It's Not About Broadcasting, It's About Community
SAP career success has always involved a combination of the right skills and the right relationships. In part one of this white paper (published separately), I reviewed the keys to SAP skills acquisition in 2010 in beyond. In the second and concluding part of this white paper series, we turn our attention to an equally important issue: achieving market visibility for those hard-earned skills.

Historically, I have classified this quest for visibility into the category of "self-marketing." On that basis, you might assume that I am an evangelist for social networking. After all, what's more ideal for self-marketing than the number of platforms that are now available, from Facebook to YouTube to LinkedIn? In reality, however, heading into social marketing for the wrong reasons tends to backfire.

Yes, I do hear success stories that validate having an SAP presence on these channels. But just as jumping on Twitter and firing off tweets right and left does not work for companies, it's not the best way to begin for individuals either. That's because social networking needs to be informed by a deeper strategy.

Recently on Twitter, I attempted to articulate this by putting my formula for career success in SAP in 140 characters. It's not easy to condense a career plan into 140 characters, but I wanted the feedback. The tweet went through several revisions as I got feedback from my peers.

The first version was:

Passionate interests >> pursuit of excellence >> SAP mastery >> jobs/offers/gigs

Once I got feedback on this first tweet, I realized my definition was insufficient. The pursuit of excellence should lead to more than jobs, it should also result in a more fulfilling process along the way.

So the second version of my Tweet looked like this:

Passionate interests >> pursuit of excellence >> mastery >> personal and professional fulfillment >>> jobs/offers/gigs

But that was wrong too. What was missing was the exact experience I was going through, revising this in real time. What was missing was the community interaction.

Therefore, the final version looked like this:

Passionate interests >> pursuit of excellence >> community of peers >> mastery >> personal and professional fulfillment >> jobs/offers/gigs

It's the final addition, "community of peers," that is changing how we should think about self-marketing. No longer a broadcasting chore, it should stem organically from community involvement.

Of course, this formula should probably be written in a circular format because the process is ongoing, a continual journey through the cycle rather than an end goal.

We should admit that importance of community to SAP skills mastery is nothing new, but here's the change: networks like SCN have made it possible to engage this community year round, 24/7 if you want, in a way that was not possible when SAP first took hold in the 1990s. Back then, social networking was largely limited to conferences and special events. Yes, there were a couple of technical discussion lists, including the famous SAP list run out of MIT, but in that era, the connection between list participation and career visibility was not nearly as clear.

Unfortunately, many don't follow the formula for social networking effectiveness I just suggested.

Here's an all-too-common mistake:

Do a quick, superficial blog on SCN >> blast the link to that blog out on Twitter >> post my availability as a status update on LinkedIn >> wait for the job offers to roll in

There's nothing implicitly wrong with this approach, except for the fact that it rarely works. It doesn't lead to job offers, and it doesn't get to that deeper question of personal fulfillment either.

When a "quick broadcast" approach like this doesn't work, the most common response is to get new SAP training in a "hot" area and try the whole "blasting my availability" approach over again. It doesn't work with the new training either.

That's why I advocate a totally different approach. Start deeper: approach your SAP career from the vantage point of "thought leadership." Now, some people really hate this phrase and find it pretentious, and perhaps it is. But the phrase is less important than the message behind it.

What I like about aspiring to "thought leadership" is that it challenges us to raise the bar on ourselves, to really become experts, to stand out from the crowd based on our passion for learning and how that translates into visible achievements. In the end, it doesn't matter if we are considered the world's biggest expert in our chosen area. What matters is that we had something ambitious to aspire to: all our actions were guided by the goal of becoming a sought-after expert.

Recently, however, I started to follow the thinking of others in the SAP community like SCN Community Evangelist Craig Cmehil. Craig, who is writing a book for SAP Press on SCN as I type entitled "Inside the SAP Community Network," talks in terms of the "community paths to recognition."

That's when I realized that thought leadership is not the best way to start. So what is the best career launching point? Making a community contribution.

If you can take that community contribution and frame it in terms of a career path, then you have the ultimate combination of satisfying work and recognition for that work. Of course, not all community contributions should be monetized. Sometimes we do something for a community that has nothing to do with what we do for a living.

But let's try applying this to an SAP social networking context anyway.

What if, instead of asking ourselves, "How can I broadcast my skills and availability?" we start with:
"How can the SAP community improve, and what unique contribution can I make to it?"

The second question then becomes,
"How do these community interests tie into an area of thought leadership I can aspire to?"

Once those questions are answered, the social networking journey can begin, integrating the answer to these two questions into our "Twitter approved" @jonerp career cycle:

Passionate interests >> pursuit of excellence >> community of peers >> mastery >> personal and professional fulfillment >> jobs/offers/gigs.

Note how different this is than the most common question I receive: "What SAP skill is the hottest?"

That's the most overrated SAP career question to ask. Yes, paying attention to emerging skills is important. But starting organically from your own interests is the crucial thing. You can always find ways of tying in the newest SAP functionality to your area of concentration. This approach leads to a much deeper level of engagement, and it gives you something meaningful to tweet or blog about. Or it could result in a book or webinars or whatever form your imagination takes. Your passion for your topic takes you that extra mile, as you forge the "community path to recognition" Craig Cmehil talks about.

There are plenty of examples of how this can be applied to SAP skills, but here's one timely example: what if your overriding career interests pertain to sustainability?

Your goal would be to make a lasting contribution to sustainability in an SAP context. This might involve a series of community projects in the sustainability area.

Applying this to thought leadership, if you were a programmer, you might choose "green programming techniques" - writing lean code to reduce the strain on operating systems. Thought leadership might also mean mastering the field of carbon reduction applications.

Once these bigger questions are answered and a "career purpose" is committed to, skills and tools choices get easier: for one person, agile development skills might be crucial; for another, experience with Carbon Impact, SAP's new on demand carbon control app, might be next.

The best thing about this approach? Once you've got a community-driven skills strategy, then your social network participation can be personalized to fit your approach and skills. Since freely sharing content is a big part of how you gain goodwill and visibility across social networks, you now have plenty to share - and talk about. And as you get into conversation with others who share your area of contribution, your expertise will deepen accordingly.

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