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The Power of Pull, SAP Style: How I use "pull technologies" to raise my game - and how you can too Print E-mail

jonerp_full_logo.PNGJon Reed notes, May 1, 2011: I originally wrote a version of this article on the "Power of Pull" for the SAP Mentors Quarterly, 1st Quarter 2011. This topic is core to what I do, so I'm publishing an expanded version of this article here on JonERP.com. I'm publishing this in my JonERP client services section because many of my clients have asked me how to better analyze conversations about their products. I tell them that if you only look at "pull" for analyzing sentiment, you're leaving a lot on the table.

The best thing about pulling information is developing a more sophisticated (and real-time) understanding of what's happening in your industry. Now you're building a reputation around thought leadership as opposed to pushing product. Picking up on fresh client leads is a bonus, and often a natural byproduct of pull as a discipline.  As you comment on (and share) information as it comes out, you deepen relationships in a way that is not possible if you are focused only on broadcasting your own messages. Unless you're a large company, the tools needed to pull this off are largely inexpensive or free. But it does mean debunking the fantasy that you can get all the info you need simply by checking in on Twitter a few times a day. Here's how I do it.

Sometimes a catchy phrase can put flesh to an idea. In my case, I had been telling anyone who would listen than we are broadcasting too much and not listening well enough (yes, I see the hypocrisy there). When we talk social media, we tend to think about pushing information and gaining visibility. We're missing the point. A blog post by Mark Yolton brought the phrase "The Power of Pull" into my headlights in an SCN blog post, and that was the concept I was looking for.

As it turns out, Mark was writing about a book called The Power of Pull that is interesting, but focuses mostly on the future of enterprises. However, a reviewer noted that anyone could use these concepts to become self-created experts in their field, and that caught my eye - and it should yours as well.

In my case, I use the "power of pull" to help me be the best SAP analyst and content creator I can be. An SAP professional can use the same techniques to develop their skills and monitor key trends. An SAP manager or consulting director could put another spin on the same tools and use them for lead generation, brand monitoring, and expanding their professional network. For the rest of this piece, I'll talk about some of these tools and the misconceptions that prevent us from taking advantage of them.

Misconception number one: "I get all the information I need from Twitter...Twitter brings the best stuff to light." I've been on Twitter for three years now. The notion that dipping into Twitter from time to time gets you the best blogs and the best information is utter b.s. Twitter is not a content meritocracy. Some of the best content that gets posted each week doesn't get tweeted, or never gains retweet momentum. It gets lost in the retweeting frenzy. Yes, Twitter is great for finding breaking SAP news, like a major acquisition or a big court verdict. You won't miss the biggest stories if you dip in a couple times a day, but you will miss some of the best analysis, especially in niche areas of interest within SAP.

A corrected view: Twitter is most powerful when you combine its conversational aspects with searches that track the content you are most interested in - even when you are far from your computer. With the right search terms in place, you can get far more out of Twitter than if you simply hop online and hope for the best. Those search terms take some experimentation. One quick example: one of my running Twitter searches is "SAP replay" (not as an exact phrase, but two words appearing in the tweet). This search term generates a nice amount of instantly viewable SAP content. "SAP podcast" also accomplishes this. Here's a view of the "SAP podcast" search from Twitter - note the "feed for this query" and RSS symbol in the top right to subscribe to the search:

podcasttwittersearch.jpg

I learned the hard way that "SAP webinar" is not as helpful, given that you'll get a ton of marketing tweets for webinars that haven't occurred yet. I still run that search but don't check the RSS results as often. "SAP replay," on the other hand, generates a concise list of content you can consume immediately. Very useful to have that as a running search, though you sometimes get a "sappy" result or two.

You can imagine the possibilities: "SAP Workflow," "SAP Security," - whatever your specialty, you can toy around with different searches and hashtags to track (you'll have to play with them to find the ones that are not polluted by job listings - unless you want those). Which brings us to:

Misconception number two: RSS is dead. Steve Gillmor of the Gillmor Gang has been banging on this one for years, and his critique is too nuanced to explore in detail here. Gillmor's critique of RSS has to do with the impact of media streaming technologies and the reality that RSS has not become (and never will become) mainstream. Gillmore is right on that count: for many, RSS is not a technology the "mainstream web users" will have not have to deal with directly. Those who "like" Facebook pages or join Linkedin groups likely won't be aware that the content coming into those groups might come by way of feeds, or feed aggregators. So the feeds may be invisible to the viewer, but RSS is hardly dead. In Steve Gillmor's case, he might claim that he only uses Twitter, but my careful listens to the Gillmor Gang have indicated to me that he uses his email as an incoming content receptacle, exactly the opposite of my preferred approach. That's why RSS means little to him; he is pulling based on email alerts to supplement what he gets from the Twitter stream. But it doesn't matter, it still comes down to the power of pulling customized information into one place. And for those interested in the power of pull, RSS is your best pal.

This brings us to the question of tools. I'm partial to Google Reader because of its speed and, ahem, cloud-based location. But any RSS reader can work well. As noted, you can also use email for most of these kinds of alerts and content notifications, especially with a good filter routing emails into folders. I like my email inbox clean, so RSS is far preferable in my case. Some folks have active keyword searches running in Twitter appliances like Tweetdeck. This works well for Twitter searches but not as well for pulling other content in from the outside. Still others like Delicious and other web tagging sites for this purpose. I like Google Reader better, but the tool is not the point.

The power of a good RSS reader is that I have all my custom content routed to the same place: StreamWork and SCN forums updates, Twitter keyword searches, podcasts and video updates, YouTube video uploads, keyword analysis I run for clients to track mentions of their products and brands, Google keyword alerts, SAP news and stock price alerts, the list goes on. Top of that list: the most important blogs I follow. Some bloggers are vitally important to my own thinking. I can't risk missing their posts because I miss a tweet about it. RSS searches on "jonerp" and variations like "jon reed sap" help me to quickly reply to those who have a question or comment about my work, even if they don't use the @mention protocol.

As important as Twitter is to me, Google Reader, which I fine tune and fuss over like a car collector would do with an old Mustang, is now my most powerful industry monitoring tool. It's allowed me to turn myself into an independent analyst; it's helped me to understand the context of the issues I am blogging about before I blog about them, right up to the minute. It's helped me to realize that there is underrated power in listening before you speak, especially with these filtering tools.

Update, May 1, 2011: In the last few months, I have encountered a few vital sources of back channel information that impact my views which are all email-based. There are ways of converting email into RSS, but not without compromising the privacy of the emails. So, I'm stuck with monitoring email to get access to that info. However, I don't personally like to have informational content clogging my main email address as it impacts filtering. (Plus, there are times when I am not checking email where I still want to have a chance to learn about breaking news content).

My solution to this has been to create a separate email address (same login account as Google Reader). I keep that open as an additional tab on my Chrome browser, as kind of a supplement to my existing Reader. Whenever possible, I push everything via RSS into reader, but for those few content feeds that must be email-based for privacy reasons, they are routed to that specific email address - and it's almost like an expansion of my RSS reader, with one additional tab I check for email-based inputs. I like having a dedicated email address for this extra content because then my main email account can be focused only on necessary correspondence. Of course, those who are more comfortable managing everything with one email address can accomplish the same thing via keyword or topic-sorted email folders.

Misconception number three: it's impossible to use an RSS reader because we quickly get overwhelmed with incoming content and give up. That's true to a point. My current Google Reader is my fourth RSS reader setup. I had to abandon the other ones because too much information was flowing in and it made me crazy. This time I started slowly, adding the most important feeds first. I have organized topics into folders and prioritized them based all on their immediacy. If we don't learn to ruthlessly prioritize for today's speed of incoming information, we're at a big disadvantage. Applying that prioritization skill to subscribed feeds is not hard once the essential decisions on priorities have been made.

For example, I track social media trends and advise clients on social media strategy, but I don't need to see every blog post from social media experts every time they come out. "Tips for getting the most out of Twitter" is just not an immediate concern; I can catch up on that topic every couple of weeks if needed. I'm also very interested in topics like sustainability and consumer tech, but again, I don't need to be reading every review of the latest iGadget as soon as it comes out. But what guys like Dennis Howlett, Ray Wang and Vinnie Mirchandani are saying about the ERP space - I need that info ASAP. What my fellow SAP Mentors are saying and reporting - I need to know that in real time. They could be writing about an event I am actually at, or providing a fresh perspective on SAP on-demand that I am trying to make sense of for a coming podcast or white paper or who knows what. They might even be criticizing one of my own blog posts. When an Enterprise Geeks podcast comes out, I want to know about that right away too. That's enterprise entertainment which might spice up my morning walk or what have you.

Update: Social Research matters! There's another component to the "Power of Pull," which is: sharing information as you read it. By doing so, you can help others to make sense of trends. "Content curation" is really helpful because it helps us to know what other experts think is important. These days, as soon as you tag an article you can share it. Some folks are just too busy to comb through information on their own. They would be happy to have a trusted source filter through some of it for them. "Likes" and retweets can help with that, but again, you're going to miss vital stuff that way.

I think of the best content sharing as a series of prioritizations. In my case, I read through my raw Google Reader feed. Most of this content is already weighted towards quality feeds, though there is just enough broad keyword monitoring to keep fresh content from new sources coming in. When I see an article I think has merit from the range of content I evaluate, I share it on my shared Google Reader feed, usually including a short annotated note - perhaps noting the Twitter handle of the author or offering up a minor quibble. Some folks subscribe to this annotated feed. As the items are posted, dlvr.it pushes the articles and links (minus my commentary) onto my Twitter @jonerpnewsfeed handle. This provides another option for those to consume the content, which they can do either by following the @jonerpnewsfeed Twitter handle or by adding the RSS feed from there into their readers.

Adding my @jonerpnewsfeed solved some problems for me - how to share the best stories I find in my constant research without bogging down my main @jonerp Twitter account with article links. I like my @jonerp Twitter handle to be conversational, not just a link posting account. This lines up with a best practice I believe in: give folks a choice as to whether they are opting into personal tweets or an automated news feed. Don't combine them. On my @jonerp Twitter handle, I personally tweet out what I see as the most important articles, usually adding more context and the Twitter handle of the author.

Every now and then, I see a post that is significant enough that I call it a "blogpick." I don't use that designation very often. By creating these "tiers of quality," I give those who choose to follow me a window into what I see as important. Hopefully this prioritization helps them as they are bustling through their day to hone in on the key issues. They may not always agree with what I designate as important, but I think we all gain when those we trust take the time to evaluate what they send (or tweet) our way.

One final touch about the power of pull: if you take the time to add the personal blogs of those who are the key influencers in your world, it can really help you to get a sense of what they are going through - things they might not choose to tweet. Recently, someone from SAP who was leaving the company posted that news on their blog. I could have tweeted that news out and probably would have seen a lot of retweets, but I'm not a fan of breaking that kind of news anymore, for reasons that may be worth another article sometime. What it did do for me was to give me a chance to comment quickly on the blog post itself, which led to a very worthwhile correspondence. That's yet another example of how Twitter falls short but where RSS can add an impact, in this case, a personal touch. Within my own reader, I have tags I use for pieces I want to consume (like webinars) or comment on, in case I don't have time right away. That's a good tag to come back to later.

I could go on about the power of pull for the individual, but I think I've said about enough. Listening is powerful, casting a wide net of information is powerful, especially when you can reel it in while prioritizing its relevance. You may have to tweak searches to fit your needs. Some searches generate too much content (searches on "SAP" tend to generate two kinds of unintentional search spam: "I'm such a SAP" or "Tree SAP is smellier than usual this year"). Some searches generate too much job posting filler. But with trial and error, you can find the right phrases and the right volume of inbound information.

I have done an informal video series on "the power of pull" that shares some of the concepts and tips I have for Google Reader in particular. Here's the most recent video in the series:



With a bit of effort, you'll start pulling in the right mix of information for your personal needs. It's an exciting time to be an SAP professional because so many of the resources that used to be behind firewalls can be found out in the open. But they aren't always easy to track or find - unless you have a handle on the power of pull. Which brings me to my next rant: then you have to aborb the information, unplug, and form a creative response and skills development plan of your own.

Then you you are ready to share something that will truly advance the conversation. But that's another article.

Thanks to the SAP Mentors Quarterly editorial team, particularly Otto Gold and Matthias Steiner, for inspiring me to write the original version of this article.

Jon Reed is an independent analyst and SAP Mentor who blogs and podcasts on SAP market trends via JonERP.com. He is the Editor in Chief of ERP Executive and an SAP Research Fellow with Pierre Audoin Consultants, and was recently named an Enterprise Irregular. Jon is a fan of spirited enterprise conversation. Most of his original content is posted to the JonERP Blog and Podcast feed, which you can subscribe to via RSS or email. 

 

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