Analyst Bloggers – Threat or Menace?

OK, I admit it – I stole that title idea from an old National Lampoon. But the issue is no laughing matter: what is the appropriate code of conduct when industry analysts who work for brand name companies like IDC, Gartner or Forrester have an “outside” blog or start using Twitter frequently? There have been several highly visible incidents recently involving the blogging or tweeting of contentious information that likely would not have passed muster in the normally rigorous methodology of the branded analyst firms.

Why is this becoming more of an issue? More analysts are blogging, and using other “outside channels.” We have had press processes figured out for years, but this is different. Three constituencies – analysts, AR, and PR – are all wrestling with how to deal with a changing world:

  • Analyst firms have watched their business model falter. It is harder and harder to sustain the old reliable revenue stream from syndicated publishing, as more voices appear on the internet competing to offer similar information and even advice.  Those voices come from other players, who may not have the same data behind their pronouncements, or rigorous methodologies for data collection, fact checking and peer review, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Even the vendor clients who pay analyst firms are now forming “influencer relations” teams and giving the bloggers a seat at the table (literally, at events where information is shared and business conducted.) So officially and unofficially, analysts are moving into the blogosphere and the twittersphere themselves, to build and sustain their personal brands. They may or may not follow the same processes when they go there as they use “inside the walls” of their firms.
  • AR professionals are unused to handling bloggers. As AR turns into “influencer relations,” a new set of people must be dealt with, and the rules of the game up till now don’t apply. “New” bloggers and tweeters are a lot like reporters – they traffic in immediacy, look for the singular event, and seek out the memorable headline. But they don’t have an organization’s policies and resources behind them to enforce agreed standards – press people do, even if they sometimes push the boundaries. And then there are the analysts who have an “outside” blog, or use Twitter a great deal, and claim they are “speaking only for themselves” there. How should AR handle that situation? Is it the same as published research, or more like quotes in the press?
  • PR knows how to handle the press, but this is different. PR professionals are accustomed to tracking a well-known set of journalists, in familiar outlets, and reporting to their employers on what is happening and how to handle it. But these pesky newcomers are appearing in different places that require new monitoring skills. That costs time and money – does the PR firm’s contract cover those costs? And new policies are called for in how to handle them – what new advice must PR give to the firms that rely on them for damage control and affirmative messaging? Or does AR, or “influencer relations,” do that?

This blog post is a call to begin a conversation about how we deal with these new realities. The thoughts below suggest some ideas for one population: the analysts who work for established firms and make blog and twitter pronouncements in “their own” blogs. They are far from definitive, and offered simply as a place to begin the conversation that AR (or PR, or …) will need to have with them. I invite all stakeholders to join the dialogue. I’ll be doing primary research on this topic in collaboration with experts in analyst relations at Sage Circle, and most of you who read this are likely to hear from us shortly to participate in a survey. Let me know if you don’t, and I’ll be sure you have a way to join in.

Consider this a beginning code of conduct for “branded” analysts:

  1. Know that your brand is on you. Abandon any thought that just because it’s “your” blog, not your firm’s, that anyone thinks you are not speaking as an analyst who works there. Even if you already had a blog, when you become a Brand X analyst, what you say is heard through that filter. It’s a plus, not a minus – but it carries some expectations.
  2. Admit – and correct – errors. Bloggers sometimes prefer to leave prior posts untouched even if corrections are needed, in the interest of preserving immediacy. Get over it. This is one way we are better than print media. Nobody ever sees newspaper corrections that run days later buried somewhere. Blogs can be fixed,and should be.
  3. Check the facts before you publish. True, this may not be research, it’s often reaction and – yes, admit it – reporting. But journalists rarely publish single-sourced factoids from unattributable, unnamed people. And you’re an analyst, even if there is not much analysis in a tweet. Apply your common sense; describe acts, not actors, when you can’t be certain, and if you opine, describe what’s wrong with that action. You can name names when you’re sure.
  4. Don’t chase headlines. Leave that to others. At the end of the day, your business is still the analyst business – dependable advice based on research and analysis, not who tweeted first. There is a market for your ideas in the blogosphere – make your mark with them, not with scoops.

What do you think? Agree, disagree, add your own. I make no claim here to having it all figured out, but I hope to help drive the discussion forward.

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

24 thoughts on “Analyst Bloggers – Threat or Menace?

  1. I completely agree that tweets and blogs are part of the analyst brand and you cannot separate them based on medium used.

    Analyst firms need to expand policies and code of conduct for all outreach — as you say, it is part of the brand. This is Infonetics’ approach.

  2. Merv,

    There is a line between and individual’s freedom of expression and what they do “on the air” at an analyst firm. I don’t think we’ve reached a consensus on what the social norms are. However, blogging and tweeting has given analysts and influentials a voice that they never had. Whether anyone listens or not, well, that’s another story.

    However, if someone makes the call and they’re wrong, its more their personal brand at risk than the firms they represent during the day job…. but that is the point, the separation between today’s day job and the night job is so blurry that this is the crux of the issue.

    Instead of fighting this trend, my thought to X-relations teams is focus on building the relationship. This is not that different than good PR, AR, or influencer relations.

    But for those companies who can not deal with the truth, who spend their time trying to “buy” influence instead of demonstrate influence, and who live in a fabricated frenzy of marketing messages based on kool-aid, the social medial madness will become your nemesis as its going to be hard to suppress the truth. This is the paradox and the truth of this new medium.

    Warmest regards,

    R “Ray” Wang
    Vice President
    Forrester Research…

    oh wait… do i use that title or…

    R “Ray” Wang
    Average Joe Blogger

  3. Agree that this is a new area for AR professionals, however proven relationship processes would continue to apply. Several areas need review and updating for example; NDA embargo needs to be clear to bloggers to ensure that they do not publish information to the public before announcement dates.
    Analyst firms need to review their citation policies, can blog posting be treated like press quotes?
    To be sure, in the future, blogs, twitter, etc. will play more important roles in the dissemination of analyst opinions.

  4. “Your brand is always on you” is the best advice, more mature analysts realize this.

    PR needs to get non-analyst bloggers to practice 1-4 too.

    In our firm, blogs are reviewed by mgmt, or you don’t get to post.

    Finally, there’s also misuse of analyst data by “vendor sponsored” executive blogs too, so we have our own issues that PR and AR need to step up and deal with too.

  5. Merv, I agree with everything you’ve said. I would only add that the firms themselves need to set some policies–just as every company needs to provide guidelines about how when and what to blog about. Potentially the analyst firm’s brands can get damaged in the mix. Ultimately for those of us on the marketing side it becomes part of “practicing what we preach” and walking in our client’s mocassins to understand the power–and risk of social media.

  6. Merv:
    It used to be that the firm gave the analyst gravitas. In the NWO, it is (in many cases) the opposite. Which enables solo practitioners like…oh, Merv Adrian…to hang their shingle and bring a valued voice to the table immediately.

    This does not mean that anyone can call themselves an analyst. But those who’ve built a positive reputation in the marketplace have options they simply did not have several years ago.

    And, like all startups, they bring to the table several advantages, among them, quick response time and ability to leverage their expertise in ways that they may not have been able to do in their former workplace.

    I do, however, agree that independents must be aware that their name is their brand; they must treat it as such.

  7. I agree with Randy that your constant association with your firm is something analysts should know. It’s not all that different from talking to a journalist, where it can be tempting sometimes to say something off the cuff. It’s still going to show up out there with your name on it, even if it isn’t branded research.

    An analyst blogging policy isn’t rocket science, we’ve had one for quite awhile at The 451 Group. Twitter is a bit more complicated, as it can mix the professional and personal more thoroughly, though I know several analysts who have more than one twitter account to control who follows the personal threads.

  8. Lovely post, great points. In my view I think the ‘branded’/subscription based firms are playing catch up and have to be in the blogsphere/twittersphere (not sure that reads well but you get the gist)or they lose out on Share of voice/brand equity.

    As an AR practioner its been fascintating to watch the spread of twitter from the independents to the broader audience.

    On the point of should AR or PR handle blogs/tweets I see it as a very simple equation: analysts and the firms they work for influence purchasing decisions so as an AR bod you have to track/monitor/be aware of both what the individual AND firm does. I have even used Linked In profile data of analysts as a metric for influence.

    In short the rules of engagement are excactly as they always where its just the channels and the timeframes that have changed.

  9. Hi Merv,

    Although the lines are blurry, I think that there’s some relevance to distinguishing between “personal” blogs that have at least a partial focus on an analyst’s professional area of coverage (or at least matters related to it) vs. purely personal.

    If I have a blog that’s clearly distinct from my professional coverage I’m not sure these concerns enter in (at least any more than the generic blurring of public and private lives). However, I fully agree with you that if I call out some vendor exec on my personal blog, I can’t separate that from my professional opinion.

    It’s a complicated topic though. I know analysts who do keep blogs or twitters (or facebooks) that they consider wholly personal yet professional contacts treat them as connected to their analyst identities.

  10. Someone mentioned using blog posts as press quotes, and I think enterprising AR and PR folks are leveraging blogs in creative ways. I receive a great deal of blog traffic because my posts are quoted (with links) in press releases, news stories and by vendors on their websites.


  11. Nice post Merv. I want to pick up on what Randy says as well as Gordon’s response. An EMEA Analyst wrote that “twitter is for rumours, a blog is for facts and market observations and a research report is for deep analysis.” While these are good intellectual divisions, and most readers understand the different level of formality in each arena, most readers don’t expect vastly different personalities.

    Two examples. A young but respected analyst wrote a blog about a client, and then pointed to the blog on Twitter. The blog was based on rumors, but the analyst advised readers to hold off buying from his client until he could get more info. Both a rookie mistake and a display of arrogance in not understanding an analyst’s impact on company sales and employee morale.

    The other example is the competent analyst respected for his grasp of the IT market who also writes numerous notes about his real and fantasy love life. A prospective client might consider hiring this analyst for his professional expertise, and move on to someone else when reading the second type of writings.

    Since forums such as this blog, Twitter and Facebook are public forums, professionals who desire to maintain their profession must behave professionally at all times. Yes, the line is blurry, and yes I need a forum to be able to have fun with. But…

  12. Merv –

    This is a great and timely post!

    AR teams at many vendor companies (SAP included) are adjusting to how IT analysts use social media (twitter, personal blogs, firm sponsored blogs, etc.) to conduct and publish ‘research’ and propagate ‘opinions’ in the market place.

    There are many analysts and influencers who use social media very responsibility. There are also others who push the boundaries in questionable ways that appear to use social media as a platform for self promotion and even as a way to work around established research processes (e.g. fact based and objective). At risk is the negative affect on the research/brand integrity that many reputable firms base their value proposition on.

    Many reputable firms (Gartner, Forrester, AMR, etc.) have loose policies in place concerning how analysts use social media for research. I have to think that the management at these firms struggle with how to define and enforce such policies – as social media becomes more pervasive.

    On one hand, exposure is a good thing for research firms as they do benefit from a brand mutually developed with analysts (so they have ‘open policy’ on social media use). On the other hand, research firm management also realize that the brand of the firm is greater than the brand of the individual analyst – so when there is abuse of policy they take selective and corrective action to fix. It represents a double standard across the industry.

    Our challenge (as AR or Influencer Relations professionals) is that there is no ‘industry standard’ that analysts and research firms can subscribe and to when it comes to proper use of social media for research purposes.

    From a IT vendor perspective, the success of any AR or Influencer program requires objectivity of the influencer – otherwise there is no integrity in the relationship. If their [influencers] business model is based on producing quality research, education and advice to support decisions – they must work hard to ensure that their opinions/research are fact-based, balanced/unbiased (in any direction) and helpful to the decision process. Decision makers rely on quality insight and advice to help make good and informed decisions.

    This is why the issue that you raise (social media for research) is so important. Many AR professionals will struggle to secure increased support from their management who receive daily digests of blog, media, and social media coverage (through PR clipping service; ‘google news alerts’; and angry account executives) that sometimes highlight incorrect and/or misleading statements from analysts at reputable firms – which elicit controversy and confusion in the market place.

    Some analysts have an active following of media, vendors and bloggers who pick up on these comments and based on the reputation of the analyst/firm propagate the messages as fact. This has potential to create significant communication and reputation challenges for many vendors and research firms – as this information lives forever in the web. There needs to be structure and governance to protect the integrity of the research model.

    I think that the idea of defining an industry standard or bill of rights that can be used to help keep research firms and analysts responsible in a uniform way is a great idea and Sage Circle (carter) is the perfect parter to work with!

  13. Merv,

    This is quite an interesting and timely issue as it touches on the gray area of personal self expression and analyst firm point of view. This is akin to watching the talk shows where the journalists reveal their true opinions on TV, but print with steadfast objectivity or to the whims of their editors.

    As social media continues to explode in usage, it inevitably becomes harder for those trying to influence influencers. Readers, clients, and customers want to know the truth. What do analysts really think? What are they really hearing from their customers? We’ve matured to a point where these stakeholders already find bland, boring, and muted research calls to be useless.

    What we do know is that users want real research and fact based point of views that don’t get quashed by tons of bureaucratic peer review and faux vendor “fact checking”.
    This new level of truth and disclosure will provide a win-win for all parties. Feedback to vendors will be under public scrutiny and stakeholders will truly hear the truth. We need this level of disclosure, especially in this rapidly consolidating tech industry. And in the long run, most vendors will fare well as the balance between marketing spin will be outweighed by truthful testimony.

    Don’t get me wrong, there should be rules here, but they must side with the consumer and not be at the whims of vendors. They must be fair, but not squash opinion. We know a few vendors who like to control every aspect of the message and this scares them so much that some of them even have RFP’s to PR firms for strategies to “control” this stuff or to handle those troublesome analysts.

    Guidelines should be established, but for once, we need to have these rules side with the end user. The end users need to know and have exposure and visibility to information such as when a management team fails to execute, how a product fails to deliver on its claims, why a customer reference receives preferential treatment, where a software licensing policy creates a detrimental impact, etc.

    In fact, those X-relations professionals (i.e. analyst, media, blogger, etc) who focus on the relationship aspect, will do the best as they understand the value of that relationship and how to best work with and around influencers as needed. They will use the medium for 2 way communications.

    However, these are the “good” and honest vendors who market from the truth, who don’t send executives out to sell kool aid, and who do not “buy” out their customer references. These vendors will embrace the benefits of social media and are mature to take the lumps as it sees fit.

    Unfortunately, we deal from time to time with firms who no longer market based on truth. These vendors will find that their claims will be easily torn up by not only the influencers, but also a growing cadre of customers, partners, other stakeholders, and even their own employees who will expose holes in a vendor’s claims. These vendors will find out very quickly and some have already (I won’t mention any names here but I’m sure there have been some great examples the past 12 months), that they can’t buy everyone like the way they used to. There just isn’t enough money to buy the truth in social media, at least not for now, thank god.

    The key point is to view Social Media as another medium and the message needs to be refined more than ever to reflect the realities of real time and viral communications. If you fail there, then your credibility will be at stake. It goes both ways as my reputation is on the line every day. This post could be seen in that way as well.

    This is an exciting time for client advocates and the clients. I hope that analyst, media/influencer relationship professionals take advantage of this opportunity to work in these new environments that truly provide visibility in how a vendor truly works, how analysts work, in total, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Warmest regards,

    R “Ray” Wang
    Vice President
    Forrester Research, Inc.

    or wait.. maybe this is my personal opinion…

    R “Ray” Wang
    Average Joe Blogger

  14. Merv – As a Sage and experienced analyst I think that you are correct. The traditional research model is one based on integrity and serves to be extremely important in our industry. What you highlight here is important as we work to distinguish boundaries between true ‘research’ and ‘opinion’ and how each is represented (or affected rather) by trends of social media.

    True research requires time to collect facts and although it may appear to be bureaucratic – it serves a purpose. Collecting and validating facts helps to shape positions and opinions. These positions and opinions then need to be further validated (through peer review, customer and vendor conversations etc.), and so on.

    We are in a day/age where IT consumers and vendors are making important decisions that will affect the livelihood of their businesses.

    The role of the research analyst, is critically important to help these decision makers – make good, informed and sound decisions.

    Now, social media can play an important role for research firms. Among other things, it offers a great channel to syndicate research with immediacy in ways where traditional research firm business models do not allow (e.g. subscription base models). But research process and governance must still be adhered to.

    We must be responsible. We must use common sense (as you suggested). We must respect the power and immediacy that social media channels offer. We must also avoid pushing opinions based on adverse or unveted facts.

    The desire to Tweet in response/reaction (in seconds) to issues bound by 140 characters can be great – but also dangerous. We are just testing the waters in the use of social media for business and many ‘best’ and ‘worst’ practices are being established now. This is a great test of how research firms will respond. Which firm will be the case study and shining example for how to use social media for industry and business benefit…and which will be the example of ‘what not to do.’

    I see and understand Ray’s point of view. But the idea of personal expression is a bit scary if the research firm (who pays the check) has a different perspective on the use of personal blogs/twitter for research purposes. If Forrester is shifting their model to work in an environment of published research/opinion as Ray outlined – perhaps they should change their business model to one of a media company as opposed to a research firm. Or – maybe Ray should join the independent ranks and not worry about the scrutiny – because your brand is you and you can be released from the shackles of bureaucratic research process :).

    I also see the vendor point of view. No matter what – vendors will need to understand the implication of the changes that social media will have on research as it will affect how ‘relationships’ are built and maintained. I think we all need to agree that (in the analyst example) there is a symbiotic relationship between analyst, vendor, and consumer. It is highly connected and each relationship has dependence on the other to work well with each other and in a trusted way.

    If there is dishonestly (by any player) is will be quickly revealed. Any business (vendor, analyst, consumer) will not survive if they are selling false products or claims. The market process will correct and unveil all of these issues.

  15. As a traditional analyst in a well known firm I take the responsibility of my public persona and how it may reflect on my employer very seriously. I don’t blog but I am on Twitter and chose to have an easily deciphered handle and I use it to keep in contact with others in my industry and to stay informed. I keep personal social networking separate. I self-govern my tweets with the thought in mind of how it could affect clients, prospects, and my employer.

    I also recognize this as a chance to extend my personal brand but I’m not a freelancer, I have an employer and so improvement or erosion of that brand is directly correlated to my employer and refleclts on the services I provide.

    It is my opinion that there is a race to be first out there with breaking news, whatever the motivation. But I’m not a reporter, I’m an analyst. At the end of the day I’d rather be right than first.

  16. In response to Ray Wang’s post: Ray validly warns that companies which “spend their time trying to ‘buy’ influence instead of demonstrate influence” will be hurt by the “social media madness.” True enough. However, it is also true that analyst firm sales reps often sell access, whether the research side of the business admits it or not. Sometimes the sell is tacit; other times, it’s overt. In the end, both parties have a hand in perpetuating what I see as a problem.

  17. You make very cogent and refreshingly honest points, Merv. Many of those “other players” in the blogosphere have always been important to the organizations where I’ve managed AR, even if they “may not have the same data behind their pronouncements, or rigorous methodologies for data collection, fact checking and peer review.” Internet-enabled new media gave their messages more prominence, and apps such as Twitter deliver more frequency and immediacy (though not necessarily quality). What I found is that many “independent consultants” or smaller AR firms bring something valuable to the table: practical experience and street cred. While I was director of media and analyst relations at Ascential/IBM, it just made sense to form relationships with smart individuals who shaped the data integration space, even if (or maybe because?) they were not with META, Forrester, Gartner or IDC. People like Claudia Imhoff, Mark Madsen, Jill Dyche, Tony Baer, Curt Monash and a couple dozen others had and have deep and wide market penetration. They consult, run POCs, contribute to key publications, present at important conferences or run workshops at industry association meetings. Intell and perspective from the trenches is more valuable than ever to software vendors and consumers. I do and will continue to value the established firms. And while Waves and Magic Quadrants will likely remain important “buying guides,” it’s a brave new (disintermediated) world and we’d all better learn to adapt.

  18. The following URL is a prime example of the negative impact of not having even the most basic governing principles for analysts in forums like Twitter:

    The vendor is damaged (maybe irreparably), both the firm’s and the individual analyst’s brands are damaged, and the clients/prospects end up more confused than well-advised – which defeats the whole value proposition of these “advisors” who are supposed to provide fact-based opinions & research to help decision processes. So you see, this is not as simple as a vendor versus analyst/firm issue – in fact these analysts’ ability to be true “end-user advocates” is also at risk in the absence of some basic governing guidelines that grounds their statements in fact versus speculation.

  19. Merv, all,

    Just three word sum it up for me: NDA (OK, it’s a TLA and not a word, let’s say “trust”), Analysis and Agenda.

    They (should) differentiate analysts (who blog or not) from reporters, and I believe that even if you deal with them in similar ways -I agree with the comments above on relationship- the output is vastly different.

    Of course, it’s all a continuum, and there’s little difference between a good journalist and an average analyst but here are what I think are 3 key differences:

    – Trust: analyst have access to a variety of sources, competing vendors and end-users. They have conversations behind closed doors that are based on trust. This enable them to have access to non-public information and gain insight via long-term relationships, that can’t be matched with interviews to pen an article on a deadline. I wholehartedly agree with my ex-colleague and friend Tony: an analyst who blows an NDA on Twitter isn’t doing good to his/her reputation and damages the trust placed in him. The picture isn’t black an white though, as Twitter exposure during a vendor conference can be a good thing -I’m just not sure what the norm should be there.

    – Analysis. An analyst should not write direct observation but should, IMHO, provide a filtered, distanciated, view that helps his/her subscribers/readers (whatever the business model is) sieve noise from actionable advice. If it’s a personal blog, yes sure, but check Robin Bloor’s blog and you’ll find insight in personal/non-IT stuff -and he’s funny in a quirky way too.

    – Agenda. My best question for analysts is what their research agenda is. Yes, they should be reactive when, say a vendor buys someone significant, but they should also derive trends and change the debate terms.

    Apologies for the rambling,


  20. Jennifer Bartolo, as always, makes an excellent point. There is no excuse for negative gossip mongering by employees of ‘reputable’ analyst firms in a blog–it is just sensationalism and does all of us a disservice.

    I would like to think that some of the analysts will be exposed as headline-hunters, not critical thinking analysts, now that they don’t have a heavy editorial process to mask them.

    But it also raises a question. In this new world in which analysts are bonused and incented based on page views, are the big analyst firms unofficially encouraging this unprofessional behavior to drive traffic?

  21. Merv,

    A very provocative post and many thoughtful follow-up threads.

    I believe we are in the mist of a convergence of press, analyst and influencer roles which the advent of social media is accelerating.

    The lines have always been blurred between what constitutes coverage, research and analysis and today’s analysts, of necessity, need to expand the ways we reach and serve our constituents.

    Regardless of the channel or platform, the “trusted advisor” role is the key to maintaining analyst credibility. Though I may not always succeed to the extent that I would like, I always try to keep the buyer or user in mind whenever I research, analyze, publish or consult.

    When serving the vendor community, as the vast majority of us need to do to keep the lights on, they hope and trust we understand the customers’ pain better – in a way that maybe they don’t – and that we will provide a secure and honest forum for interaction and feedback.

    Our public analysis and recommendations are informed by both the buy and sell sides of the equation. The analyst/intermediary role has not and should not change. Only the means of expression.


    Gary MacFadden
    Principal Research Contributor
    The Wikibon Project

  22. Merv,

    Great topic, and it would be great if people cold someday rely on information in blogs (maybe then we’d also solve world hunger). But the constant skeptic in me says that it’s perhaps more important to educate readers to use a healthy dose of wariness for ALL sources of informaton, especially those less validated, and to post comments when they find things to be untrue. I have found paid firms and otherwise ethical folks to be frequently wrong or misleading. (Maybe we legislate a blogger warning label as on cigarettes? WARNING: CAVEAT LECTOR!!! The information you are about to read, as all things, is prone to opinion and my general mood at the time. I try to check facts, but if the facts don’t line up, I’d rather be provocative than accurate.)

    Keep up the good work Merv.

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