Should the analysts be blogging?

Phil Fersht (ex. AMR) started an interesting conversation on his Outsourcing Blog: Horses for Sources with a post titled  The great analyst firewall: will banning analysts from blogging damage the traditional research business, or help create an entirely new one?

I really like those quotes in particular, the first one depicts the onset of the analyst scene in the noughties (IMHO Phil, it happened a bit before though):The Skills of Star Performers Aren’t Portable

The “rock star” analyst had arrived. People paid good money to spend time with these people, to hear their views, use them as a sounding-board, or just to be associated with them. And their growing corporate stables certainly didn’t refuse the increasing moneys that came rolling in off the back of their growing relationships and influence. The rock stars created buzz and drove the industry, challenging both vendors and customers to innovate and transform business models.

However, like anything else, corporates like to monetize their brands to the max, scale their businesses and drive down their costs. It’s business economics one-on-one, and the big analyst firms are no different.

And its consequence:

We want Bill, not Ben

Having their clients say “I want Bill, not Ben” was (and still is) infuriating to the analyst firms. They want their clients to pay the same for the 28-year old fresh from her MBA, than they did for the rock stars of yesteryear. And they’re currently succeeding, as there aren’t too many alternatives right now.

Now, as a self-confessed “ex-Rockstar” puts it, it doesn’t go without implications for the business model, and maybe this is why Forrester, but also Gartner restricts analysts to blogging on their coverage areas to their corporate site, while Ovum doesn’t even feature their analyst bios on their extranets:

A (now departed for vendor land) fellow ex-analyst at IDC used to say that most of the firms could never figure out how to deal with an analyst transitioning from labor to talent since you pay each of those people in very different ways. Talent drives revenues, but paying people as talent is bad for profit plans.

To me this is quite obvious: the result of analysts work (read when paid by their employers) is intellectual property. And since that IP is not only created during business hours (whatever that means nowadays), it rightly belong to the analyst firms -just like inventions and patents they might come up with. This is purely hypothetical because never has one ever heard of a patent filed by an IT analyst. (DISCLAIMER: yes, provocative statement, but who knows we might learn something cool from the comments of this posts?)

So, just get over it, who gives a damn anyway? BTW, check Josh’s comment in the thread and you’ll see the Forrester blogs debate has no raison d’être. Merv also blogger here about the different policies here, good wrap up with lots of quotes.

More intriguing are firms without a presence at all in the online conversation -I’d say they’re missing out, both on branding, influence, research validation, etc… There’s little evidence to back this up (cf. Gerry‘s comment).

So, where does it lead us? One sub-header gives up a clue to the real issue, and that’s way beyond blogging:

Aren’t analysts supposed to create buzz?

Well, maybe but not only. To me, an analyst’s job is, er how to say, to analyse. Big word, I know. Hard to spell too.

One very important aspect that Phil eludes is the actual process of generating research. Yes, it can be helped by social media but in the end everyone needs to solidify tag clouds into an end-product that can put up for sale. It used to be research notes, maybe it will be something else in the future but for now there are few other deliverables that have more weight (for the lack of another word) than a Gartner Magic Quadrant.

So is that another case of “can’t be fired for sticking with Gartner”? Or IDC, Forrester, Ovum, etc… Should AR professionals just keep to the safe choices, to the household brands and leave the noise from twitterville, the irrational exuberance of the blogosphere to their public relations colleagues, with their new and shiny social media hat?

For those large firms it sometimes feels though that while we have gained on one side in terms of rigorous research processes, transparency and consistency across the board (although some firms still struggle with those points) we have lost some of the thought leadership. I would dare to ask if too many processes and increased pressure on research target doesn’t make the resulting research less original and timely, more bland?

So have the mature IT analysts firms grown up to the point they can’t come up with some BHAT -Big Hairy Audacious Thought?

Some certainly seem to think that and started their blogs before they opened for business. There are wicked smart people out there, really clever folks who have broken the big firm shackles, others coming from left field. I’ve been in meetings with some and they even play well together, if you can harness that collective energy it can rock your world. Some execs like it, some not -it’s horses for courses.

The only problem is that there’s now so much opinion out there, so many blogs, that influence is more diffuse, harder to track -or even suspect sometimes. I don’t have anything against vendor-side analysts, they’re really helpful to vendors to get their messaging and GMT right. Procurement consultants are also part of the ecosystem, but their rants rarely amount to thought-provoking research, right?

It seems in the rush for everyone to have a conversation 2.0, people just forgot about content. Or insight for that matter. What’s the point of buzz if there’s no substance? Just buy Heat Magazine or any other rag for that. More seriously, while for instance Twitter is very helpful and conversations maybe interesting, as Duncan Brown puts it here:

If influencers are not online, then there’s no point in you trying to find them and interact with them there. Some influencers eschew online channels for communication, because of the time it diverts from other activities.

So being online and part of the conversation doesn’t mean you have something to say (self depreciating punt intended). Nor does it equates to a business model, not one that scales up anyway: behind the Altimeter exception, many independent analysts struggle selling their time because they don’t have the reach, the address book, the brand or the end-user sales force.

Where I’d like to leave you for now (and that’s a great start for the comment thread) is that it seems that at the large firms have lost some of thinking agility while growing up but they are still the influence kings when it comes to influencing deals.
On the other side, there are lots of very talented thinkers in the ecosystem but precisely because they are a lot, they don’t have the same brand and influence.

Key takeways and actions:

  • IT vendors and users alike want thought-provoking research, and yes rock-stars (but without the diva attitude please). Check Tony’s comment in the thread…
  • If you’re a research firm and not there, join the conversation -there’s a lot to gain in terms of influence and reach. Would you have a shop without a window? Unless you’re selling a certain class of litterature, but I wouldn’t put analysts reports in this category.
  • Issues for AR: drinking from the fire hose (staying up to speed with blogs) and difficulty to “reverse the damage“, opinion consistency across a firm. Oh, and absence of draft review and live conference tweeting can quickly turn into an AR nightmare in some circumstances.
  • Positives for AR include a more reactive commentary on announcements.
  • Issues for analyst firms: manage brand and IP, egos while allowing thought leadership and individual opinions into the conversation, balance free content.
  • Issues for analysts of larger firms: develop personal brand under the umbrella of a firm and abide by the policies.
  • Issues for independent analysts: increase awareness and brand, be seen as a thought leader but bear in mind that this time spent doesn’t add up to the bottom-line.

24/2/10 @2316: made some minor updates, in green.
25/2/10: corrected Phil’s name.

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21 Responses to Should the analysts be blogging?

  1. marcduke Wednesday 24th February 2010 at 23:02 #

    Ludovic great post. Thought I would share my comment from Jonny B Altimeter post as I think it is very relevant to this thread:

    I find that as the big get bigger Gartner, Datamonitor etc… we have the exciting evolution of the independents RedMonk, CCS and of course now Altimeter – the good news for us AR folk is we need to really get our heads round exactly how the new boys influence (BTW no insunation that the Altimeter team are inexperienced I am just talking of company age !!!).

    Having read the recent Forrester blog debate with great interest I think the social media platform has definitely acted as a catalyst for the creation of the nimbel, social media savvy influencer firm in a very dramatic way.

    In terms of who is an analyst and who is not I’ll continue to take the influencer approach: do or don’t they influence customer purchasing/decision making and market thinking. Irrespective of what they do/don’t sell. So Altimeter is on my AR list and I look forward to meeting the folks when they are in Europe.

    PS note the new blog site: http://marcduke.wordpress.com/

  2. Henrietta Lacey-Gutsell Thursday 25th February 2010 at 09:52 #

    Certainly lots of interesting points raised here and food for thought. From an AR perspective, getting companies to realise the value of social media in today’s communications world is rather an uphill struggle. Some do ‘get it’ and become the real champions among colleagues but others require continual persuasion and coercion to at least give it a go. A lot of the time I think it’s just fear of the unknown – once people have a go for themselves they see it really is quite easy, even if you just make little steps, and not just something for their teenage kids at home!

    Certainly having analysts join the forum really adds credibility to the social media platform. What better way to reach out to a like-minded audience and generate discussion without the hassle and commitment of travelling to a trade show, for instance. I also think it presents a great opportunity for smaller companies to engage directly with analysts and initiate new relationships.

    There is a note of caution, however, and that is that analysts don’t become susceptible to posting short snappy comments that attract interest without having the research to back it up. We now advise clients of three media channels: journalists, analysts and bloggers. The new category of bloggers mostly consist of journalists but some analysts could fall into the category if tweets and blogs lose their credibility as thought-provoking pieces of analysis.

    I am now much quicker to distance myself from those who would rather just tell me what they had for lunch over twitter. Seriously, who is interested in that and has the time to read such inanity? Yet there are some incredibly powerul blogs that have generated realms of intelligently presented arguments that really widen the current debates among alike minded peers.

    Let us not be too scared of the unknown bur rather use social media as a useful channel of debate.

  3. Henrietta Lacey-Gutsell Thursday 25th February 2010 at 09:55 #

    I should just add lots of journalists write thought-provoking pieces of commentary through blogs too, no offence intended!

  4. Duncan Chapple Thursday 25th February 2010 at 11:46 #

    Analysts blog when they see a material interest. A manager who see an analyst start to blog, tweet and network outside of the cmompany’s framework is like a husband whose wife dies her hair red and starts going to the gym: they think they are looking for more then they are getting now.

    Blogging is not produced because it’s a public service, but because it helps the writers to meet their own goals. Unless the analyst firm has a conscious and collective discussion about how the firm makes social media work for the paying customers, then it can be a dangerous diversion of resources.

    • Merv Adrian Friday 16th April 2010 at 17:41 #

      Dying my hair red…hmm. Maybe I’ve been gray long enough. I’ve already been going to the gym, though not enough.

      Seriously, though – the opportunity in “rockstar” analyst external blogs is the same for their firms as it is or might be for them: more visibility and the possibility of more business.

      So far, the big firms have only hesitantly embraced the idea, because they are constrained by the idea that their paying customers will be offended by seeing content elsewhere that they piad for “exclusive” access to. But the truth is they have been selling connection, not content, for a long time. They just haven’t aligned their business processes with that idea yet.

  5. Phil Fersht Thursday 25th February 2010 at 13:59 #

    Speaking from personal experience of this issue, having analysts actually have personal blogs isn’t really a huge deal. Why? Because only a handful would bother. Most analysts spend all day writing and the last thing many of them want to do is write blogs too when the could be watching “Idol”…

    Plus – believe it or not – many analysts aren’t very good blog writers. A research report is very different from a blog post. Blogs are all about the author, require personality, and unafraid opinion (the credibility is in the eye of the reader).

    The effort to drive and maintain a blog is huge, and you need a lot of willpower and dedication to make one work – and it takes blimming ages. Only a few analysts have successful personal blogs today, and it’s unlikely this number will dramatically increase.

    Most of the succressful “analyst blogs” today are already established, and there really isn’t a lot of room for new ones, without super-human social media dedication from the budding blogger.

    We actively tried to encourage analysts to blog at AMR (pre-Gartner days), and only a couple actually wanted to. The rest were content with the odd guest-post on someone else’s, and soon shied away when they didn’t magically generate hundreds of comments. Plus – most of their blogs were BORING.

    The bigger issue, in my opinion, is the mentality of analyst firms to proactively prohibit it. They made so much money from the rise of the Internet and promoting its potential, and now some are actively not fully embracing its potential for themselves in a world where rapid-fire insight and personal branding (core to analysts) is so important.

    What Forr and Gart are doing with their own blog platforms is good – and an excellent outlet for shoter thought-work. But let’s be honest here – a corporate blog just doesn’t the same personality and edge as a good personal one does.

    If a small handful of their analysts really want to do their own blog too – just let ’em. It will cause them more grief and bad PR by preventing it.

    I wrote more on this issue a couple years’ ago, and nothing’s changed since:

    http://fersht.typepad.com/the_outsourcing_bloghorse/2008/09/where-do-blogs-best-fit.html

    cheers

    PF

  6. Gabriel Gheorghiu Thursday 25th February 2010 at 14:30 #

    I think the question we should ask ourselves is: why would an analyst want to have a personal blog?

    I can think of a few reasons:
    – the analyst feels that (s)he doesn’t have enough freedom to say what (s)he thinks about vendors, products, events, etc
    – the analyst company only publishes blog posts that can bring money to the company
    – the analyst wants to create a reputation independent of the company he works for

    These may not be valid reasons and i imagine there are others. Whatever the reason is, i think that when an analyst wants to have a personal blog, his or her relationship with the analyst firm is not going very well and this is what the company needs to address.

  7. Dennis Howlett Thursday 25th February 2010 at 15:11 #

    @phil’s right but I think he misses a point…if you’re going to be a well read blogger then you need to be able to write. Having one fixed style makes for dullness so it is possible to be a blog/analyst.

    The real problem (to me) is that Gar/Forr/IDC et al are trying desperately to shoehorn this newer medium into an older business model. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a firm level problem and a reason why Forr lost Jeremiah, Charlene and Ray.

    Ray particular has been a master of spreading himself all over the place but with really good content.

    The internet is giving us distribution the analysts thought they owned plus the world is moving so fast that the old world can’t possibly keep up. Net result – these firms will be rendered irrelevant, leaving folks like Ray, Phil, Jeremiah, Charlene…joined by Jonathan Yarmis, Oliver Marks, Vinnie Mirchandani and…dare I say it…myself…with a table ripe for the picking. It’s already started.

    • Phil Fersht Thursday 25th February 2010 at 16:18 #

      Dennis – I made this point in my comment above. As I said, when we tried to get analysts to blog at AMR, most just didn’t have the appetitite, and of those who tried, most struggled to vary their style and personality.

      Social media is beeding a new type of analyst, and as you correctly point out, we’re merely seeing the old-guard trying to shoe-horn today’s world into a tired old model…

      Analysts still have their place to draw their quadrants and rack-and-stack their vendors, but they are in danger of losing out to the new breed…

  8. Robert De Souza Thursday 25th February 2010 at 18:03 #

    @Phil, I think we will find that the market will clearly merge into two parts. The new world analysts/influencers who blog, twitter etc and interact with their audience through these mediums and will predominately work for the smaller firms ans start ups. However the majority of analysts are still in old skool mode and are still able to interact adequately with their client base. If you look at the market that both of us track (BPO, sourcing and services) the majority of analysts and influencers are still not blogging or using twitter. Just look at the analysts that got awards in the IIAR best analyst in our sector. They are able to provide value to their client base and be star analysts and not use social media. Hence I dont completely buy the hype around twitter (which i do use) and other forms of social media when it comes to my particular role as a former analyst and now in analyst relations.

  9. Dennis Howlett Thursday 25th February 2010 at 20:38 #

    @robert – when I 1st saw Twitter, I thought: ‘What a time wasting sink hole.” All I can say is that I know it drives traffic, provides me with leads to fresh insights, has brought me revenue (indirectly.) It’s also brought its share of issues. The incessant pimping of positions by some is tiresome, the potential for spam is another. But overall, if handled well, then Twitter has proven to be a valuable resource I can carry into my writings.

  10. Phil Fersht Thursday 25th February 2010 at 21:24 #

    @Robert. Oh – I just love awards! Would love to hear more about how exactly those are compiled… drop me an email and we can discuss: phil dot fersht at horsesforsources.com

  11. Ludovic Friday 26th February 2010 at 13:23 #

    Rob,
    Quite agree with your comment: blogging is a channel that doesn’t imply that the anlayst is good. There are good bloggers and bad “old school” analysts and vice versa.

    Dennis, Phil,
    Quite agree with your point about shoe-horning blogs into an existing model around subcriptions -for instance I have noticed some IDC Insights content migrated to the blogs and this puts in question the value of our subscription.
    This said, I have yet to see a viable business model for the “new breed”. It’s OK for individuals but only as long as they have some ties into the end-users. Many analysts try to publish research for free on their blogs and then ask for patronage to IT vendors. Most are struggling unfortunately.

    So the new world of IT Analysis 2.0 is largely to be invented IMHO.

    • Phil Fersht Saturday 27th February 2010 at 18:06 #

      Ludovic: word on the street is that a new-age analyst firm is soon being launched which engages social media to drive considerable influence, while also developing a compelling research agenda for paying subscribers….

      Phil

      • Robert De Souza Saturday 27th February 2010 at 19:14 #

        Phil, dont these exists now? The question is how scalable is that type of business model.

  12. Ludovic Monday 1st March 2010 at 11:49 #

    Phil,

    We’re watching this space -that would be really interesting but I must say there’s been so many attempts that I’m cautious and will wait to see the business model before emitting an opinion.

  13. Martin Silman Monday 1st March 2010 at 15:27 #

    Whilst in agreement with most of the previous comments the big question for me is how Social Media will change the business model of a Gartner or an IDC (and if it doesn’t will they survive as newer Social Media based companies with business models that work for them come thru….)

    I know that the big analysts houses live on subscriptions as the average report generates too few hits to justify trying to sell it standalone – so in this world, standard reports plus social media feeds sounds more appealing to me than just standard reports….

    Whether anyone works out how to merchandise it without cannibalising what they have is the interesting question….

  14. Dylan Persaud Wednesday 3rd March 2010 at 03:08 #

    I do agree with most of the blog content, however are analyst just creating buzz with no real value ? Another take on this story is the The evolution of analyst firms and where they are heading.

    http://www.eval-source.com/blog

  15. Phil Fersht Thursday 4th March 2010 at 10:15 #

    Just to add to this discussion – analysts at my new firm WILL be allowed – and encouraged – to have personal blogs.

    PF

  16. Bart Thielbar Saturday 17th April 2010 at 13:05 #

    Hi Ludovic. I enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing.

    Bart

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