SAP is the world’s leading provider of business software for enterprise resource planning and business intelligence. With its global headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, and founded 44 years ago, SAP now boasts a global network of 80,000 employees across 130 countries and nearly 300,000 enterprise customers in 190 countries. How to keep that massive workforce and partners engaged and informed in SAP’s mission? Storytelling, which the company has been championing through an extensive commitment to brand journalism.
SAP has leaned heavily on paid and owned content via two platforms: its own website (predominantly its multilingual News Center) and the SAPVoice brand channel with Forbes, a advertising partnership that began republishing SAP branded content on Forbes.com three years ago and has helped SAP generate more than 11.5 million page views since then.
The Forbes BrandVoice platform “allows marketers to connect directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content – and participate in the conversation – on the Forbes digital publishing platform. Each is produced by the marketer, and opinions expressed by Forbes contributors are their own.”
Tim Clark, Head of Employee Brand Journalism at SAP since 2008 and the Editor-in-Chief of Forbes SAPVoice, oversees an editorial team of 10 to 15 people to help “tell the SAP story, one employee at a time.” Curious how SAP strategizes and executes on both a quantity and quality of content across the company’s employee network and its key content channels, we spoke with Clark—known as “The Blogfather” internally—about how he has grown his team and the impact of storytelling for the entire company.
brandchannel: Tim, what is the importance of content to the growth and success of SAP?
Tim Clark: It’s strengthening our brand awareness. SAP is a global enterprise software maker with 200,000 customers, so at this level of maturity, we’re looking for new and interesting ways to get the company story out and support the brand. We use our employees, tapping into that knowledge base to help tell the SAP story. Big companies have a wealth of expertise within their network. We have former executives from P&G or Coca-Cola and they bring their knowledge and insight with them and then share their stories—all for free.
brandchannel: How does the SAP Experience editorial team generate and nurture ideas from employees through to publishing?
Clark: At SAP an employee starts the journalism journey on the SAP Community Network, where we have 2 million registered network users. Customers, partners, employees, external players, can all register and start blogging. We moderate the space and it’s a more generalized space, less technology and more about driving business benefits. It filled an internal void at SAP as soon as we started about three to four years ago.
SAP content that first appears on the SAP Community Network is then pushed to either the SAP.com News Center or to SAPVoice on Forbes.com. To look at last month, in February more than 21 million brand impressions came from the Forbes SAPVoice site and an example of a popular story is about the boardroom of the future, which garnered 80,000 page views and thousands of social shares.
Communication is key and our network is a training ground, a point of cultivation, giving scope to talent. People learn to think twice before they hit that publish button. They’re coming from excitement to tell a story, but we work with the authors to make it even better.
There’s also a gamification component in our community network that gets people more involved with earning badges and gaining reputation points.”
brandchannel: How do you choose which platform and which employee content gets elevated to SAP’s news hub or Forbes?
Clark: Largely on the quality and content. For us, quality trumps quantity every time. We look for stories that are authentic, about higher-level topics across a broad range, from retail to cloud computing to the IoT (Internet of Things), all topics near and dear to SAP’s heart. Talking at the level of storytelling generates tremendous awareness.
In addition to our News Center and Forbes SAPVoice, the World Economic Forum pulls select content (in a syndication partnership) from our Business Trends community so an author may find their content on the WEF platform first.
brandchannel: How did you become partners with the Forbes BrandVoice platform—and what’s been your biggest hit with Forbes readers?
Clark: The story about Tim Tebow was our most popular post last year, nabbing almost 480,000 page views on Forbes and responsible for driving hundreds of registrations from the call-to-action at the end of the story
We pioneered the (SAPVoice) platform with Forbes and have learned a lot from each other. This hasn’t been an easy journey. It should be noted that when we went down this path we were taken to task. What’s happening with (native) advertising and content, people asked? But we proved them wrong. Provide quality content with no marketing garbage and people will find it. We take time to vet the content we publish.
Obviously Forbes is a special channel for us as the most successful online business publication on the planet, so there was great interest inside SAP to publish on their platform.
brandchannel: What is unique about SAP’s branded journalism approach from competitors like SalesForce or Oracle?
Clark: The key distinction is we don’t outsource our journalism to an agency. Why outsource to an agency for 20 ghostwritten blogs versus one from a SAP employee? Personally, I come from a communications background and I work in a marketing organization. That’s always an interesting conversation. My point of view is you don’t need to be ‘on message’ all the time.
Stories can tie back to the business but there’s not so much constraint. As a brand publisher, put yourself in the shoes of the readers: “It’s Sunday night, I’m at home, clicking around on headlines. What do I want to read?”
So many major publications are offering a native advertising component and we’ve proven that it works with a larger audience at scale.
SAP’s Three Rules for Employee Brand Journalism:
• Nurture authentic content written by employees — not ghost-written or third party — that tells a good story.
• Connect the content back to the company: For SAP, that means customer stories, industry topics (cloud, IoT, etc.), key events and integrated marketing plans.
• Publish first on your own channels: SAP employee content originates on the SAP.com Community Network before being republished in SAP’s News Center or on the Forbes.com microsite.
• Hear from more brandchannel readers in our Q&A series
• Find out more about content strategy on Interbrand.com
• Connect with Tim Clark on Twitter and LinkedIn, and check out other SAP contributors to brandchannel: Maggie Fox, SVP of Digital & Content, and senior director Joe Pantigoso’s monthly Brand Tips for Branders series.