This year, SAP launched the Social Sabbatical program, a corporate social responsibility effort through which high-potential employees spend three weeks embedded with entrepreneurial companies in Brazil, India and South Africa helping them solve business challenges.
The program was created to give employees leadership opportunities while making a tangible social impact, says Brittany Lothe, SAP's head of corporate social responsibility. But it also created a unique group of public ambassadors for the SAP brand.
"There is no better story teller than someone who is living and breathing a new experience," she says.
To make the most of this opportunity to spread the word about SAP's corporate social responsibility efforts, the 30 participants completed four weeks of preparation leading up to the projects, which included training on how to use social media tools to talk about their experiences.
Along with teaching them how to use social media tools to tell their stories, SAP had communication team members available in each country to answer questions and bounce ideas around. "The training let them know they were not going it alone," Lothe says.
Once embedded, all of the participants tweeted photos and updates, and several of them wrote longer posts and blogs from the field after they returned.
"There was so much to communicate," says Evan Welsh an SAP employee who worked with ASMARE, an association of Brazilian catadores—garbage collectors who gather trash at night and then separate out reusable recyclable materials. Welsh's team helped the group create marketing materials including a newsletter, communication plan and templates for promotional efforts to raise awareness about the work ASMARE and the catadores do.
Many of the catadores were formerly homeless or in jail before they began to work with ASMARE, which also operates a restaurant and gallery to display art that the catadores make from the recycled materials. Working with the catadores had a profound impact on Welsh and his colleagues, and within days of arriving, they started posting stories, pictures and video interviews on Facebook, Twitter and SAP's Community Network. The teams in India and South Africa shared similar stories.
"These are by far the highest read posts we've ever had on our community network or our Facebook page," Lothe says, noting that thousands of readers have clicked through since the program launched. Lothe reposted many of the blogs and photos across SAP's internal network, and encouraged employees to share the stories on their own social networks.
"Empowerment was such an important part of this process," she says, noting that employees were not required to post about their experiences, but it was encouraged. "It was an opportunity for them to share their stories, and we were able to leverage their experience and enthusiasm to extend the brand."
Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.