Captive Analyst Bloggers: Break Free! You Have Everything To Gain In Your Links

I spend a fair amount of my time checking in on the blogs of people whose work I respect. Now that I am no longer an analyst at a big-brand  firm, I do this more than I used to – and I can now recognize there is an insularity “on the inside” that one becomes unaware of as it creeps up  on us over time. And the big firms want it that way – they have designed their blogs to be private islands, disconnected from the rest of us.

I routinely exchange links, tweets and even phone calls with colleagues inside and outside those firms. In the blogosphere, these conversations can take place in the open and become real discussions. Folks like  Jim Holincheck and Andy Bitterer at Gartner, Ray Wang and Jim Kobielus at Forrester,  Curt Monash, and many others point to me, and I to them, when it seems appropriate, and exchange, discuss and debate ideas. It’s of value to us, and hopefully to our readers.

But there are some problems for the big analyst firm blogger. I was struck recently by their conundrum when I looked at a couple of their corporate sites recently. Behavior there is constrained to a lower form of blog life – “I talk, but I don’t link.” Let me give you some examples. Gartner Blog Network, the IDC Circle blog page and Blogs at Forrester differ in several ways, but they also share a common characteristic – “you can’t get anywhere else from here.” By design. If you’re familiar with the concept of a blogroll, you know that many of us provide our readers with links to other interesting places. I chose Ray for a reason. In his “outside” blog, his blogroll is exemplary – look down the page on the right hand column to find it. By contrast, look at his Forrester blog posting  on Oracle’s recent maintenance announcements. Great work. Now, look for a blogroll like the one he maintains on his “outside” blog. You won’t find it. The site lacks any connection to the outside world – as do the Gartner and IDC sites (and those of many other analyst firms, by the way.) They only point to themselves.

So how to stay connected, even to (shudder) non-payers, or worse, competitors? Analysts who maintain their own outside blogs simply handle their “citizenship in the blogosphere” responsibilities in their private blogs. Orwellian, isn’t it? “Private” now means open. Another paradox of our language in the new connected world. Gartner’s Holincheck has found a way to circumvent the nobody-here-but-us game – he posts about pieces he’s found useful and thinks his audience will too. It’s a shame his firm and the others – all of whom have analysts who have described the marvels of open communications in the new environment – are still struggling with last-millenial ideas about controlling content and ignoring other participants. Maybe they should read their own research.

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

11 Responses to Captive Analyst Bloggers: Break Free! You Have Everything To Gain In Your Links

  1. I think this is a difficult and interesting questions from a corporate point of view, because it’s partly about clarify of brand (you do want to be the destination, not the signpost) and then also about reciprocity (if folk don’t link to you, then you stop linking to them).

  2. Ludovic says:

    Analysts traditionally enjoy “closed doors conversations” because they get so much more insight and often are bound by confidentiality clauses when they work on a deal for instance.

    From the paper reports days, there’s always been a business imperative to protect their IP.

    This is diametrically opposed to “open conversations” in blogs, and it takes time for people to find new business models.

    Personally, I keep telling people that we, vendors, don’t learn much from their research notes but a great deal from their verbal insight. What we also care about is how they evaluate us. So, I guess the value is in the eye of the beholder and if you think it’s in the research reports, you won’t be inclined to share.

  3. So is your point that analyst blogs don’t link outside the company? If yes, I agree fully. That issue isn’t limited just to blogs, it also pops up in some of the general research as well… although some of us are jumping that fence on our own 🙂 I believe the ultimate question is what is the nature of the public conversation that analysts should be engaged in. The degree of public conversation is going to differ based on the market and types of research a firm or particular analyst is conducting. I think you will see this evolve significantly over the next 18 months. Finally, these firms you point out should look to their ranks on twitter as those who have done an end run around the problems you suggest without the hassle that comes with a blog.

  4. Merv Adrian says:

    Abner, I agree on all counts. Any public conversation – and the blogosphere is as public as it gets – ought to be cognizant of its visibility. I talked about some of the issues in my post Analyst Bloggers: Threat Or Menace. But that’s a choice, and essentially, I’m suggesting we’ll all be better off if the smart people the big firms hire are permitted to use their own brains to decide that. With suitable training, of course. 😉
    The end runs are fascinating, too. SageCircle’s blog at sagecircle.wordpress.com is a good place for folks to find out which analysts are tweeting.

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  6. toppundit says:

    Quite a long time ago, I wrote a blog about the economics of punditry (“The Applicator”) that explains some of what Merv is observing. According to post, companies that want to protect their image should invest in “reputable, but cooperative” providers of information. (The post is based on an analysis of financial information providers done by a French economist.)

    The reputable, but cooperative recipients of image-protection money can obviously be expected to control the message they put out; that’s a lot of what they’re being paid for. Eventually, though, they lose credibility, and when they do, the companies that need their image buffed can be expected to seek out reputable, but cooperative providers. Historically, though, that’s taken a long time.

    So it’s not really good strategy for most analysts to break free; they should only do this when their current employers no longer earn significant money by making sure that what they say about these customers stays within an acceptable range.

    When that will happen I do not know.

  7. Merv Adrian says:

    “Reputable but cooperative,” you say? ove the expression. I suppose some of us bite the feeding hand more often than others, and I’m not convinced that going on a diet will improve my thinking or my speech much. I can say that I have rarely had any attempts at prior restraint yet (in or out of large research firms) before conversations or invitations to events, even when the vendors are paying. I have no illusions that they will pay me to write negative things, but I’m happy to do that – when appropriate – for free. And though I had some pressure applied to me in my role as an exec at Giga and Forrester, my bosses in both places were clear: if we’re right, and the vendor walks, they walk. Gideon Gartner (and successors) and George Colony both were quite clear on that.

    None of that suggests that analysts don’t perceive the environment they live in, or that they don’t respond to it. But that is another topic entirely, IMHO, and individual, not institutional. At least where I have had the good fortune to work.

  8. Interesting stuff, and I suspect good for the souls of analysts if not the wallets, but then other macro issues likely affect the purse more than (just) blogging.

    I was a very busy consultant for many years, often specializing in small business and communities for the reasons evident in IT analyst blogs today — selfish in some respects for if markets fail sufficiently then eventually it becomes profitable– or at least results in fewer losses — to unplug.

    I never made much money in consulting — which included a fair amount of analysis and reporting — in large part due to a model that generally rewarded the most profitable firms when propping up management that should have been replaced. I have no regrets. I’ve seen the results of scum rising to the top often enough.

    Seems to me that an important underlying theme here is similar to day one of commercialization of the Internet — one of trust. While I am no fan of the pervasive freeism culture to include the wealthiest orgs in the world, it seems to me that when dealing with public mediums — particularly when one’s name is on the header — transparency is essential; if not to build brands then certainly to protect them.

    Well, no one can claim it’s been a boring ride. Thanks for discussion. –MM

  9. Merv Adrian says:

    Thank YOU for joining in, Mark. I agree about transparency – late last year I began listing any client relationships at the bottom of blog posts about them.

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