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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.