Like Media, Research Needs to Be Social, Too

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.

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