Analyst bloggers – strong views abound

My post about challenging issues around analyst blogging drew hundreds of hits, and many interesting comments from analysts, AR and influencer relations practitioners and others. In this note, I’ll highlight some threads from those comments, and I encourage you to review the comments themselves – and to add your own thoughts. I’ve put in links to many of the blogs maintained by contributors; if I missed you, please let me know and I’ll update.

Blogs clearly matter, and their impact reflects on the bloggers. Bob Sakakeeny, formerly corporate AR at HP, said it well: “professionals who desire to maintain their profession must behave professionally at all times.” Lisa Rowan of IDC “take[s] the responsibility of my public persona and how it may reflect on my employer very seriously.” She self-governs with the idea that as an analyst, not a reporter, she’d “rather be right than first.” (No doubt most reporters want the same thing.) Still, Ray Wang of Forrester likes the immediacy social media provide, and advises that AR should not “fight the trend,” which he sees as dangerous for those whose approach is to “buy influence with fabricated marketing messages.” Not so fast, says Chas Kielt, that’s the offer analyst firms pitch – sales reps sell access to influencers, even if analysts would prefer to think of themselves as separated from such concerns.

Some analysts use two personas to separate personal from professional. Kathleen Reidy of 451 Group and Gordon Haff of Illuminata talk about personal and professional blogs being separate – but Gordon is not sure that doing so helps keep the topics separate. Rowan notes that tweeting is a choice and so, for her, was the selection of a handle people could easily identify, rather than an anonymous one. Sakakeeny cited the example of an analyst whose tweets mix professional with (to Bob, embarrassingly personal) topics. No credible argument was offered for the idea that “Joe Blogger” is different than “Joe Blogger from analyst firm X.” It’s not about intent. Segregating identities might temporarily separate the immediate “professional audience” from the personal one, but (controversial) word travels fast, regardless of the publishing channel selected. In fact….

“Brand” does travel with the analyst, and analysts want it to, agreed J’Amy Napolitan of Infonetics, Reidy and others. Analysts use social media as a platform for self-promotion to enhance their personal brand, says Donald Bulmer of SAP. Analyst John Ragsdale likes having his blog quoted; Steve says solo practitioners (some of whom arrive with an established “brand”) also can enhance the brand of the firm, rather than the other way around. In a private note, another analyst told me that maintaining a personal identity was a mechanism they needed to create and maintain marketability for the future, should they leave their firm.

Analyst firm policies are not yet settled, but are needed, says IBM’s Tony Niviera. Randy Giusto says IDC management reviews blogs before posting on its group blog; 451 Group also has established blog policy. Marc Duke, an AR and PR consultant, says branded firms are playing catch-up to smaller firms who have been using social media successfully – and says rules haven’t changed, just the timing. Bulmer opined that some analysts use the alternate channel specifically as a way to “work around established research processes (e.g. fact based and objective.”) Wang made the same point but about immediacy, not objectivity. Nothing about either speed or the mechanics of the channel prevent an analyst from Rowan’s “self-governance” – appropriately checking facts or being sensitive to offensive or otherwise inappropriate language.

AR’s responses need not be so different from established ones. Reidy likens blog entries to press quotes. Most AR organizations have policies and practices for dealing with unfavorable mentions. Some of those problems are self-inflicted, of course. Wang  points out, “Unfortunately, we deal from time to time with firms who no longer market based on truth.” He stresses that everyone’s credibility is on the line. Randy points out that vendor executive blogs misuse (misquote) analyst data too – and analyst firms have their own PR challenges as a result. Lisa Bradner at Forrester points out that all firms, on both sides, need to manage blogs. Everyone is still learning.

It returns, then, to communication – both sides have a stake. It’s reasonable for both parties to demand objectivity and accuracy. Honesty and courtesy on either side should trump publishing immediacy or marketing advantage. Ludovic Leforestier of the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR) points out that analysts “have conversations behind closed doors that are based on trust.” Jennifer Bartolo of SAP points out that damage done in blogs or tweets is not easily reversed. This is equally true for analysts who uncritically rely on vendor-provided information that proves to be untrue and their reputation is thereby damaged. Still, closing avenues of communication – again in either direction – solves nothing. Cutting off briefings for “overly critical” analysts won’t help. Nor will refusing to give vendors “with poor credibility” a chance to respond in advance to new information. Everyone needs to talk. And finally…

Willingness to correct errors remains a critical point, though few commenters addressed it. In published analysis, press release claims or briefing assertions, errors and distortions get in the way of the objectives of both parties. Sales made on the back of untrue assertions about product capabilities (or price, or service) will end badly. Analyst credibility will founder if misstatements go unaddressed, or if bias seems evident for whatever reason.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

9 Responses to Analyst bloggers – strong views abound

  1. Pingback: Analysts as bloggers: three sides to a triangle : Analyst Equity - Lighthouse’s action research blog

  2. Hi Merv, I’ve linked to this and tried to point out come blind spots in your commenters’ views at: http://www.analystequity.com/?p=1196

  3. Mike Thoma says:

    I think we’ll look back at this conversation in a couple of years and smile. It feels to me that there were these kinds of issues when journalists had to deal with radio and then tv after having the medium be exclusively newspapers for so long. And newspapers replaced the town crier too…

    I think that ‘social media’ is a medium that eventually will grow up to enable public and private conversations. I think that an analyst has to ‘ride for the brand’ when speaking publicly on issues that he or she covers in the firm. However, if they speak to endorse a political candidate they are allowed to have their own opinions. And if they join a dieting group online they can assert the value of South Beach over Atkins till the cows (or the low-fat mayo) come home.

    Net net – I think the issue is around the TOPIC where there the issues lie, not the medium of blogging, tweeting, etc.

    The problem is, especially with Twitter and to a lesser degree with facebook, it’s still all in one – e.g. comments from customers at an SAP convention are mixed with reactions to being stuck on the tarmac with United and a new tune on the iPod. When the technology grows up, this issue will die out IMHO.

  4. Ron Shevlin says:

    Merv, you’ve raised a lot of great points here.

    I started a blog after leaving the analyst world, and maintained for about 9 months after returning to the analyst world.

    A couple of the considerations: 1) Is an analyst blog (not branded by analyst firm) in the best of the analyst firm? In other words, whose brand was really being built by the blog — mine or the analyst firm I work for? I actually posed that question to my blog readers, and they told me very clearly: MINE.

    2) Is an analyst blog in the best interest of the analyst firm’s clients? While it might be true that some clients buy “influence” or “access”, many others buy intellectual property — data, ideas, and advice. If that’s being given away in the blog (please don’t try to tell me that it isn’t), is that fair to the paying clients? I can’t help but believe that at least some of the effort being spent on an analyst’s blog is at the expense of something being written for the firm.

  5. Pingback: Merv Adrian’s threads on analyst blogging | Strategic Messaging

  6. Pingback: Should the analysts be blogging? « The IIAR Blog

  7. Thanks for the citation Merv, just referenced your post in another one, expanding on the issue:

    http://iiar.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/should-the-analysts-be-blogging/

  8. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks. Enjoying the discussion (and living it!)

  9. Pingback: The State of The Industry Analyst « Merv's Market Strategies for IT Suppliers

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