On Friday our PR firm sent this post fromSageCirclerelating to Forrester's recent decision (some say it has been in effect since mid to late 2009) to ban all personal blogs from analysts that relate to topics they are researching for Forrester. Forrester states "We believe we can best serve our clients in their professional roles by aggregating our intellectual property in one place – at Forrester.com.
The reality behind this policy is that it is most likely due to the recent departures of several analysts to form their own venture called Altimeter Group. This company was started by Charlene Li who coauthored the book:Goundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.
For those of you in marketing, and involved in social media, Jeremiah Owyangis a very well known figure in the space who has been delivering his insights, and industry musings on social media through his blog Web Strategy. Ray Wang likewise has built up a very successful following on his blog “A Software Insiders Point of View”.
Jemimah, was who many of us turned to for insight into how social media technology was changing the landscape in which we operated in. Jemimah freely gave deep, and compelling insights, and his blog delivered lots of value to that end. His association with Forrester, in my view, really heightened the brand of that analyst company, and positioned them as a leading consulting firm in social media and marketing.
The action of Forrester limiting the blogging of their anlaysts made me recall the musings of David Armano and his “Brandividuals”: “Brandividuals are people who represent your brand and their own, balancing the two may be something we see more of, not less as companies and brands try to figure out how to engage on a web that’s become increasingly social and personal.”. David uses several examples of well known brandividules who are associated with their company, for example Scott Monty at Ford, and Frank Eliason of Comcastcares. David also pointed out last year that there were going to be some sticky issues arising out of the convergence of personal, and business brands.
Basically today when you hire someone you bring their on-line social network into your company, and when they leave they take it with them. I love to draw parallels in the context of what's old is new again, and this case really makes the point. It used to be that if you hired a well known sales guy in the industry you hired him for his skill, and his “Rolodex”. If you hired a great PR firm you hired them for their relations with relevant media in priority industries, and you generally wanted your key people to speak at conferences, as it was “good for the brand”. At those conferences they met people which would undoubtedly lead to opportunities, and in some cases that would lead to opportunities outside of your company.
Whats ultimately changed is that it used to take the leverage of a strong business brand to fuel the development of a strong personal brand in the off line centric reality of the old world. What's new today is that, in a growing number of cases, the individual has a powerful individual brand associated with them prior to coming to the company brand. These days more companies want and desire a strong personal brand coming to work for them for a variety of reasons. In many cases a strong personal brand is becoming a requirement, as the first thing that everyone does when they hear of a new hire is to Google them, to see if they know anything about what they were hired to do.
This reality is driving many individuals to become cognizant of the need to develop a reputable on-line “brand” reputation. When I say on-line brand I'm not speaking in the sense that we will become Brittany Spears.com, but that we have commentary on our industry, or have points of view relevant to our profession. What will need to change is the new set of engagement rules between business, and individuals in this will new networked environment where social-business become one.
Forrester's policy of stopping analysts from blogging on their own personal blogs about industry research is ripe with old world thinking about controlling the message and the individual. Old ways of thinking where the businesses can control the brand experience and the buying process have fallen by the wayside as a result of near frictionless way of communication and accessing information. There is no doubt in my mind that Forrester is trying to hang on to the old way of thinking by instituting a moronic policy of trying to control their analysts voices. I believe that, from Forrester's point of view, if they force analysts to only blog on Forrester-branded blogs this will then add equity to the Forrester brand and more revenue.
Why is this moronic? Because Forrester's core brand experience and value ultimately lies in the brain matter, notoriety, skill, and engagement that each individual analyst has with potential and current customers. The individual analyst is the brand, not the Forrester logo or the CEO. In an age of frictionless communication, why would you control the voice of your #1 sales person, which is your analyst. This is part of a common problem of business today.
It used to be that business knew their customers and had personal relationships with each of them. Technology and scale created a distance and ability for us to hide behind-- email, voice mail, and web sites. How many companies out there today answer their phones with a human? How many companies put pictures of their product managers and how to contact them on the website? We are moving back to the future where people buy from other people they trust, and who they think are knowledgeable.
Jeremiah was the #1 marketing machine for Forrester, and drove substantial business their way. Furthermore, if you lock your analysts only into Forrester blogs you are, by default, limiting the web surface-area that people can find these analysts on. In using the Forrester reasoning, you might as well limit their involvement in industry events or other social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, because they could build up a presence and contacts that could lead them away from Forrester at some point.
Forrester didn't realize that the equity of the on-line brand reputation of Jemimah Owyang was tightly integrated to the equity of Forrester in that space. To be honest, Forrester added a lot of equity to the personal brand of Jeremiah as many business paid a little more attention to him since he was part of a respected tier 1 analyst firm. I'm sure many of his calls were taken, as a result of the Forrester association, than if he were making calls as Jeremiah the blogger. So, the relationship is a two way street. What would have been more productive than issuing some mindless policy would be to explore ways that both brands could continue adding value to each other. For example:
- Find ways to co-brand and co-market each other. A star analyst is like a star basket ball player. They bring in tickets.
- The obligatory disclosure that this is my personal blog and does not reflect my employees view
- Develop ways to funnel inquires on the personal blog directly to Forrester.
- Co-blog on both a personal and a branded site.
The real issue here of course is money. As Jeremiah grew in notoriety more clients came to the door. Jeremiah worked triple duty in his spare time driving insight and content and building a social media practice at Forrester that in turn brought in more clients. At some point the question was asked as to what am I getting for this. Forrester obviously had a different view for the relationship than say Jeremiah. Now I'm speculating on all this, but I think its a safe bet as to how things evolved.
There wouldn't be any issue here if Jemimah never left and that is where the convergence of personal and business brands or 'Brandividuals” will continue to collide in a growing fashion. It's always been tricky when a star employee leaves for a competitor or starts his own business in your industry. That has always happened, and always will. Again whats old is new.
Just as a star sales person who has built a new line of business for you will undoubtedly ask for a larger piece of the pie so to will brandividuals. Technology and social media is bringing back the individual with a vengeance, and companies will need to realize that new engagements, and new business models are required. Not a policy that limits how you communicate. Nuff Said.