People tend to either love or loathe evangelists. This is true not only for the traditionally religious evangelist, but also for the increasingly prevalent technology evangelist. Both exist for different reasons, of course. But both want to sell you a belief system that may involve parting with your time and money.

The Conversion Factor

Joking aside, this “embrace of faith” is probably why the first technology evangelists were happy to use this term to express the nature of their goals, which essentially center around converting you to a specific way of thinking.

This approach is a necessity in the IT world, given that there are so many styles and work methods governing application development, database management, product-led tribes, and related factions of operations and software engineering. Some view technology evangelists as nothing more than marketing people dressed up in fancier clothes. Yet this is a short-sighted stance to take. There’s a definite value in reinforcing the beliefs that lead technologists to form an identity and band together.

From Evangelism to Advocacy

Before we look at who ASUG members might want to follow (in the technological and social media sense) from the SAP family, it’s worth noting that the role of evangelist is experiencing some reinvention. Hard-core evangelists will probably always be hard-core evangelists who are looking convert you to their way of thinking and bring you into the fold. Yet today’s technology evangelists sometimes now prefer to refer to themselves as advocates.

Technology advocates point out that their role is to get people to believe in a technology approach, methodology, toolset, language, or development environment. Advocates want to “explain” what any given piece of technology does, how it works in terms of real-world data flows, and where it might be going next in terms of development.

And there’s even a third term emerging, especially related to those who are most savvy within social media. SAP sometimes calls its favorite people, including members of the press and bloggers, “influencers.” Whether they truly influence us or not depends on if we’re tuned into their social channels.

SAP Evangelists to Know

Regardless of which type of tech leader you choose to follow, you’ll want to know what you can get from these people and how you should interact with them. The how part is easy. Stopping short of emailing these individuals directly, the best advice is to follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The who part is just as straightforward. SAP’s evangelists tend to be hard-core engineers (or at least people with a professional knowledge of information management, software languages, and data). A good place (or person) to start with is Sven Denecken, SVP, head of product management and co-innovation SAP S/4HANA at SAP SE in Germany.

You can follow Denecken on Twitter and LinkedIn. The first thing you might notice is that he’s not called an SAP evangelist. This is a big clue for us when we set out to look for the thought leaders, we need to listen to in order to get ahead.

The Original SAP Evangelist

And, of course, you can think of SAP’s founder Hasso as the original SAP evangelist. He still draws hushed crowds who love to hear his unvarnished vision for the future of SAP technologies. But don’t expect to follow him on social media, as he’s critical of its effects on culture. The closest you can get is to follow the Hasso Plattner Institute.

You could also look through a list of all the SAP Mentors (most of whom come from outside SAP, but are SAP gurus) and a link to the complete list of members is shown here. Remember that this list is dynamic, and members do come and go. Also keep in mind that some of the men and women here are social, and some are not.

SAP’s Timo Elliott is a straightforward choice. He’s an innovation evangelist. Elliott is an SAP employee, but stresses that his views are his own. That said, he talks a lot about SAP. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Legitimacy and Authenticity

According to Elliot, the secret to being a great technology advocate (for SAP, or for any company) is legitimacy and authenticity.

“You have to be authentic. You must truly want to help people be successful, not just sell them something. You have to be a trusted advisor, which means being transparent and upfront about any possible biases that you may have. It means telling the whole truth. Nothing you say or write should be any less true if you were working for a competitor,” Elliot said.

One other good source of industry leaders that ASUG members can tap into is the 200 (at the time of this writing) Twitter users that SAP’s official Tweetstream follows back. These select few linked here include many industry analysts, and luminaries representing many of the different groups within SAP (SAP Cloud, SAP Developers, SAP SuccessFactors, and so on). You can navigate toward the stream of your choice.

So, love them or hate them, the evangelists are out there. The key is knowing which people are evangelizing about the topics and technologies you want to know.

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