Twitter Drafting – Marketing in the Tweetstream

Racing fans – cars or bicycles – are familiar with the concept of drafting – travelling close behind another vehicle to reduce wind resistance. The concept is sometimes applied to marketing by savvy practitioners who use the spend of others to multiply their own impact in public consciousness. In recent months, I’ve noticed a growing use of twitter by companies – including research firms – to exploit the new social channel this way.

It’s not new. Back in the days when Comdex was the biggest, most interesting show in IT, one could sometimes find the most intriguing offerings, especially from small firms with correspondingly small budgets, in hotel rooms nearby. Rather than paying the sizable fees required to participate officially, these nimble players bypassed the show entirely and found ways to reach attendees and draw them to parties, chili cook offs, etc. to get their message across.

The age of twitter, and especially hashtags, has created a new opportunity. If you don’t know what a hashtag is, they are words preceded by the # sign, a convention that allows an event – like #IBMPulse or #OracleOpenWorld – to sustain what is known as a tweetstream of messages the community interested in the event can follow. (Hashtags are used for other topics too, but that’s not relevant here.)

How does the crafty practitioner use hashtags to get an extra kick for his or her message? By putting out their own tweets and using someone else’s hashtag. Examples: tweeting about your competing product during a vendor show, or in a tweetstream that has sprung up around an event like a product intro or news story.

Analysts can jump into a tweetstream to promote their own work inside the stream around a vendor’s show. I’ve done that myself – it’s a great way to find new followers.

Some have gone further still – lately I’ve seen twitter-savvy analysts like Ray Wang promote their firm’s work even inside a competitor firm’s event tweetstream.  It’s a great way to find the right audience at the right time, and another powerful example of how twitter and other social media challenge existing business models.

Update: in the day following this post, I observed two more instances at the Gartner MDM event I was attending. Another independent analyst used the hashtag to add commentary – on the mix of attendees of the event, which he was not present for. And a vendor, not sponsoring, retweeted something I said, adding a link to their own website. What’s your opinion of these tactics? Leave your comments below – I hope to have a lively discussion. 

The State of The Industry Analyst

How’s that for a ridiculous title? This piece is nowhere near as ambitious as that; it’s a response to some typically provocative comments from Gideon Gartner, a founder and arguably the most iconic figure in our industry. In his blog post Advisory Industry, a future redesign: the Payment Model, Gartner challenges his readers to think again about the business model of technology research and advisory firms. I was moved to comment, as many others have been, and after posting my thoughts, I decided to put them up here as well. But before you read on, I encourage you to read Gideon’s post.  Go ahead – I’ll wait here. Read more of this post

IBM Software Partner Programs To Get a Boost From Sandy Carter

Sandy Carter is excited. If you know her, that shouldn’t be a surprise – she’s one of the most enthusiastic, engaging and social media-savvy folks at IBM. And after a couple of years with WebSphere, where she has been an effective leader and evangelist , she’s taken on a new challenge: taking IBM’s already exemplary partner programs to another level. Sandy’s new title is Vice President,  IBM Software Group Channels. Read more of this post

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.