Brand before individual – Forrester bans personal blogs

08Feb10

Josh Bernoff makes the pertinent point about Forrester, in the same bracket as other IP focussed companies like the New York Times and CBS:

the opinions of our analysts are our product

This is the basis of the sole argument that has made the Forrester ban all personal blogs covering topics related to their coverage area in favour of Forrester.com branded ones.

This post has two purposes, firstly I’d like to share my own opinion of this and secondly review the way that Forrester have handled it.

Forrester POV (taken and summarised from Josh Bernoff and Augie Ray)

  • Analyst opinions are are part of the content they create for their employers, who are in the content business.
  • It serves Forrester’s clients better to be able to get to all their blogs from one place
  • Clients will know the opinions of analysts that they see are part of the other opinions they read in our reports, in press quotes, and in everywhere else we talk.
  • Forrester analysts will all have their own blogs within the new platform, and this will continue to furnish a platform for sharing their insights and building individual reputations.
  • No truth in the opinion that Forrester might want to restrict individual brand building

Those in favour (largely taken SageCircle analysis)

  • For analyst relations teams with Forrester analysts ranked high on their lists, this new Forrester policy could be a benefit by decreasing the number of blogs that AR has to monitor.
  • Unlikely that analysts with personally-branded research blogs will quit  especially in this economic environment where job opportunities are still at a premium.

Those against (largely taken from ZDNet bloggers Dennis Howlett and Michael Krigsman)

  • It represents an epic E2.0 fail.
  • Previous blogging stars (such as Jeremiah Owyang and Ray Wang) brought in revenue to Forrester but were not rewarded for their efforts. This move reinforces the problem.
  • Forrester will lose star analysts over restrictive social media policy, but they already factored that into the plan
  • The Redmonk model of personal brand promotion combined with rock solid analysis/support for developers is proven as a business model. Can that be transmuted to the likes of Forrester or Gartner?

Those on twitter

  • Sometimes it is the analyst’s rep that is the draw. – David Rossiter
  • Quality of individuals underpins quality of expected firm – Veselina Buie
  • Should IP-based companies stop personal blogs?” No; should encourage cross-posting though. – Larry Hawes
  • Keeping all the IP in-house makes the most sense from a brand PoV. – IDC EMEA
  • Banning blogging dehumanises a company. I don’t only want to hear from the CEO/the ads. – Will Humphrey
  • Every company is IP-based – Joe Baguley

My opinion

Forrester are known to punch above their weight in social media. I am often delighted to observe that in a world where Gartner’s 800lb gorilla is the lead in most spaces, Forrester has proven itself a worthwhile competitor. Their hires have been both groundbreaking and successful. What Forrester did successfully is get the best in the industry to join them and contribute their IP to the brand.

What went wrong though was when the ‘individual brand’ left the ‘Forrester brand’. Suddenly Forrester lost its revenue stream from their celebrity cash cows. To solve this, Forrester changed its policy to a pragmatic – ‘lets bring everything under one roof approach’.

Shame on Forrester. They are known for being experts in social media and then get it so fundamentally wrong. In my opinion they made three fundamental mistakes:

  1. Sometimes the individual is more important than the firm. Blogging and social media is all about authenticity, transparency and engagement. What this policy has done has removed a degree of trust from these core values as it can appear that Forrester does not trust its authors. If Forrester doesn’t trust them, then why should the readership.
  2. They discounted the views and opinions of their readers. I didn’t really believe they expected it to receive the feedback and attention it did. Even though they responded with blogs, tweets and comments – there was no proactive announcement leaving them in fire fighting mode.
  3. I disagree with their view “If you’re creating content for a content company, that company ought to host your blog”. Edelman are an IP company but give me the flexibility to have this personal blog. I do not believe for a minute that it is confusion for Forrester clients (nor mine) to understand the link between my views and my companies nor find it difficult to find the way round all of Edelman’s blogs.

Balanced with this is the fact that Forrester gives consistently the best social media advice from any of the analyst houses and kudos to them.

When I first started blogging a colleague of mine gave me some advice:

Learn your voice

What Forrester have done is removed the personal voice and instead created a corporate personality-less series of blogs (or so I fear). Forrester needs to ensure that this voice remains and I am worried that the best social media analysts will not be recruited to Forrester in fear that they will lose their brand. It’s all well and good saying that they can do it behind a Forrester.com address but it shows they don’t trust their analysts.

I understand that for analysts their IP is their product but I strongly disagree that this reason is sufficient to stop personal blogs that talk about the same content. Trust your analysts to let their blog act your PR.

EDIT – update 15 Feb

The wonderful thing about web 2.0 is the dynamic nature of conversations. In this instance I believe I have made some conclusions that upon reflection I don’t agree with any more.

Firstly, the tone of Forrester blogs is unique and can be attributed to the authors – there can be little doubt for example that blogs like the Groundswell are distinct and the Forrester brand has not diminished their affect whatsoever. (Minus one point for me)

Secondly, I finished on the point that a blog is PR voice for a company. Again, not necessarily true as this is more of a channel in many situations. Without the rigour of going through timely and sometimes expensive report procedures I am grateful that analysts do blog. Is it good PR? Of course, like a good report or a good conference is – but this is not the raison d’être. (Minus one more point to me)

Thirdly, where does the brand come from. Charlene for example builtt her brand on Forrester.com and then left (story starts half way through). Whereas some analysts may have an outside brand and move to Forrester, many build up their reputation under the Forrester brand. (Another minus point for me)

So after knocking three points off myself. I am still left pondering whether it was a good or bad move what Forrester did. I suppose my basic premise stemmed from the question – what would happen if my company asked me to move Technobabble to Edelman.com? Would I complain? The fact is that in the service industry IP is what sells. In our world the brand can be bigger than the individual and no company should place its success on a few – that’s no team.

Will this stop some super branded people move to Forrester – maybe?

However, will it inevitably improve the Forrester brand as it consolidates? Without a doubt – and this can only lead to more customers for them and a better navigation point for clients.

I guess in this instance I got it wrong. Even though the arguments I mentioned are valid to many people, the fact is one size does not fit all and it may not be true for Forrester.

As a final comment I have one key question I would like to ask:

Will this move by Forrester enable them to retain the best or hire the stars?

How you answer this, will determine whether Forrester’s move was good or bad.

IceRocket Tags: ,,,


11 Responses to “Brand before individual – Forrester bans personal blogs”

  1. Thanks for your perspective. But really, can anyone reading my groundswell blog not see how personal it is? Our other analyst blogs are (or will be) just as personal.

  2. Josh – without a doubt your blog is about as personal as it gets. I know your voice and enjoy reading all your posts. I am worried whether a newly employed analyst will continue to blog with as much freedom or get restrained by the overarching brand.

  3. 3 Gerry Van Zandt

    It seems clear to me from Josh’s and Karyl’s comments about Forrester’s policy, that analysts will have freedom to own their own individually branded blogs. They’ll just be hosted on Forrester’s servers.

    Josh’s longstanding Groundswell blog should be held up as a model of this policy — if Forrester wanted to shut down “analyst-branded” blogs they’d have snuffed Groundswell long ago….

  4. 4 Esteban Kolsky

    Jonny,

    As a former analyst and one that went though this before (Gartner tried the same policy when they first approved blogging only on company-approved blog platforms, with manager approval) and someone who went through four different blogs in the past 4 years (kept losing them to corporate) I have to tell you that I totally support your POV.

    The value that I brought in blogging to former employers was good, but the restrictions imposed on them (approval process, no admin rights, etc.) made me less likely to want to blog. This is the real issue here, beyond whose voice is expressed. I have no doubt that 2 years from now Forrester Analysts won’t care or worry about the blog, but be prepared to lose some excellent bloggers over this decision.

    Of further consideration, there will be analysts that will reconsider joining Forrester over this policy — why on earth would you make a move to a place where they feel free to restrict the way you express your opinions? What would stop them from shutting down a controversial blog in the future? or try to dictate policy on topics to blog or frequency — or anything else? If Forrester gets away with this, and I know they probably will — albeit with a few fewer analysts, they will feel entitled to impose other restrictions in the future.

    Finally, the concept of doing this to restrict the buildup of “personal brand” is ridiculous. Will they start making analysts when commenting to newspapers or TV to say they are just “analyst form Forrester”? Replace their names in the presentations and other speaking engagements with “someone from Forrester”? The personal brand is not build on a blog, is built on a reputation and a track-record. This they cannot take away, so they might as well enjoy what they can get from their blogger-analysts, while they still have them.

    Just saying…

  5. I can see it both ways, but I agree with @Josh, all personal blogs are going to have a voice shine through… that’s what makes them personal. If a company doesn’t want each individual opinion shining through, it’s going to force the hearing of a big, collective, corporate voice. Thanks for the post

  6. Upon further reflection from the comments and from the twittersphere – I think I have got this one wrong. Will edit the post to explain…

  7. Johnny –

    I am a vehement believer in personal branding. I think you lose the spontaneity, authenticity, and the gay abandon, which typically accompanies personally vested communiques (blogs).

    While every company should have policies dictating, and streamlining SM use, it should not be restrictive. Instead, it should be inclusive, participatory, and should make all attempts to enhance the personal brand, while ensuring it is consistent with company values, objectives, and goals.

    My $0.02 :)

    Cheers,
    Prince


  1. 1 Brand before individual – Forrester bans personal blogs « The Naked Pheasant
  2. 2 tecosystems » Seeing the Forest for the Brand
  3. 3 Page not found « Technobabble 2.0
  4. 4 Can a Personal Brand Coexist Within a Corporate Ecosystem? | Independent Thinking

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