Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where does Analyst Blogging Belong?

Around the end of last week, Carter Lusher kicked off a mini-firestorm (among the rather small percentage of the Internet that cares about Industry Analysts) by reporting that Forrester Research was apparently implementing some new blogging policies.

I’ll let you read Josh Bernoff’s post for the details but basically:

  1. Posts pertaining to an analyst’s area of research are now to be posted on Forrester’s Web site
  2. Analysts can continue to maintain personal blogs on topics that are not related to their work at Forrester

Now, some of the reaction seems to have been an initial knee-jerk response to Carter’s initial posting that left open the possibility that Forrester was banning personal blogs period. This seemed unlikely to me but, until Forrester PR fleshed out the specifics of the policy changes, it’s what a lot of people assumed. And it’s very understandable why a lot of people (including myself) would have considered such to be way over the line.

I understand the negative reaction to the actual policy far less. I tend to try to stay out of these meta-blogging and meta-analyst topics but I’ve been having a fair bit of back-channel conversation on this, so I wanted to just summarize a few thoughts here.

As many of you reading this probably know, I work for a boutique industry analyst firm, Illuminata. And I blog.

I started blogging on my own site in 2003. Truth be told, I started in part to give a bit of a kick in the pants to an Illuminata blogging platform project that was taking longer to get going than I would have liked.

We soon got our official blog going and that’s where I post my short-form Illuminata research that happens to be published using a blog (Wordpress) technology platform. I continue to also post on my personal site; many of those postings still relate to technology but of a sort, such as consumer product reviews, that are not appropriate as Illuminata research.

And, make no mistake, when an analyst publishes a blog related to their coverage area, it is viewed as research. It may be shorter. It may be less formal. It may be published under tighter time constraints. But I assure you that if I make a factual error or state an opinion that doesn’t sit well with someone, no one at that vendor cares that it was published in a blog rather than a research note.

(Yes, there is some level of understanding that short, quick pieces may not go through as rigorous a review process and may not provide as complete a context for the opinions expressed as a longer piece, but my basic point stands.)

I write all this as preamble to the point that we never had any real discussion about the assumption that when we wrote about topics pertaining to Illuminata focus areas, we would publish those on Illuminata’s site rather than our own. For one thing, it seemed clear that we were producing this work as an employee and it belonged under the Illuminata brand—with our bylines.

The other thing though is that I don’t think I would necessarily have even wanted to combine it with my personal blog. Illuminata aggregated our enterprise IT writings in a way that provided a certain critical mass and awareness. In addition, although I know not everyone feels this way, I like the freedom to have some leeway with my own blog. That doesn’t mean I think I can say and write anything with impunity. But it does mean I can post some vacation pictures or make a political statement without worrying that doing so would be out of place in a 'professional blog. For me, maintaining at least some nominal separation between personal and professional has merit. (Although, to be sure, I don’t do so on twitter.)

And while different firms may have different policies, Illuminata’s approach seems pretty typical to me. Even where the blogs and analysts are most clearly individualistic, there’s usually a very clear connection to the firm name and brand.

I have come to see points on the other side of this argument as it’s raged over the past few days. For example, I can understand the reluctance of someone with a well-established personal/professional blog to abandon it upon joining a firm. And I can understand why an analyst would like to take their content with them if they leave. However, I don’t think it’s too cavalier to note that when people, especially high-profile people, join or leave organizations that often forces changes to what they can say, where they can say it, and how they present themselves in public.

It’s easy to see why people react instinctively to what they perceive as a stifling of individuality. And perhaps, as some commenters have suggested, these policies about blogging reflect deeper cultural or policy shift; I don’t know. But in the end, a policy that puts analyst research on the analyst site doesn’t sound unreasonable.


Anonymous said...

Great post - thanks.

I have read the recent chat with interest. As I see it the question is really about definitions of is an analyst an individual or an asset (sorry a bit impersonal but in this context it works).

I have watched with interest how the smaller AR firms who's brands are their people - don't want to bore you with you all the details of who they are - have presented their value on blogs and aletred us to their opinons via Twitter, while the larger firms that have spent years and thousands of dollars on building brands that are greater than the indiviual grappel with the issue of how to 'handle' the individual vs protecting the brand.

Like you I see both sides, but with blogging it is a platform for influence the issue is how great is that influence/reach compared to other channels.

Long term I think we will move to a static state where some firms will control their blog twitter presence to protect the brand and the smaller/niche individual firms will continue to reap the benefits of this platform as much as possible.

Gordon Haff said...

@marcduke I'd just caution that it's not as simple as small firm vs. big firm. Unsurprisingly, it does tend to be the bigger firms that focus more on the firm brand than the individual analyst identity. And some actively downplay the idea of "star analysts." But there are high profile analysts at big frims and small firms that have a clear overall brand in addition to those of the individual analysts.

And "influence" is a complicated question; it's not necessarily the same as popularity or reach.