently didn’t like one of my questions, so he replaced it with one of his own, answering it. A little while later, Joe Thornley, a Canadian PR executive would answer my emailed questions with a video post which appeared on Facebook. This was followed by a couple of people taking it upon themselves to ask questions from the survey on both Facebook and LinkedIn. More than 100 people served up answers.
I had obviously lost control, and the SAP Survey benefited greatly by that loss. It demonstrated two central assumptions of social media and why it is so powerful. People are wired to collaborate and most people perform better when you don’t attempt to impose excessive controls over the process.
Of course, the results of these findings are what is of the greatest value, not just to SAP, but to the general public with whom we will share them. As a social media professional, I will admit that the findings provide very few surprises to me. However, the survey adds hundreds of data points to the general body of knowledge. These confirm arguments that have been previously based merely on guesswork.
[NEXT: Seven Key Findings.]