The great analyst firewall: will banning analysts from blogging damage the traditional research business, or help create an entirely new one?

Free_Speech What's happened to the industry analyst business?  You may recall a discussion right here two years ago when we berated the Chinese Internet purges and the impact they could have on the development of their own knowledge services and BPO industry.  While such censorship of free opinion-sharing is depressing enough in a controlled society, it's even more alarming when it's happening right on our own doorstep, when you see analyst heavyweight Forrester Research officially banning its own analysts from having personal blogs that touch upon issues related to their research coverage or technology markets. 

If you saw the recent passionate debate over at analyst relations guru Carter Lusher's Sage Circle site, you can read an official statement from Forrester's head of Corporate Communications:

"We believe we can best serve our clients in their professional roles by aggregating our intellectual property in one place – at Forrester.com.  Make no mistake: Forrester is committed to social media, and the number of our analyst bloggers is increasing, not decreasing. Analysts will still have the ability to blog outside of Forrester on topics not related to their coverage areas."

Analysts will still have the ability to blog outside of Forrester on topics not related to their coverage areas?  Hmmm… I really do want to know about their CRM analyst's stamp collection.

Aren't analysts supposed to create buzz?

I fondly recall the heyday of industry analyst business in the '90's, where the technology and services business thrived on innovation, on research, on unfettered opinion, where people had a vision and were unafraid to give forward-looking – and sometimes far-reaching - views regarding what was going to happen next, in a world that was being dramatically impacted by the onset of the Internet and web-enabled technologies, readily-available computing power and networking infrastructure, and steady globalization. 

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.

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.

Most of the analyst rock stars have ventured off to start their own ventures in recent years, move into related industries, consult, run blog businesses or go work for vendors.  The "rock star model" simply wasn't scalable for the analyst firms - it look too long to develop them, and the risk of lost revenues were they to leave, proved too uncomfortable – not to mention the fact that they were hard to control once they realized their monetary value. 

However, just like any business utility, once you remove the personalization and the added value, clients wind-up only receiving the transactional services stipulated in the contract (sound familiar?).  If analyst firms trained all their analysts to be rock stars, surely they could scale their highly-profitable assets and have junior rock stars step in when the senior ones choose do move on?

I don't blame Forrester for their new policy - they're simply protecting themselves from analysts building strong personal brands and jumping ship to more lucrative climes when they become famous – even though there are only a small handful of blogging analysts who have ever chosen to do this.  Plus, their competitors haven't exactly embraced social media either.  Banning their analysts blogging on their industry issues is probably not illegal (am sure they considered all the angles before issuing this new policy), and they are free to choose how they run their business and manage their culture.  They're also probably getting paranoid that one of these days they'll get slapped with a law-suit from some vendor that got caught on the wrong end of some angry analyst tirade – although today, most vendors seem to be able to distinguish between a blog post and a Magic Quadrant… it's social media one-on-one.

Competent analysts should be trusted to write blog-posts

Another core issue here is trust.  Some analyst firms would rather have their analysts' work sit in editorial queues for weeks, than get their craft out to market while it's still relevant.  Rarely is a piece of analyst work altered in this process – simply modified slightly into a consistent look-and-feel.  C'mon… if an analyst cannot produce written materials that isn't fit for a blog, then you have to seriously question why that individual is an analyst in the first place.

Once an analyst has proven that she can be trusted (i.e. after 6 months), surely it's time to let them leverage social media to drive awareness to their work and engage in intelligent debate with other smart people? 

The implications to the traditional analyst model could be severe

All-in-all are some powerful implications that this type of policy could have on the analyst business:

1) The traditional analyst firms are losing touch with today's social-media driven society.  Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most of the research we see these days isn't telling us a whole lot we didn't know already (and am sure I am equally guilty here).  People simply aren't as desperate to read it as they once were.  Sectioning it off behind a firewall for big-paying subscribers is only going to damage their relevance in a marketplace which is increasingly driven by rapid, to-the-point, relevant and compelling insight.  For example, our post covering the ACS/Xerox news hit the media before everyone (about 8.00am), got thousands of web-hits and generated some very interesting debate. By the time the big analyst houses put out their take on the merger, it was old news, and few people took any notice.  Hey – it was already old news by 11.00am that morning, let alone two days' later!  If these analyst firms cannot trust their own analysts to give their opinion in events in a rapid manner, then they will fade – and fade fast in this environment. 

2) Ambitious analysts will lose their energy if they are muzzled.  While some veteran analysts are happy picking up a pay-check and toeing the corporate line to keep their jobs, the younger breed are eager to impact their market and get their name out there.  Removing their ability to blog is taking away a major outlet for them.  Analyst energy thrives on the recognition of their craft, and cutting them off at the knees is surely a de-motivator for many.  Simply-put, the top analyst firms will lose their ambitious talent if it's muzzled from our new socially-media driven world.

3) New boutiques will spring up.  The other – and most damaging – implication is a likely appearance of new boutique analyst firms that heavily use social media to reach eyeballs, research markets and share opinion and debate.  Altimeter Group set up shop last year and is already turning away new clients.  Their model is based on popular "rock star" analysts with successful blogs. Other new research firms are mooted to be in the works, with some customers eager for a change from the staid old model of dry reports, and toned-down opinion. 

The Bottom-line

The technology and services industry is desperately searching for its mojo, and analysts can help provide the catalyst.  Muzzling their views by keeping them from using social-media channels is a worrysome trend and will hold back the Forresters and co. in the long-term. However, won't their loss be others' gain?  You do just start to wonder…

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19 Comments

  1. Bill Kutik
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Glad you haven’t thought too much about this, Phil, and don’t have much to say. But why is IDC being left out of this conversation? I don’t know their specific policy, but their analysts ain’t blogging, either.

  2. Posted February 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Invest in good people. Develop them. Reward rockstars heavily. Make your firm the best place to work. Trust them. Unshackle them. Let them disseminate the best thoughts to the world.

    The result will be a fire that burns so brightly that customers will be compelled to purchase services specific to their needs. A fire that will fuel other fires, creating innovation and new perspectives. A beacon that will directionally signal vendors.

    Bottling the genie is a cold war thought. It infuriates me that analysts firms, the one supposed bastion of thought and opinion in this rather thoughtless world, would carbon copy the heavy handed rules of hundreds of corporations designed to protect intellectual property when the free flow of intellectual debate is exactly the inertia they need to create to be successful.

    A few analysts will leave to create their own firms, just like consultants, hardware engineers, and software engineers do. Some are successful, others are not. People are less likely to leave a company if its a great employer…

    And, if they did become successful? Buy them. The ultimate compliment.

  3. Anonymous Analyst
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Forrester strives hard to achieve mediocrity. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever worked where the goal is for everyone to hit average and it was kind of frowned upon to go beyond average. While this was years ago, I hear not much has changed.

    The real travesty is Mr. Colony’s focus on trying to force talent to stay instead of retaining star talent. His outward opposition to remove non-compete clauses in our great commonwealth of Massachusetts is another proof point that he doesn’t have what it takes to keep good people.

    http://willbrownsberger.com/index.php/archives/2251

    That being said, Forrester should keep what it’s doing so that Gartner can continue to dominate and Corporate Executive Board can put pressure on Forrester’s clients. With DataMonitor/Ovum pushing into the U.S., it won’t be long before the old Giga guys retire from Forrester and all the real IT talent disappears. Clients already see Forrester as the kids coming off the school bus KPMG commercial of the early 2000′s. When the geezer gurus of Gideon glory leave, George will be left with college kids with no experience and unable to recruit blogger influencers who won’t want to be stifled at a shop that doesn’t value personal brand.

    A. Analyst.
    Old school geezer

  4. Posted February 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    @Bill: Forrester got singled-out as they made a point of publicly outlawing the blogging – and they probably got most impacted when Ray, Charlene and Jeremiah all left; but I believe IDC do not support it either (since Rachael Happe left, haven’t seen anything from them). And Gartner, according to sources, heavily regulate their official ones. AMR were quite tolerant with me before they were acquired, because their sales and marketing people saw what a powerful tool it was for developing awareness, relationships and new busisiness. Their internal editorial police hated it though – kinda put them out of the loop…

    Bottom-line, none of the tradiitional analyst houses are doing a good job right now with social media, and the more “corporate” they get with their approach, the more they will fall behind,

    PF

  5. Harvey W.
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Phil, great post. Everyone reading this should go support the alliance for open competition petition. that will make non-competes illegal or mullify them for a bit. With that in place, Forrester can go do what it wants and the employees will vote with their feet instead of stay in fear.

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/75/support-the-alliance-for-open-competition

  6. Posted February 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Any attempt to control the free-flow of information will eventually be destroyed through the democratization of opinion. In simpler terms, analyst firms that do not allow blogging will be less reactive to the rapid-fire pulse of the markets they cover. Either get in the race or get out of the way.

  7. Stephen Cohen
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    While you can understand some firms (i.e. investment backs, law firms) needing to protect their interests when their employees blog, this is the analyst industry, which should be all about opinions and discussion! The fear of losing “control” is clearly what motivates these firms to put such restrictions on their employees. It’s that fear of embracing the change which social media brings to our society, which will hold many businesses back in this economy.

    Mark is right – it’s clearly a case of “get on the train, or get left behind”.

    Stephen

  8. Eric
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    Excellent post – you lay out the issues perfectly.

    What’s really sad about this, is that none of the big analyst houses actually have any bloggers left to ban anyway – they’ve all gone. Maybe Forrester saw the opportunity to impose the ban now before more analysts dared to venture out into the blogosphere,

    Eric

  9. Posted February 22, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    Great post. This is a defining time for analyst firms. Will they adapt to the changing environment or try and hold on and hope blogging is a passing fad? Until they find a way to monetize it they will resist.

    To me it is a bad move to ban analyst blogging. It creates buzz, establishes credibility and increases the value of the analysts who do it well. It is up to the analyst firms to take advantage of that. Rock stars are worth more than average analysts, clients understand that and are willing to pay a premium for advice from them. The firms need to embrace having rock stars in their stables, demand market prices for them, and compensate them well. This is no different than free agency in sports. If you don’t pay market value you will lose your best players. Like the New York Yankees, the big analyst firms can afford to retain their top talent and must do so if they expect to remain on top.

    Dave
    http://blog.pervasivepm.com/

  10. James
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I thought analyst firms were supposed to be at the cutting edge of technology and innovation? They should be forcing their analysts to blog, not banning them. Unbelieveable. Says a lot about where that industry is heading.

  11. Posted February 22, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Let’s get some facts straight, OK?

    First, Forrester isn’t banning blogging, it’s encouraging blogging. Analysts are getting training and will be encouraged to blog as much as possible on the Forrester site, in personal blogs. Furthermore, as Cliff Condon has made clear, there is no pre-vetting of those posts.

    So “Ambitious analysts will lose their energy if they are muzzled,” isn’t really on point here.

    As for losing touch with social media, I think you’ll find that Forrester’s social media analysts (including me) are further ahead on practical advice for companies in this era than anyone. Most of our analysts are on Twitter and many blog on Forrester.com. My blog, at http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell gets an awful lot of traffic, for example.

    These blogs are not behind the paywall, anyone can read them.

    So our analysts ARE trusted to write public blog posts. In general, they’re more likely to benefit from each others’ traffic through blogs.forrester.com. Those posts are personal and highly visible reflections of the analysts’ perspective.

  12. Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for the input. Having worked for many years in the analyst industry, and blogged on both a corporate blog-site and a personal blog-site, I can add some experience here.

    Social media lets us get personal and informal, allows us be real people and not merely employees of a corporate entity.

    People feel they are getting intimate with an analyst if it’s their personal site, as opposed to a corporare blog. For example, while there’s some great content on official vendor blogs, who reads them besides their own employees? Analysts blogging on their corporate sites is great – in fact, it will likely replace the “research article” or “brief” before long, but it doesn’t provide the personal touch so many people in the industry like to read these days.

    Personal blogs really allow audiences to get to know their analysts better, get to understand their personalities, views (yes, on their coverage areas, not just their hobbies), and generally allows them to be individuals, and not simply part of a corporate entity.

    I would agree with you that Forrester is ahead of much of the analyst pack when it comes to social media – the simple fact you had to issue this policy is testament to that.

    Moreover, the fact that Carter and others chose to single out Forrester is testament to the fact that your firm has produced some great analysts over the years, who also helped pioneer some of the great blogs that are around today.

    I don’t hear so many complaints about your competitors not allowing personal analyst blogs :)

    PF

  13. Gerry Van Zandt
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I continue to find this discussion a bit fascinating, albeit repetitive. Good comments from all sides of the discussion, but also lots of negative assumptions and conjecture about Forrester’s policy — with NO PROOF TO BACK IT UP.

    Let me ask this: Is there even a single documented case of Forrester deliberately stifling an analyst or analysts with regard to their personal blogging about their coverage-area topics publicly?

    Josh, with his Groundswell blog hosted on the Forrester domain, has seemed to have had plenty of editorial leeway, and he has developed quite a strong “personal brand”. I don’t see any overt efforts by Forrester to stifle him.

    I am waiting with bated breath to hear the news of a) an analyst being deliberately stifled [editorially] with regard to their personal blog on the Forrester site; and b) an analyst deciding NOT to join Forrester solely because they cannot continue their pre-existing personal industry blog (or being forced to migrate it to Forrester’s platform).

    With regard to Gartner and IDC not being mentioned, and Forrester being singled out, I beleive it may be because Forrester is pushing the social media envelope a fair bit more than the other firms.

    On a personal note: I have consistently “stuck up” for Forrester on this issue not because I am shilling for them, but because there is no evidence, yet, that their new policy has caused, is causing or will in the future cause negative effects. There is just no evidence.

  14. Andy
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    This is the best article anyone’s written on the analyst industry in a very long while.

    The “Rock Stars” are certainly drifting away from the analyst firms, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the industry.

    Allowing analysts to use personal blogs to increase their market presence was one potential saviour, but that seems to be dead for all and sundry now, unless new firms, such as Altimeter, can harness the growing social-media environment.

    While you can understand’s Forrester’s desire to confine its analyst opinions to its own domain, Josh Bernhoff is completely missing the point. Social media is all about intimacy and personal discussion, and not about corporate-branded controlled forums. These simply don’t have the same appeal.

  15. ex-Rockstar
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Follow the money. The big analyst firms run on subscription revenue. The firms that sell data have a fighting chance, but opinion wants to be free (and fast) The big 3 and Ovum all experienced incredible growth in the 90′s based on a *paper* publishing model. While they haven’t been hammered as hard as the rest of the publishing industry, the transition from that model to whatever the next model is will be painful.

    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.

  16. Posted February 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Might it be to bold that maybe pay for show analytics should take a back seat to sound research? Seems that we are all about feel good spin and fail to look inside the box to understand what the trends are really saying. There will come a time where money give way to responsible reflection of industry activities.

  17. Analyst fed up with these crazy policies
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Reading all these comments, it’s clear the issues cut far deeper than a simple ban on analysts having personal blogs.

    The whole analyst business is struggling to come to terms with embracing the collaborative innovation presented by social networking. Firms like Forrester made a fortune lauding the rise of the Internet, but when it comes to embracing its real value, they shy away, scared to change their culture to embrace the change the Internet is now bringing to our society. Same applies to IDC and Gartner.

    Why can’t they practice what they preach?

    Their businesses will slowly erode as all their real talent continues to steadily drift away and their research loses relevance and influence.

  18. A banned blogger
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Could this discussion have occurred on a “corporate” blog? Probably not. A company’s best interests aren’t always served by a completely free exchange of opinions. But an individual’s best interests almost certainly are.

    There’s a reason we come to Horses: its funny, timely, often provocative and very, very open. It has a personality, a point of view, and it is s relevant. Nobody should be surprised it has more traffic than the “sponsored” blogs.

    Could an analyst company harness all this? Maybe, but I think it is too scary.

  19. Kerry
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to say great article. I especially liked these 2 lines: “Analysts will still have the ability to blog outside of Forrester on topics not related to their coverage areas? Hmmm… I really do want to know about their CRM analyst’s stamp collection.”

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