Crispin Sheridan SAP

Crispin Sheridan, the senior director of search marketing at global software software giant SAP shares the strategy and the meticulously-tracked results of his company’s highly successful initiative to integrate SEO with social media channels – resulting in a 2.5X boost in conversion rates.

Q: How did SAP come to decide to integrate search with social media?

A: We had a search team in place, obviously, and had grown search significantly over the space of about five years.  Then there started to be a lot of buzz in the company about social media. People started to think, ‘Well, this is really applicable to my area. Is this something I could or should be doing?” It seemed very logical to us that there was a fit between search marketing and social media marketing. Was there something we could do to pilot something to all the executives who were beginning to ask us,”Is this real? Is this important? Is this something we should be pursuing?”

So we did a kind of a mini-audit and looked at how many social media sites that seemed to be about SAP were out there. And that’s when we discovered the large number of blogs – well, we already knew about the blogs. I think the 22-plus active Twitter accounts came as a surprise, the 17-plus Facebook fan pages, the various LinkedIn groups, a lot of content on YouTube but none of it really coming from official channels. So we realized there was a lot of activity going on.

Q: Was most of this stuff that you found out there positive, negative or neutral? Were you concerned about sentiment at all, or simply trying to get your arms around what there was in the first place?

A: We were trying to get our arms around it and understand it, and it was overwhelmingly positive. I think that’s why there wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction of behalf of the company to try and control social media. The thought was: There’s a lot that’s going on. It’s not negative. How can we take advantage of it?

SAP social media efforts

So then we wanted to say, if we apply the  same principles we use in organic search engine strategy, using the high volume keywords targeting different stages in the buying cycle with different content – if we use those same keywords in social media activities such as Facebook fans pages, wall posts, links -  what kinds of traffic would we see and would it be valuable traffic?

So when we first became one of the editors of a Facebook fan page, we had a fairly small following on that page; about 2,000 fans. We realized the first thing we had to do was get that following up so we could have a decent sample size. So we embarked on a fan growth strategy as phase one before we even started to implement the keyword-based SEO strategy. We grew the fan page up. Right now it’s about 25,000, but once we had 16,000 fans we knew we had enough to be playing with.

Then we started doing regular posts, taking our top-volume and value keywords that were performing well for us on the regular site,, and putting that kind of material onto the fan page, into posts: “Hey, did you know about this?” Or when there’s a new product launch, using a lot of the keyword customer language that we got from our search research. Then we made sure that those inbound visits were being tracked correctly in our web analytics system and we could track it back to Facebook, and how those visits moved around our site and converted into an online inquiry.  That’s when we realized the traffic that was coming in [through social media channels] was converting at 2.5 times the amount of organic search traffic.

Q: Which is stunning.

A: It is. It’s quite stunning. The fact that it was relatively low volume – we’ve had just over 5,000 of those inquiries from social media sites – we explained it in terms of the value is there.  The high conversion rate is there. We believe the high conversion rate is because these people are very much engaged, they’re the ones we call the e-fluentials. They’re the ones who are beginning to reach out to their peers and consult other people, which usually means they’re farther down in the buying cycle than the people who are kicking the tires. Maybe they don’t want to talk with a sales person yet, be bothered, or even divulge that they’re looking, but we found that the people coming to us seem to be at a lower stage in the funnel, the buying process.

So we’d expect it to be lower volume. We’d also expect it to be higher quality.  Now our strategy is, well, we have 12 million SAP users today; people who actually use SAP systems inside our customers’ [organizations]. Should not many of those be kind of engaging with each other in some kind of social media environment? So we’d be setting our sights for social media involvement much, much higher: multiple millions.

Q: Which is something other companies in the tech sector such as IBM have done.

A: Exactly. So that’s kind of the next phase.