Archive | AR debates

[GUEST POST] Measuring online influence

By Duncan Brown / Influencer50 (LinkedIn, @duncanwbrown).

This second post on online influence looks at how one might measure influence using online metrics. It follows on from last week’s post which posed a lot of questions, but few answers. Fair cop.

But first, I think there are a couple of principles of influence to consider:

1. People buy people. Therefore influence measures need to identify individuals. It’s not sufficient to conclude that Gartner (for example) is influential – duh. Vendors need to know (a) who within Gartner is influential, (b) what’s their influence relative to other analyst influencers, and (c) what’s their influence relative to other non-analyst influencers. Influence isn’t distributed equally, either within organisations or throughout the market.

2. Influence is multi-dimensional. Some influencers are subject gurus, some command statutory authority, some are thought leaders and idea planters, some structure the financial elements of procurement, and so on. It’s important to understand why someone is influential, as much as the fact that they are influential.

So. Let’s look at some of the ways influence claims to be measured online:

– Citations – this measures the number of times a source refers back to an originating source. Google PageRank works this way: it rates pages highly if other people link back to it. It’s also how academic research works: a recent paper will refer to previous papers, and the more references a paper gets the more influential it is considered to be. Its strength is its weakness – it will persist in referring back to previously cited sources, even if they become superceded. It also build in something called the Matthew effect, where longevity is favoured over originality.

– Connections – how many outbound links a source has. LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (following) and other social networks work this way. Count the connections to determine how well connected the person is. It’s also easy to fake, by link swaps, indiscriminate “friending” and so on.

– Subscriptions and readership – Technorati works this way, measuring the number of readers a blog has, and Twitter also publishes this information as followers.

– Noise – references to subjects and/or individual firms. Radian 6, Techrigy, and a bunch of other providers do this, measuring the number of times your firm is mentioned. Some also claim to measure the sentiment of the mention, usually using natural language processing tech.

All of these measures are indicators of online activity, and you can see the usefulness of them, as far as they go. They are, in my view, the equivalent of PR clippings services.

However, none of them measure whether the critical community, decision makers, are remotely influenced by online channels. It’s always necessary to ask: Influence on whom? Do any of these measures accurately assess the impact on real decision makers? In other words, do they measure the likely impact on behaviour of a buyer? Because if they don’t, if they measure a vague notion of industry activity or sentiment, then do they really reflect the ecosystem of influencers that impacts decisions?

More critically, can vendors construct marketing programmes around these measures to improve knowledge, lead generation and useful sales collateral? Because if they can’t, what are these measures useful for?

Tssk – more questions.That last one was rhetorical.

Next week’s post will probably pose more questions about how AR can use online channels to increase influence on their firms’ prospective customers.

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[Guest Post] Have online channels changed the nature of influence?

By Duncan Brown / Influencer50 (LinkedIn, @duncanwbrown).

Determining the impact of the growth in online channels such as social media is one of the things that taxes most of us. I’m forever seeing new ‘influencer tracker’ services pop up, and in the world of analyst relations there’s continual discussion on whether and how to engage in online options like blogs, podcasts and social networking.

In response to the explosion of online influencer tracker services – there are over 100 nowadays, and counting – Nick Hayes and I wrote a paper* on how we think they are misleading marketers. The paper led to an invitation to post on the IIAR blog, to hopefully spark some discussion – thanks for the invite, Ludovic.

This first post focuses on whether influence as a concept has changed with the use of online channels. The second will look at how influence can be measured using online metrics. And the third will discuss the implications of online channels for AR and Influencer Relations professionals.

There’s an important context to any debate on influence, online or otherwise. It is that ecosystems of influencers are highly fragmented these days. Most decision makers are influenced by the traditional journalists and analysts, but also by consultants, academics, regulators, financiers, sourcing advisors, procurement professionals and other specialists, as well as peer end users.

Much of the influence exerted by this group has been enabled, in large part, by online channels. This has been an ongoing process for a decade. The web and search engines make it easier for anyone to reach the market, and easier for buyers to find what they’re looking for. Blogs and podcasts increase the reach of anyone inclined to use them. Social media is just the next step in this evolution – there’s no social media revolution going on.

But social media has provided a new channel for those people with the potential to influence, making communication between those people frictionless.  To reach a group of like-minded adopters of a technology you used to have to organise a meeting in a mutually inconvenient location. Nowadays, you organise an unconference or participate in an online forum. It used to take months to organise an event, now it can take hours.

But has the nature of influence changed? Are decision makers influenced in different ways through online channels? You’d think so, given the hype, but as Nate Elliott at Forrester observed, “the huge majority of users influence each other face to face rather than through social online channels.”

It makes sense to understand the attributes of influence – the ability to discuss and persuade, knowledge and experience, willingness to express an opinion, the authority and gravitas with which to communicate that opinion, the opportunity to convey that opinion to the right audience at the right time. And so on.

Some of these attributes are facilitated by online channels, for sure. Others are removed from online impact completely. There’s no doubt that some of the smaller analyst firms, for example, are benefitting from their online presence, in terms of reaching their potential audience through blogging and other social media technologies. But these channels are not creating expertise or authority – simply the means to communicate them.

Can social media create a new kind of influence, by collative the collective wisdom of a connected crowd? After all, there is safety in numbers in doing what the crowd does. We used to have a version of that in the IT industry – no-one ever got fired for buying IBM. Imagine the power of that kind of statement, communicated instantly over the blogosphere. Or would it be immediately challenged and rejected by real users’ experience?

So, are analysts influencing via online channels? How is influence really conveyed by analysts to decision makers? Has it moved mainly to online or is it still by telephone enquiries and face-to-face advice?

*Free registration required, or email me at duncan.brown(at)influencer50.com. Barbara French also contributed to the paper.

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Is shooting on the referee productive?

Contentious conversation 1 – integrity of analysts and the future of AR

Bribery illustration in a blog post by Jonny Bentwood for the IIAR website

Blog by Tom Bittman from Gartner: A Rant – My Integrity as an Analyst

Summary: Gartner analyst angry that he has to justify his integrity

My view: Edelman trust barometer consistently shows that over the past few years analysts are the most trusted

Key comments: Vinnie Mirchandani questioning whether Gartner’s reliance on large vendor subscriptions means that their reports are truly representative Continue Reading →

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MQs, accreditation and a debate on IT services – all in the same evening

Those of us fortunate enough to be able to attend* yesterday’s IIAR Forum enjoyed a treat.

Ed Gyurko presented the latest IIAR whitepaper on Magic Quadrant submissions (available from Monday, free of charge to members).  It will prove immensely useful to those who have to work on the seminal Gartner reports.

Following Ed was David Taylor who spoke about the IIAR’s plans for AR accreditation. These are really starting to take shape. David and the group he’s been working with deserve a lot of thanks for their hard work to date.   There’s more that still needs to be done – but it’s definitely getting there and that’s very exciting.

And then we had the third highlight of the meeting – a spirited and informative debate with analysts from three firms that are focused on the IT services market:  Kate Hanaghan of Bathwick, John Willmott from NelsonHall and Puni Rajah of TechMarketView (who was joined by her colleague Anthony Miller).

There are some clear differences between the three firms but all three are in agreement: relationships with clients are the key for success in the next 12 months.  There was also consensus that good analyst firms would survive but there would be casualties among those unable to demonstrate the value they deliver.

While all three acknowledged the difficulties of doing business in the current market, TechMarketView was very upbeat about the future.  Puni and Anthony are predicting that the overall analyst market will grow in size over the next year (and as a result, there will be more demand for AR people).  It will be nice if those predictions come true.

There was plenty more discussion and our hour was quickly over. If you couldn’t make it, then I’m sorry. You did miss a really good meeting.

Finally, thanks to our analyst speakers for coming along and taking part in an absolutely fascinating debate.

Also a big thank you to Robert De Souza who chaired the analyst discussion, Laura Woodward who hosted the meeting and Hannah Kirkman, the IIAR secretary for bring it all together.

* Attendees came from a wide range of companies including Accenture, BT, Capgemini, Cisco, CSC, CustomerClix, Edelman, HCL, Hill & Knowlton, Logicalis, Nortel, Oracle, Prasada, Richmond Green, Sunesis, Weber Shandwick and Zeus.

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Ethics and Independence Among Industry Analysts

There’s been a bit of a discussion going around lately on ethics in the industry analyst sector.

I understand why the ‘pay for play’ model can seem an attractive option for smaller companies looking to generate business but firms that go down this route always tend to get found out. Their credibility is eroded, they cannot attract quality analysts and their business slowly disappears.

Any analyst firm which values its long-term reputation in the market has to ensure that its research is independent (and also seen to be independent: for instance, I’d argue that there’s a greater need for analyst firms which produce sponsored research to be very open about their methodologies so they avoid any suggestion of conflict of interest).

However we do need to be realistic about the economics of the analyst business. Most analyst firms couldn’t exist without vendor cash – be it via sponsored research, consulting projects or speaking engagements.

And so long as analyst firms clearly communicate who is sponsoring their work, I’m fine with that. After all, the old principle of “caveat emptor” must always apply.

But what about:

  • the UK company that publishes a company profile – but gives no indication that the piece was commissioned by the vendor (and for which the vendor was effectively given copy approval)
  • the analyst that writes blog posts promoting a project that his consultancy is involved in – without disclosing his connection
  • the division of a large group that prioritises briefings based on the likelihood of selling reprints of the resulting company profile
  • the analysts that use a briefing as an opportunity to pitch their own services
  • the global company that says its analysts are more likely to recommend vendor clients to prospective buyers (because the analysts know clients better than those that are non-clients)
  • the vertical firm that refuses to take briefings with non-clients because it’s so busy doing consulting work it can only handle briefing requests from clients
  • and what about this experience highlighted by the corporate AR team at HP?

Thankfully these kinds of behaviour are limited and the examples are few and far between. But it does still happen.

As analyst relations professionals, we face a challenge. What responsibility do we have for ensuring these practices are stamped out? Are we proactive or do we just refuse to support them? Do we have a ‘quiet word’ in the right ear? Do we out the bad apples in public?

Or do we turn a blind eye – because actually it’s good to know that you can sometimes bung a few quid to an analyst and get something positive written-up about the company we work for?

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