Social Media Group’s relationship with SAP dates back to 2007 when I was first invited by Mike Prosceno, as part of the relatively new “Blogger Program”, to attend the company’s annual user conference in Vienna. At the time, SMG was less than a year old, had a client or two (were we going to make it??) and I was hosting a podcast series I’d co-developed with Social Media Today. Mike managed to arrange an interview for me with Craig Cmehil, Community Manager for what was then known as the SAP Developer Network (SDN), and Mark Yolton, the new Vice President of Community. At the time, SDN, the proprietary social network for SAP users, was closing in on an impressive 800,000 members and the discussion was definitely cutting edge.

Flash forward to 2012. Social Media Group is approaching our sixth anniversary with an impressive roster of blue-chip clients, industry thought leadership and work we are incredibly proud of. I’ve missed a few SAPPHIRE events over the years, but have attended more than I haven’t. Mark Yolton is now the Senior Vice President of Communities and Social Media, SDN has been renamed SCN (“SAP Community Network”) to reflect the increasing diversity of the SAP ecosystem, and is one of the most extensive examples of enterprise use of social media at over 2.5 million members (which brings a whole new set of challenges, but that’s another post). The SAP Blogger Program is SOP (“standard operating procedure”) for SAPPHIRE events, and SAPPHIRE itself has been rebranded as SAPPHIRENOW. The company also has a new Chief Marketing Officer, Jonathan Becher, who’s committed to digital, social and transforming his organization into an inbound, rather than outbound, model.

What else has changed?

For the last few years SAPPHIRENOW has taken place in Orlando. This year I was again asked to attend, along with a collection of my colleagues from a group known as the Enterprise Irregulars. These days I go because SAP is a client, I like to keep my finger on the pulse of the company and their strategic direction and it’s a great chance to connect with incredibly smart people and just generally catch up. This year at SAPPHIRENOW there were also some interesting new developments in the effort to weave together social functionality across SAP products under the leadership of Sameer Patel, the new Global Vice President and GM, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software at SAP; I’ll cover that move in a subsequent blog post.

In Orlando, Brian Ellefritz, SAP’s Vice President, Social Media Strategic Services, who is also responsible for leading the teams that help syndicate and amplify the massive amounts of content generated by SAPPHIRENOW attendees, was kind enough to give me a tour of his operation, introducing me to analysts and community managers who were gathering, producing and sharing owned and earned SAP content. The process and program was impressive, and also iterative; Brian estimates that they shake up about 25% of their social and digital activities each year to keep things fresh and ensure that they’re remaining innovative and relevant.

On the second day of the conference, I’d finally gotten around to checking in on Foursquare, and noticed that the check-in had likely been set up by a user rather than as an official SAP channel (it was off-brand, the event was listed as “Sapphire Now” and missed a good opportunity for a link or other metadata). I was a little surprised, but understood that there might have been some resistance to “gamification” of the event.

Which got me to thinking.

SAPPHIRENOW, in fact any live event, in fact any experience, has the potential for what I’ll call a “digital layer” – that is, the digital content produced by attendees, official representatives and people watching from afar. This can be everything from slick video interviews uploaded to Facebook or YouTube, #hashtagged tweets (tip: you don’t need to include the date – Twitter search is ephemeral, it’s hard to find content from three weeks ago, let alone last year), blog posts, the comments people leave on them and – yes, this matters – check-ins on services like Foursquare.

CC image from Foodfreak

The question that all event organizers (and, really, all brands – this is not only about campaign- or event-based activity, it’s also about your pervasive, ongoing digital presence) is whether you have truly looked at your “digital layer” as a discrete thing, a horizontal experience across your vertical organization or program. It’s a touchpoint that’s not always triggered by you but, regardless, it is an important vehicle for communicating a consistent message.

Here’s a great quote from Pat McClelland, a member of the Board of Directors at the Corporate Events Marketing Association:

“Just check out the digital conversation generated by bloggers and attendees… it’s augmenting the content with live commentary and debate, facilitating networking, making key business connections and generating leads. And that conversation among attendees helps create the virtual experience for those not on-site… The challenge for us is to facilitate and enable that digital layer, without expecting to control every aspect of it.”

Have you fully optimized your digital layer?