Brand before individual – Forrester bans personal blogs

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 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 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.


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