Social Media In Marketing – Is It Too Much To Ask For Peaceful Co-existance?

While I have no claims at all to be a social media expert – I am an avid user of social media, especially twitter, Facebook and my blogs on SCN and WordPress. All of this week, I have been on vacation in the island of Hawaii – and although I kept away from work email (ok, except checking email couple of times on day 1), I was on twitter and Facebook when time permitted with hardly any “guilty” feeling. Social media never felt like “work” to me so far – and that has now changed.

I was both pleasantly surprised, and also pretty dismayed by what I saw on social media this week.

First about the surprise – when we drove up to Hilton Waikoloa for starting the second part of vacation, I was told I could not checkin for a few more hours. I have been a VERY loyal customer with Hilton, and have had a diamond status with them for several years. So I felt this was unacceptable, and I said so on twitter from my iPhone. To cut a long story short – I got a response in almost real time from Hilton customer service via twitter and then email, and got checked in pretty quickly afterwards. And then the customer service guy checked in again one day later to make sure I am treated well. I am totally happy with this – and needless to say, I will remain loyal to Hilton going forward too. In short – social media was pretty freakin awesome.

While we were having a lot of fun enjoying our little vacation , Oracle Open World was happening in San Francisco,CA. Since I was on and off twitter, I kept on getting infrequent updates on what was happening at the event. It was all rather low key till Larry Ellison took a swing ( rather small swing too, in my opinion, considering what the man usually does) at SAP HANA. Now, obviously SAP did not need any complex predictive analytics to figure out that Ellison will say something in his keynote about HANA.

Next thing I knew – twitter was ablaze with that news. The response from SAP was quite good in the beginning. Vishal Sikka, SAP Board member and CTO, wrote a very good blog on why Oracle is wrong about what they are saying, and why HANA is fundamentally different in architecture. Steve Lucas got interviewed by Business Insider on this topic too. Personally, I thought that was not the best medium for Steve to make his first response, but it was an ok article in general. Both Vishal and Steve sent a few tweets too. All was good till this point, and I did not pay much attention on twitter stream for next several hours.

And when I returned to the hotel room that evening, for the first time since I started using twitter, I felt that following only a relatively small set of people ( 186 as I am typing this) was actually a nuisance. My whole stream had like 90% hana content. It was mostly SAP employees pulsing existing HANA articles (including some of mine) and videos using the Oracle Open world hash tags of #OOW and #OOW12 . Some of the people who pushed out hana content at crazy high frequency are people who in the past have never done such a thing.

My first impression was ” Oh boy, SAP is in panic mode” and then ” This is a centrally organized offensive play – I am curious to see how far it will go” . And this is where my dismay at social media set in.

In fairness to SAP, obviously they had to do something to counter Oracle’s false accusations. And social media being a nascent tool in marketing toolkits – I doubt there were any established “best practices” for this type of social media defense (or offense depending on how you look at this, I guess) for SAP to use.

SAP is considered by many inside and outside the company as an expert in social media. So when SAP does something, I think it probably gives the impression to others that this is “best practice”. That comes with the “halo effect” attached to leaders. And if SAP should continue to be viewed as leaders in this space, they should seriously consider if this is how the future of social media should look like , especially in the context of marketing.

My own opinion is that SAP handled this in a rather heavy handed way. Looking at it with a quantitative lens, probably SAP got the results they wanted. They took over a good part of the traffic with hash tags #OOW and #OOW12 with HANA content. They clearly did a lot more than just story correction. As much as social pundits might enjoy the idea of marketing and corporate communications using social for more things – I think the net result is just more overhead for people who use these platforms, and event organizers. The need for sophisticated filtering just got more important and troublesome, in my mind.

But from a qualitative viewpoint – it looked rather tasteless to me. Taking over someone else’s event tags – especially using sponsored tweets, while that event is in progress is borderline bullying, and that is not what I expected a company like SAP to do. SAP has a long history of being on the right side of these things, taking the high ground. When excessive reaction happens – it just gives an impression that panic has set in. There is absolutely no need for panic – HANA is clearly superior to the EXA* products in what it does.

So far I have personally not seen any customer backlash – but then I have not seen or talked to any customers this week. Next week, I will be meeting several, and then much more the following week at Teched. It remains to be seen how customers view SAP’s social media onslaught.

Unlike SAP, Oracle does have a reputation of taking hard and aggressive stances on these issues. However, apart from a handful of tweets etc, I did not see Oracle trying to return the favor to SAP in real time. Of course it could be argued in two ways.

1. Oracle chose to focus on their own event, and chose not be bothered with SAP reactions.

2. Oracle had nothing to say, because SAP so comprehensively beat them on the topic.

I have no idea what was the real reason, but my instinct is to believe that Oracle, and other SAP competitors might now feel that it is totally fair game to target SAPPHIRE and SAP Teched events and try to take over the social media conversation around those events. SAP has multiple events coming up in the next few weeks – so we will know soon enough which way Oracle will go. I seriously hope Oracle will let it pass this time, and not try to respond in kind. It is not just Oracle – SFDC, Workday et al are all possible competitors who might choose aggressive social media strategies against SAP. For their part, I also hope SAP will resist the temptation of spending significant time at their events responding to Oracle and others, and just focus on their own stories.

Failing which, my back up plan is to take a break from twitter for a while. I used to think till last week that not checking email frequently will kill me. A week of vacation proved me wrong,so I am betting I will survive for a bit with out twitter too 🙂 .

Added This is what Jim Lundy of Aragon Research had to say about this matter. A good read.


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

16 thoughts on “Social Media In Marketing – Is It Too Much To Ask For Peaceful Co-existance?

  1. I like this post, enjoyed this one thank you for putting up. No man is wise enough by himself. by Titus Maccius Plautus. bfdggbgaekde


  2. Dennis,

    (I don’t see Reply button to your response so I’m responding here:()

    Great stuff. I agree with everything(except never) you said. Fighting LJE on his terms is very bad idea and very difficult to win that fight. You gave an alternative: Have customers/others speak for SAP. That’s what I hoped for.
    However that was not happening. Instead SAP was still focusing on writing blogs. Not only it is bottom up approach both in terms of explaining the technology but also in reaching C-level. SAP it seems was expecting technical people talk to their C-level people. That was not working. IMO, that was the reason why LJE – he basically exploited that gap – said what he said – most C-Level people had no idea about SAP-HANA.
    So when SAP tried next best thing – SAP sponsored campaigning – I was thrilled. IMO this should have happened 2 years back. SAP should ideally be talking about customers success stories at this time. IMO, SAP was forced to “Fight or Die” this week.

    Best regards,


  3. Hi Vijay,
    For what it is worth, I saw Jarret ask (or retweet the question) about whether SAP’s response on social media was coordinated. I tend to follow SAP practitioners rather than management or analysts, but the responses I saw indicated that individuals both inside and outside of SAP had just had a gutfull of the LJE b/s.

    PS my memory of the big island is that it is a bit like social media – such extreme variations from one end to the other AND around every corner !!



  4. Hi Vijay,

    Thanks for explaining in simple words. I didn’t follow hash tags #OOW and #OOW12 so I don’t know the extent to which SAP used them.

    My thoughts are a little bit different from yours. Sorry.
    Does this statement “SAP has a long history of being on the right side of these things, taking the high ground” work? In my opinion, it didn’t work and it will not work. Taking the high ground, yes, nice and great. One can only wait so long hoping others also will try to take the high ground. However when it fails – it fails continuously – instead of expecting others to come to your level, do what is in your control: Go down to their level. It seems this is exactly what happened.

    Please explain one thing to me: SAP has been talking/discussing about SAP-HANA for 3+ years. First time when Larry Ellison came to know about HANA, he wanted to know the pharmacy name Hasso uses; last year he discussed HANA for 20+ minutes in his keynote. This year when he said SAP-HANA was small, I wanted to sell my SAP shares immediately. I’ve a lot of respect for him;he wouldn’t make any statement lightly. I really thought his statement was based on his experiences/discussions with SAP customers. I was looking for a very strong response from SAP. And initial response was not satisfactory. One or two blogs from Vishal, Steve etc. I didn’t see anything new in them(Surprised Vishal’s blog has 20,000+ hits with 200+ likes in just 2 days).

    If SAP was confident about SAP-HANA, I wanted them to come out and fight.Really. Because being nice is not good enough to beat companies like Oracle. When that happened – SAP responded with WSJ ad in simple terms – , I was thrilled and decided to buy more SAP shares. How SAP reacted demonstrated their confidence in SAP-HANA and not panic. In the process, they might have made a few mistakes. Who is perfect, anyway?

    Summary: When SAP was taking the high ground, yes, they were leaders with no followers. Now if someone wants to follow them, sure, SAP is still going to be leader with one difference:they will have some followers now.
    I like what Jarret mentioned: “One blessing is that Oracle knows that SAP will not take any misinformation lying down so they may be more careful in what they say in the future and that would be a good thing for customers”. In my opinion, this is very, very critical lesson to be taught to Oracle for SAP to succeed on SAP-HANA. And this should have happened long time back. I’ll settle for “Better late than never”.

    Since I’ve invested a lot of time, efforts and money on SAP-HANA and SAP shares, what happens to SAP-HANA would affect me personally.

    Thanks once again for writing great blog,


    1. Excellent perspective, Bala – polar opposite to mine, and logically explained. I guess investors are all different. I never would have bought an SAP share because they took an ad in WSJ. But clearly that was needed to get you to invest. As long as someone finds it useful – I guess it is all fair game.


      1. I didn’t explain the whole 9 yards of why WSJ ad was important. Basically it was an top-down approach as opposed to bottom-up approach of how SAP was trying to communicate SAP-HANA via blogs,webinars, podcasts etc. Bottom up approach is good with technical people; top down is critical for C-level people. Bottom up didn’t work.

        Here is one interesting stats:

        Vishal Sikka wrote 5 blogs since July 4th.

        1) Setting The Record Straight – SAP HANA v. Exadata X3 Oct 2nd 22,829 views 201 ratings 4.5 avg 21 comments
        2) Startup Focus Program – Inviting all startups to join us! Aug 21 1,532 views 6 ratings 5 avg 2 comments
        3) THE BUSINESS VALUE OF SPEED! Aug 5th 2,160 views 4 ratings 3 avg 0 comments
        4) Measure of an Innovator: The Innovator’s Index July 14th 2,410 views 5 ratings 3 avg 4 comments
        5) Anniversaries: Looking Back and Looking Ahead July 4th 1,942 views 12 ratings 5 avg 0 comments

        In just 3 days, Vishal’s recent blog surpassed his old blogs on every front except average rating which is 4.5 which is great for 201 ratings. WSJ ad is just one dimension(but important) of this campaign. 22,829 views in just 3 days is mind boggling,Vijay. His next best is 2,410 for a blog posted almost 3 months back.

        In my opinion, the campaign worked – whether good or bad, time will tell. And I can’t tell how much of this was due to WSJ ad, how much due to an ad in San Jose Mercury News, Tweets etc.



      2. @Bala – you are a shareholder…not a customer. Customers buy stuff which puts cash into the company which only THEN become part of the value to stockholders. Think about customers first. Fighting LJE on his terms is and always has been a bad idea. SAP can never win that fight and there are good reasons for that. Far better to fight on your terms where you simply state your case, show examples and let others do the talking for you – like those great customers SAP is always bragging about.


      3. Hi Vijay & All,

        This is a very informative blog.

        I think, this is the power of Twitter providing marketing and counter marketing possibilities all in REAL TIME. Twitter is all about being open, broadcasting and without a lot of constraints & unnecessary controls. This, I feel, is a truly democratic way.

        So, as per me, SAP’s usage of a particular hash-tag is OK. And Oracle also uses the hash-tag of SAP events is fine. As long as somebody is using the hash-tag without any irrelevance/spam is ok. No issues – Twitter’s hash-tag is there for everyone to use. It is in fact a great way that people following a particular company’s marketing campaign through a hash tag will get a counter argument right up there at the same place in real time! It is left to the people (including customers) to decide who is right or who is wrong or rather which is a better product. Yes, I agree that the tone in which the counter argument is made matters in social media and it is better to avoid the in-your-face campaign kind of marketing. Rather, the motivation for making the counter arguments, especially when using competing company’s event’s hash-tag, can be restricted to enable customers well informed about each and every detail of both the competing products. I believe that, only the company with enough confidence of their product’s superiority over the competitor’s can venture into point-by-point detailed counter argument by using the other company’s hash-tag. This is actually a Win-Win for both customer and the really worthy competitor.

        I think, any intelligent customer, who is not getting carried away by a company’s marketing exercise alone in events like OracleOpenWorld or SAPPHIRE etc., prefers this point to point argument & counter arguments – so that he/she can get deeper insights into each other products at a more granular level before taking a decision!

        Btw, enjoy your holiday! 🙂

        Sunil B
        Twitter – @sunilband


  5. Excellent post and I could not agree with you more. There is a fine line between defending yourself and providing facts and going overboard and I think SAP crossed the line this week. One blessing is that Oracle knows that SAP will not take any misinformation lying down so they may be more careful in what they say in the future and that would be a good thing for customers.

    If I was a customer hearing all this back and forth I would have no idea who was telling me the truth and hopefully that doesnt mean they sit on their wallets as that wouldnt be good for anyone.

    It is also interesting with the whole “Important that the Facts get out” and “Fact Check” stuff is that I am on calls weekly with SAP/SuccessFactors and almost everyone involves has certains statements that are not true “We have offered seamless integration with SAP and SuccessFactors for years” was a recent one that stands out. If you are going to run on a only the facts platform you have to walk the walk on your talk as well.

    On a side note I stayed 8 days on the Big Island at the Hilton Waikoloa for my honeymoon (like you lots of Hilton points) and really enjoyed the property and the more rustic Big Island. Not sure if you have time left but the Helicopter ride over the active volcanos was pretty neat as well.


    1. My daughter saw the helicopter ride on TV, and decided she will never do it. So we passed on that. But did our best to cover as much as possible of the island, without rushing. One of the very best vacations ever.

      Balanced responses are getting really scarce in enterprise world. People like everything in extremes, and I guess we will see a bit of rough weather on social media for near future.


  6. Hey Viajy- Thanks for sharing beautiful pictures of your trip. I realize that you are ‘Also’ a good photographer.. Vishal’s blog has all the right points and vivid comparisons to prove their rival is wrong in few aspects. I respect both the companies and they both have their own benefits.

    We will never miss you, wherever you are.. we follow your tweets :)-

    I know how hard it is to check our emails after a long vacation.. good luck and stay healthy.

    Your follower


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