What does SAP's co-option of the Oracle Open World hashtag spell for the future of business to business social media relations?

At Oracle Open World, Larry Ellison was talking at the opening keynote on September 30th about Oracle Exadata X3, an in-memory database for companies that need to crunch terabytes of data quickly. Being Larry Ellison, he couldn't help but quickly tweak the competition by saying,

SAP has an in-memory machine, you know, that's a little bit smaller than what we offer. We have 26 TB of memory; they (referring to SAP) offer point-five terabytes of memory. It's called HANA; her name is HANA. I promised Mark (referring to Oracle President Mark Hurd) that when I did this presentation I was not going to mention them, I'm glad to keep the promise. The HANA in-memory machine is like really small."

So far, this seems pretty typical. Every vendor event has speeches where executives play up their products and position them against the market, both by playing up their own speeds and feeds and by potentially denegrating the competition or legacy practices. However, whether Ellison was off script or hadn't been briefed, he hadn't accurately depicted HANA. In May, SAP had announced a 100 TB memory deployment of HANA, which is a couple of orders of magnitude larger than the Oracle claim made.

Typically, a vendor would react by taking these words into account, scripting up an appropriate response, and developing a countermessaging campaign that might be released throughout the Fall season. Interestingly, SAP moved much faster than this and did so on multiple fronts.

SAP Rapid Response

Early in the week, Vishal Sikka, CTO and Board Member at SAP, replied with a factual rebuttal of Oracle's claims. In addition, Steve Lucas, an SAP Executive Vice President, provided multiple interviews to the media and SAP placed full-page ads in multiple newspapers. This Rapid Response strategy was effective, but represents a standard big-budget response at this point.

The interesting angle from a social business perspective occurred when Mark Yolton, SAP Senior Vice President of Digital, Social and Communities started using Twitter to share this information with Oracle Open World attendees via the #OOW and #OOW12 hashtags on Tuesday, September 2nd and continued to do so throughout the show.

Vendor-run tradeshows tend to be closed ecosystems where it is difficult to provide an opposing viewpoint. Yolton and other executives were able to provide SAP's perspective on Oracle announcements and presentations since they were either on-site or able to observe via the YouTube livestreaming of OpenWorld.

SAP became increasingly heavy-handed in its countermessaging efforts for Oracle Open World throughout the week as additional SAP employees and partners added traffic to the SAP HANA meme, but this type of social media-based effort is unprecedented in the B2B technology world and SAP was ultimately able to open up discussions regarding the comparisons between Oracle Exalytics and SAP HANA.

In that respect, SAP was successful in its efforts but started to receive message fatigue from OpenWorld attendees and followers as the campaign progressed throughout the week. In that light, this social media tactic brought up multiple concerns from the end user community.

Questions and Concerns

One key concern mentioned was around SAP's intrusion into an event-based hashtag and whether this was fair game to do so. After all, what would keep Oracle from returning the favor at SAP's SAPPHIRE or other events? And it is easy to see how a too-aggressive approach can lead to a scorched earth policy where two sides constantly shoot messages at each other while the rest of the world actively blocks out and ignores the warring factions.

Every public social network is open and available to interruption. For those of us who have involved with online social networks over the past 15-20 years and used hashtag channels on Internet Relay Chat, this is far from a new phenomenon. It is one of the prices that we pay for having an open network where anyone can interact with anyone else.

This direct communication has been considered one of the strengths of Twitter for years and has been directly related to the "Arab Spring." Every social network has always had moments where users make assumptions about how proprietary and structured social networking should be, only to find that it is still an open free-for-all. SAP's efforts should be seen as a new twist on the B2B social media paradigm.