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Business Analytics Gets Social at SAS



If you are aware of SAS, a company located in Cary, NC then you understand or have a need to understand business analytics. As the largest privately-held software company in the world, SAS often flies under the radar because what they do isn’t sexy. Instead, it is necessary.

Necessary business functions don’t get the same attention or play that the exciting new and ‘edgy’ companies get. SAS is OK with that though. If you’ve ever visited their campus and saw how they treated their employees, you may quickly value necessary over sexy. A result of this reverence for their employees, the company merited the top spot on Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list this year. Actually you can find the company somewhere on that list just about every year but this year it’s number 1.

So what does a company that provides some of the most advanced business analytics software and services do to better reach out to customers and prospects? Turns to social media. That’s right, it moves toward what many see in the B to B space as a potentially risky practice. If any company was able to assess risk though, SAS is it.

As part of a continuing effort to give our readers some real life examples of social media in action we are looking today into the B to B space. I have had the pleasure of getting to know the Social Media Manager for SAS, Dave Thomas (On Twitter he is @DavidBThomas). As a social media practitioner he is very good. Here are some insights offered as he guides SAS through the social media maze.

Frank: How did you get into the social media game and when?

Dave: I’ve been active in social media since 1994, when I joined my first Internet forum. My first experience blogging was in 2002 when I wrote the official blog for the Iceland Airwaves music festival, and started my own blog in 2003. I’ve always loved the openness and authenticity that social media brings to online communication. I started at SAS in 2007 as a corporate PR representative, and I now have the job of shaping and guiding our evolving social media presence for SAS.

Frank: How did SAS decide that social media is a good direction?

Dave: In 2007 we put together a group called the Marketing 2.0 Council to identify the areas we wanted to address. We came up with a short list that included blogs, social networks, video, podcasting, Wikipedia and content syndication. We realized that none of it mattered without good information to share, so we added content to the list as an overarching topic. We were looking at all of these before Twitter started to grow, but we’ve added it to the list since.

We created task forces to look at each of the areas and ended up with a comprehensive list of recommendations. The council also recommended the creation of a social media manager position, which is the job I have now, creating our strategy as well as implementation plans, and helping communicate the value of social media to all 11,000 SAS employees worldwide.

Frank: Only 11,000? No problem right? How has that come together over the past two years?

Dave: SAS has some definite advantages that help us in social media. We have a lot of incredibly intelligent and talented people who are experts and thought leaders in their fields. We also have a dedicated and enthusiastic base of SAS users all over the world who are really passionate about our products. Over the last few years we’ve seen more and more interaction among SAS employees and customers on blogs, in social networks and on Twitter, and most of that has grown organically, which is what you really want to see. We’ve grown from a few external blogs to 17 right now, and we’re working toward opening up external blogging even further. We also have a strong video presence on YouTube, and we’re working on new ways to make video more accessible and searchable.

One of the key things we did to help encourage all of this was to create a set of social media guidelines and recommendations, which we released in June of 2009. They’re not just dos and don’ts. They give examples of how to communicate effectively in different social media channels. They let SAS employees know we think it’s a good thing for them to be participating in social media as long as they’re smart about it and follow the standards of the online communities they visit.

Frank: What’s the biggest challenge for you?

Dave: There are so many areas that we could be addressing, and we need to make practical decisions based on our existing objectives, and make sure that our social media efforts integrate well with our existing marketing programs. So there are a lot of factors to consider when we approach a social media channel. We also have a lot of people who are interested in participating but already have a full plate. 2010 will have to be the year that we get serious about making social media part of everybody’s job description. Plus, when you are making big changes like this on an enterprise-wide level, there are a lot of factors to consider. I work with our legal department, our online strategy and services group, our internal and external comms teams, sales and marketing, tech support, and the people who manage our relationships with our user communities. Social media really does touch every aspect of a large organization.

Frank: What do you want the social media efforts of SAS to accomplish for the company?

Dave: One thing I’ve noticed in the two and half years I’ve been here is that there is a genuine amount of respect and affection among our employees and our users. You see that at events like SAS Global Forum, where thousands of users from all over the world come to interact with one another and with SAS employees. Social media provides the perfect tools to extend that kind of relationship and keep it going. The best thing SAS can do to promote our company and our software is to show people who we are and what we do and the value we provide our customers in a real and genuine way. I’m doing the best I can to facilitate those relationships.

Dave and I talked about a lot more. He is good guy who is dedicated to his craft. The desire to stretch and get better is probably one of the greatest assets that anyone who has social media responsibility for their company can bring to the table.

We are going to be keeping an eye on SAS and the programs that Dave puts together. The B to B space are less charted social media waters than the B to C space and there should be some fun in figuring out what works and doesn’t in reaching company goals on a case by case basis.

Look for Dave to be speaking and visit his blogs at http://blogs.sas.com/socialmedia/ and http://dbthomas.com/blog/

Thanks to Dave and we look forward to learning from him as we all progress through the brave new world of B to B social media.