Like Media, Research Needs to Be Social, Too

21 Comments

Our friends at Forrester Research touched off a bit of a brush fire this past weekend when it said it would limit its analysts to blogging about research-related topics on the company’s corporate web site, Forrester.com, and decreed that any personal blogs maintained on other domains must be strictly about personal matters. Twitter is apparently not included in this edict, according to a tweet by Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff, co-author of the book “Groundswell.” Dennis Howlett of ZDNet called the move an “Epic E2.0 Fail” while CloudAve blogger Jacob Morgan said it was “the corporate research equivalent of suicide.”

Here at GigaOM — and specifically at our subscription research arm, GigaOM Pro — we obviously believe that our writers and analysts benefit from being part of the social web in as many different ways as possible. They tweet, have their own blogs and use other social sites.

It’s true that social tools help analysts develop their own personal brands (as both Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang did while at Forrester), but while some firms might see this as being in competition with the development of the overall corporate brand, we disagree. In a social media- and web-centric world, the personal brand is arguably as important as — and in some case, even more important than — the corporate brand. In any case, the two can no longer be separated from one another.

We heard the same kinds of arguments from traditional media companies in the early days of blogging, and we all know how that turned out. Some media outlets have been trying to restrict what their writers do and say on Twitter and other social networks as well. The reality is that people identify more and more with individuals, and in some ways always have: Do people go to see a Warner Brothers film? No, they go to see “Avatar” by James Cameron, or to watch George Clooney. Do they look for music by EMI? No, they listen to Norah Jones. And the company behind the brand benefits every time that happens. Live Nation is a good example: a record label as well as a live concert company, it puts the artist front and center. Same goes for media and research.

In his blog post, Bernoff defended the new policy as a necessary step, saying Forrester is “an intellectual property company, and the opinions of analysts are our product.” But a strong analyst who connects with readers and builds a following, wherever that following might occur, is a benefit to the company they work for, even if he or she eventually leaves to pursue other opportunities. That is the nature of a web-based business — something the research industry is becoming, whether it likes it or not.

Trying to confine analysts and control the access they have to readers through the web is not only wrongheaded (in our view) but ultimately futile. Strong analysts who are treated in this way will leave anyway, thus defeating the purpose. We believe that social media tools can be used both to build personal brands and to benefit the overall corporate brand, and that is what we encourage. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments.

21 Comments

paulzagaeski

I believe the policy is simply a matter of Forrester redefining “work product” for the social media age, to recapture content that management believes has been leaking out of the Forrester ecosystem. There can be no doubt that preventing analysts from establishing and maintaining independent personal online identities reduces their value in a world rapidly moving to one-to-one value chains.

“New-ish” analyst Augie Ray (who has abandoned his blog Experience: The Blog under the new Forrester policy) also defends the change as a reasonable exercising of Forrester’s intellectual property right to analysts’ “thoughts” — http://bit.ly/bgz1wN.

As an ex-Forrester guy, I agree with those who label this policy out of alignment with what’s become common wisdom about “personal brand” in the reputation economy. Forcing Augie to stop adding interactive marketing content to his personal blog dilutes his personal brand and reputation, even if he immediately begins producing content on a Forrester-branded blog. He’ll build it back up, no doubt, but it will be different from, and arguably not as valuable as, his personal brand.

When Augie leaves Forrester, he won’t be allowed to transfer any of his Forrester-branded blog content back into a personal blog. That portion of his professional identity will be locked away from him. He’ll have to start over again to reproduce all the great insights and evidence he’ll have shared with his network during his time there.

Smart analysts recruited to join Forrester ought to be thinking about negotiating a payment as compensation for the future hit to their personal brand.

dave mcclure

The inherent assumption here is that bloggers/researchers at Forrester are LESS valuable to the brand than the brand is to them.

If Forrester really believes this to be true, then it most certainly will become reality, as a result of ONLY attracting people of lesser quality & value.

On the other hand, a more practical alternative perspective is that Forrester can DISCOVER great talent before it is broadly visible to the rest of the industry (such as Jeremiah was), and expect that over time some of those folks will eventually leave the nest… but that some may choose to stay.

If however Forrester decides to run the ship with an “iron fist”, they will find that only timid people who prefer being kept in a cage will remain.

correlationist

Mathew – thanks for talking about an issue that should not even have happened in the first place. It is hard to imagine a company like Forrester would be myopic enough to thrust corporate branding down analysts’ throats.

This is the age of authenticity, sharing, and connecting with “people”. It is the age of dialogue, and building trust. I call SM collaborative narcissism with a healthy dose of altruism :))

I would be floored if you were to check out my post titled “Why Personal Branding is your SM Hub”, and let me know what you think :)) Thanks so much, in advance. http://ow.ly/15v1r

Cheers,
Prince

Mark Evans

@josh As we’ve seen over the past decade with so many industries, CHANGE HAPPENS. You can’t restrict or stop it.

It’s up to Forrester to find new opportunities in the midst of the research industry’s “creative destruction” and create new revenue streams.

John Gauntt

Thank God, I opted out of that hamster on a wheel existence some years ago. I lost a zero on the take-home pay but gained so much more in terms of sanity.

Nothing personal Forrester but data is a commodity and analysis isn’t much better.

Sharon Mostyn

I agree! For all of the reasons that you outlined and more, companies need to recognize that (all other things being equal) people are more likely to purchase from individuals they feel connected with, instead of “faceless” corporations. In today’s world, people connect in so many channels that it seems counterproductive to limit the way that employees can interact with potential customers.

Josh Bernoff

Forrester’s brand means a lot more than EMI’s or Warner’s. It’s more like the New York Times — it stands for something.

Forrester’s brand has made a lot of people famous and successful over the years. I don’t think doing your blogging at forrester.com is an unreasonable thing for them to ask in return.

For any of your readers who have heard of me, Josh Bernoff, or of Groundswell, I have Forrester to thank for that. The same applies to every analyst on the staff. We use their data, their salespeople, their support people, their PR people, and their managers to do quality work.

Go read my blog at http://groundswell.forrester.com . Now tell me — how would that be different, or better, if it were on some other site?

Davis Freeberg

Sorry Jeff, but I disagree with your comparison to the NY Times. A NY Times subscription costs my firm something like $60 a month, Forrester is significantly more than that. If the end result from this policy is that analysts are afraid/unwilling to work with you because it means sacrificing their personal brand (and ultimately what their celebrity is worth to Forrester), than it devalues your product. If you don’t think that your customers will recognize that, then Forrester has bigger problems than I thought. Investment firms have no problem spending money on quality research, but they do have problems paying for research that they can already get from the newspaper. If Forrester decides that they want to lower their fees to $1 or $2 a day, then I think you can compare yourself with journalists. Otherwise, there should be a higher expectation from your clients.

Leigh

Not to speak for Josh but i think the point might be that people are building their personal brands at Forrester – using their resources and using the Forrester brand to build their own credibility.

The question of personal branding is becoming more and more complicated. Corporations deal with it with Community evangelists – evangelists get thousands of followers on Twitter. What happens when they leave that company and go to another? If the Twitter account isn’t Corporate held, those follows go with them and even potentially to a competitor. That’s a pretty serious problem to have.

So while i don’t think the solution is to shut it all down (it goes against network principles and if one isn’t careful you may just end up metaphorically like the NY Times which i don’t see as a good thing), it would be difficult for larger organizations to not at least consider alternative strategies on how to ensure their ongoing participation in communities they actively help promote and support.

Sharon Mostyn

@Leigh While I agree that content created while in a company’s employ (in this case Forrester) remains with the company unless otherwise negotiated, I respectfully disagree that my Twitter followers need to stay, too.

When someone leaves a company, don’t you think that they should retain their own brand? Should I have to change my name when I get a new job because the old job’s cache was associated with my name? I am who I am because of the sum of my experiences, not just one particular job. Aren’t I taking the rest of my skills when I go? Why is my name/social media account/blog any different?

No matter where you go, your friends/followers/contacts still know you for who you are and the value that you give them, not just where you worked.

Leigh

@Sharon That’s my point. When many companies hired evangelists and they were on twitter, they didn’t even think about having people use their personal accounts. Similar, companies like Forrester probably didn’t have any guidelines around personal blogging (many companies still don’t).

However, as ongoing issues and challenges are arising, considering the ongoing implications is a mandatory for most companies.

@jbernoff linked to a thoughtful post on this subject from a Forrester clients perspective http://brandsavant.com/why-forrester-made-the-right-call-about-employee-blogs/

Davis Freeberg

Sorry that should have been Josh and the issue of whether or not the blog coverage is better or worse has nothing to do with where it’s hosted. It has to do with Forrester’s ability to attract and retain quality analysts. By limiting them to the Forrester blog, it will reduce their own brand identity and reduce their visibility within the larger community. It may not matter to the blog reader, but the capabilities and reputation of your analysts matter quite a bit to the investment community. I have no doubt that this will produce more profits in the short term, but in the long term it will erode Forrester’s brand and will cause a brain drain at the company.

Michael Wolf

@Josh – A hypothetical for you:

Tell me what would happen if a prominent industry thinker with a well-trafficked and respected blog wanted to join Forrester – would Forrester turn them away or ask them to abandon their own blog in order to write for them?

It seems Forrester is going to stop attracting the best thinkers who have spent years of hard work to build a platform with such a policy.

Bottom line, analysts and others see the big picture, meaning they could work for Forrester today, but in five years they may be on their own. The value of having a social platform – blogs, Twitter, and others forms – associated to their personal brand is the way of today’s Groundswell world, whether Forrester wants it that way or not.

Mathew Ingram

Thanks for the comment, Josh. I think EMI and Warner would probably argue that their brands are worth something too, just like the New York Times :-)

In any case, I don’t think it’s my place to have to prove that your blog would be any better if it were on some other site. Instead, I would ask what proof you have that keeping it on Forrester.com makes it any better, or does the firm — or the analyst themselves — any favours?

I would argue that it does the opposite.

Leigh

By the way as someone who has been reading Forrester research for a really long time, the best analyst research is by people who you have never heard the names of. There is no factual basis for a co-relationship between media stars and great insightful research reports.

One of my favorite Forrester reports EVER – Emotive Networks – by Rebecca Ulph – ever heard of her? Yeah…didn’t think so.

Anonymous

This seems like a reaction to losing a few superstars – but Charlene became famous from the book – and she knew Jeremiah from his work – so she would have (perhaps) hired him anyway.

If you want to hire and keep superstars, you’re just gonna have to pay them. And perhaps someone like Charlene, or Josh, or Jeremiah is going to cost you more than someone who people don’t care about.

This is true in the most competitive industries – why not analysis?

TO’B

nexttolastblog

All marketplace incumbents would rather not change with dynamic and fast paced change. If the regulators can’t keep up with the changes, researchers and analysts may be challenged and desire to limit scope of their work. Too bad for them — the cat is out of the bag.

Davis Freeberg

It’s easy to understand why Forrester wants to do this, but it’s kind of a short sighted on their part. By weakening the individual reputation of their analysts, they may have to worry less about losing them to another firm or about paying them what they should be worth, but they’ll also scare away good talent and it will end up being a race to the bottom when it comes to the analysts who decide to stay. This strategy may end up squeezing out more profits in the short term, but unlike the mass market blog community, people who hire analysts pay big bucks for thought leaders. It’s not about how much they publish, it’s about how insightful they really are If quality suffers because of these restrictions, their customers will go elsewhere instead of overpaying Forrester to summarize news that’s already out.

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