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. 

SapphireNow Day Two – Pump It Up

Bill McDermott began the day for Orlando attendees of SapphireNow by demonstrating that there is no charisma deficit at SAP these days, and his co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe was right there behind him to make the case that commitment and strategy are not lacking either. They welcomed Sybase, hailed the new ByDesign release about to ship, and waved the sustainability flag high, leveraging their strong position there. Read more of this post

SapphireNow Day One – Getting Virtual Events Right, And More

I got some great messages today from people who enjoyed my tweets “from” SapphireNow in Orlando – although I wasn’t there. That’s a tribute – not to me; we’re only talking tweets, for goodness’ sake – to SAP for pulling off a two-continent, video-streaming, full-on collaborative event I was able to participate in meaningfully from my desk in California. There was substance, partner announcements, customer dialogue, and star keynoters. A good day, with the best ahead, if my pre-briefs are any indication; there’s more ahead. Read more of this post

Will Tiered Content Strategies Crack the IT Research PayWall?

There are two content models in the IT research world: the PayWall and the freely available. In the former model, the business assumption is that the firm’s revenue stream is largely driven by content subscriptions.  The latter treats content as the best advertising of the firm’s real value: its people and the advice they can offer. And then there are hybrids: some of the content is out there, but not all.

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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

AR: Analysts Don’t List Themselves on Social Media

Several AR professionals have recently asked me how to find industry analyst blogs or Twitter addresses. The immediate answer was to send them to Sage Circle, where a pair of excellent directories are maintained. But the fact of the questions made me revisit the issue with a simple test: if I looked up biographies, would the “official sites” list those links for analysts? Astonishingly, the answer was no. Read more of this post

Anonymity Is A Coward’s Cloak

Some people choose not to identify themselves when they leave blog comments. I recently had a twitter conversation after finding myself dismayed at some particularly inappropriate statements from people with “cute” screen names discussing a vendor who has recently undergone some business transitions. Assertions about the company and alleged co-workers were made that would be fighting words had they occurred in the open. Chris Bird, enterprise architect and blogger, made the comment: “anonymity is a coward’s cloak.” (Chris’ blog, by the way, is well worth reading if you care about software architectures. Follow the link. ) He’s spot on. And he’s made me think about how I manage comments on my blog. Read more of this post

AR: Continuity of Contact Makes A Difference

I’ve been an independent analyst for a few months now, and it’s been an eye-opening experience in many ways. One has been the way some organizations I dealt with for a decade forgot my name the next day. This is not intended to embarrass anyone; I will name no names. It’s about best practices for AR. In the practice I started for Forrester on AR, and in any commentary from authorities like Sage Circle, Knowledge Capital Group, and Lighthouse Analyst Relations, you’ll hear it again and again: “it’s the relationship. stupid.” Perhaps not in those exact words, but you get the idea.   Read more of this post

What’s a Hashtag, and Why Should I Care?

At IBM’s Impact event, Billy Crystal hosted the first day and much hilarity ensued out of Sandy Carter’s avid adoption of social media – especially Twitter. Sandy (sandy_carter if you care to follow her here – well worth it) incorporated tweets creatively into her keynote, showing screens with questions and comments. Like other non-tweeters, Billy loves to make fun of the idea, and the jokes that emerged when Sandy started explaining how the hashtag #ibmimpact was trending into the top ten were over the top. “I know about hash…” [pause] “and when my friends were involved with that, they did twitter a lot…” [pause] You get the idea. Great stuff, even for a techie audience. Read more of this post

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.