Interview: John Summers on His Social Business Experience at NetApp

6 minute read
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Deirdre Walsh, Senior Social Media Marketing Manager of Jive Software, talked to John Summers, Social Media Architect at NetApp, about his Social Business experience. NetApp is a leading provider of enterprise storage and data management solutions. Summers will be a featured speaker at the JiveWorld11 conference in Las Vegas, Oct 4-6.

NetApp’s Social Business Vision and Beginnings

Deirdre Walsh: What does Social Business mean to you, and how does it apply to your company?

John Summers: I think Social Business is ultimately about enabling engagement where it didn’t happen before. Instead of a flat, one-way experience, where companies push content out to an audience, Social Business is an interaction where all parties have a voice. Employees can connect and collaborate. Prospects and customers can give feedback and share insights. Partners can coordinate their activities and exchange best practices. Ideally, it’s an integrated experience where knowledge is freed up and everyone gets what they’re looking for without confusion.

We’re really committed to that vision at NetApp, and consider ourselves a leader in applying social principles to our industry. We strive to give best, most thoughtful and complete user experience to our stakeholders, including customers, prospects, partners and employees. At this point, most everything we do has a social dimension. It’s the way we organize and execute projects, work out strategies, handle software delivery and beta programs, and launch and support products. It goes way beyond customer support and is part of the entire buyer’s journey.

DW: When did Social Business really begin? When did it begin for you personally (what was your aha moment?) When did it begin for your company?

JS: Consumer social networking has roots going back to the 90’s, with early online communities and bulletin board systems. Social Business is much more recent and really didn’t catch on until the last several years. That’s when I saw companies really beginning to get it. People were realizing that they could use social frameworks to accomplish all these things while doing much less work.

After we adopted Jive, users would come to me and say I used to spend 10 hours per week on email, and now it’s just one hour. We’re at the point now where we can’t imagine not using it. We’ve integrated social tools into every activity. On our product launch pages, for example, there’s a widget right there with live feeds from our public Jive community, our blogs and Twitter.

For me personally, the initial “aha” moments began a little earlier because I was coming from a background in customer support in the videogame industry. When I got my start in 2005, social channels like user forums and bulletin boards were an essential part of that business. Communities were an expectation, not an option. I plunged into Social Business in a bigger way when I joined NetApp to implement a large-scale social strategy in conjunction with our rebranding (see my answer to the last question, below).

Another big aha moment happened in 2009, about a year after we’d launched our social initiatives at NetApp using the Jive platform. I was meeting with some of my counterparts at SAP (another Jive customer), and they explained how they’d set up Jive-based collaborative workspaces for their various customers. They had one space for each customer. I realized how powerful approach that is, and that we should be doing the same thing.

By doing this we really closed the collaboration gap between ourselves and our partners. We’d used SharePoint in the past, but it was limited to internal collaboration. The new approach using Jive allowed us to set up a secure environment for our members. Today, we have private groups for all of our top customers, and whole communities for our OEMs and other providers.

Thoughts on Social Business Strategy & Execution

DW: Who should lead a company’s Social Business strategy and execution? IT, Marketing, HR? A combination of the various departments?

Learning Opportunities

JS: I think it’s important for a number of departments to have some skin in the game. Marketing and sales, of course, have a huge stake in Social Business. It’s essential to what they do. But backing from other departments is important, too. For instance, IT support can be critical as you scale the system, and when you need help with things like help desk, ticketing, security and other functions that IT is good at.

That said, I believe Social Business is most successful when it’s driven by marketing. While other departments tend to be focused on a specific business function, marketing thinks holistically about the entire organization and its marketplace.

Social Business Success

DW: What is your best Social Business story?

JS: Well, the best one is my “trial by fire” here at NetApp. I was brought here in 2007 to create a Social Business infrastructure in support of an impending rebranding. The company was changing its name from Network Appliance to NetApp and transforming its brand identity. I was brought in with just 60 days until the launch date. I had to have internal and external communities up and running by then. You can imagine the pressure: just two months to find a solution and go live. Somehow we managed it, and it very quickly exceeded our wildest expectations.

When we started, we thought if we got 500 users in the first year that would be OK, but we had 1,500 within 30 days, and growth was exponential from there. Today, we’re approaching 100,000 total users. Forty percent of NetApp’s total online traffic is driven by our Jive-powered communities. We’ve slashed support costs, cutting the time spent answering questions by an average of 80 percent. And we estimate that more than $500 million in sales are touched by the community.

Another great win for me personally and the company as a whole was the award we received in 2010 from the Society for New Comms Award in the "External Online Community" category. We really believe in Social Business as the new way.

These days, Social Business is pervasive in our organization and in our relationships with our customers, our partners and entire ecosystem. I attribute our success to three things:

  1. You need a powerful and easy-to-use platform, which we have.
  2. You need good content, and we make a big effort to provide really useful content to users. We’ve taken key assets that users really need, and translated them into the social environment. For example, our software developer kits (SDKs) used to be really hard to find and access. We brought them into the social space and made it easy for developers to search for them and download them. And that alone brought a lot of new users into the community, just to take advantage of those assets.
  3. You need to establish strong relationships with your advocates. That’s been a big focus for us. One additional factor that really helped in our case is that we’ve always had a lot of support at the executive level inside the organization. Our top management really understands the value of Social Business.

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About the author

Deirdre Walsh

Deirdre Walsh is an award-winning program manager with nine years of digital media, online community, and corporate communications experience. Currently, she is the Senior Social Media Manager for Jive Software.