Warning: Long post follows.
Readers of this blog and listeners to my podcast, "For Immediate Release," know thast I focus primarily on the impact of online media on organizational communications. As a blogger and a podcaster with an audience, companies routinely reach out to me with their news and information in the hopes that I'll find their content interesting enough to share. It's only about 9:30 a.m. here in the Bay Area and I've already received about a dozen such pitches today via email.
Forrester Research is one of the organizations that engages in such outreachâ€"and, candidly, it's one of the few organizations whose content actually is of enough interest for me to share it with my community. When Forrester issues a report that deals with social media and communications, Forrester graciously offers me a copy of the report. These reports sell for hundreds of dollars or more, and as an independent consultant, I couldn't possibly justify the cost of purchasing one. Because Forrester shares its intellectual property with me at no cost, I'm able to opine on the research and share the findings I believe are most significant.
All of which I do on my own blog and my own podcast. As a result, readers and listeners learn about the research who otherwise may never have known it existed. Some may become Forrester customers. Which is exactly why Forrester engages in such outreach: Its IP is only worth as much as people are willing to spend on it. The more people who pay for it, the more it's worth.
Which is why I'm so completely dumbfounded at Forrester's much-discussed analyst blogging policy. The company is confining its analysts to blogs that reside on Forrester's own platform for posts about research. The reason, according to Forrester and several of its analysts, has everything to do with intellectual property (IP). In a recent post, Forrester VP Josh Bernoff (for whom I have enormous respect and admiration) explained:
What people need to understand is that Forrester is an intellectual property company, and the opinions of our analysts are our product. Blogging is an extension of the other work we doâ€"doing research, writing reports, working with clients, and giving speeches, for example.
...for Forrester, it serves our clients better to be able to get to all our blogs from one place, and to 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.
The revelation of the policy has ignited controversy with opponents and proponents lining up with their various arguments. But for me, the underlying IP argument is perplexing. Consider this comment from Dana Baxter, left to the SageCircle blog that first reported on the policy and kicked off the whole debate:
I regularly read Bruce Tempkin's blog "Customer Experience Matters" and it's one of the best blogs I've run across. He seems to regularly refer back to Forrester. I didn't even know that Forrester had research in customer experience until I read his blog. I know I'm not a client of Forrester, so they aren't making money from me, but I've been trying to make the case based on his work. But if they're shutting down his blog, then I don't really want to read what Forrester has to say.
This is the key issue. When analysts have their own blogs with dedicated followings, their discussion of the research with which they're involved can reach people the official Forrester blogs won't reach. (If you think that's not true, go back and read Dana's comment again.) And if keeping the IP on the Forrester site is so all-fired important, why share it with the likes of me so I can report the same IP on my blog and podcast?
(Of course, after reading this post, maybe they'll stop sharing their IP with me.)
I'm not the only one making this observation. Writing on GigaOm, Mathew Ingram says:
In his blog post, Bernoff defended the new policy as a necessary step, saying Forrester is "an intellectual property company, and the opinions of analysts are our product." But a strong analyst who connects with readers and builds a following, wherever that following might occur, is a benefit to the company they work for, even if he or she eventually leaves to pursue other opportunities. That is the nature of a web-based businessâ€"something the research industry is becoming, whether it likes it or not.
Trying to confine analysts and control the access they have to readers through the web is not only wrongheaded (in our view) but ultimately futile. Strong analysts who are treated in this way will leave anyway, thus defeating the purpose. We believe that social media tools can be used both to build personal brands and to benefit the overall corporate brand, and that is what we encourage.
Why not aggregate content?
The IP distinction is one that Forrester's proponents raise repeatedly in the debate. The notion seems to suggest that analysts who write about their work on their own blogs are somehow sapping Forrester of its IP. Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't see how, particularly if those blogs link back to Forrester, bringing the company to the attention of new prospects.
Other companies with bloggers don't compare because, Bernoff argues, their products aren't about IP. I would argue that Microsoft and IBM are entirely about IP. Both companies encourage their employees to blog wherever they like. The companies link to those blogs on a page that links to all of the company's bloggers. (Here are links to Microsoft's and IBM's employee blog directories.)
Thomas Nelson Publishers goes one better, pulling the content from each of its employee bloggers into a chronological display of the most recent posts from company bloggers. Admittedly, these posts don't deal with IP at anywhere near Forrester's level, but it seems a logical solution, one Tac Anderson suggested in a comment to a post about the policy by Cliff Condon, Forrester's VP in charge of the company's social media efforts. Condon replied that too few Forrester analysts are blogging to justify such an effort. " I feel it's up to Forrester to help more analysts start blogging by providing them a platform for doing it (rather than creating it on their own)."
In fact, Condon never even mentions IP in his post, asserting instead that the policy is designed to give Forrester analysts a tool designed to get them more involved in social media, to provide each analyst with a personal blog and to make it easier for Forrester clients.
I have no argument with these goals. After all, Hill & Knowlton provides a platform for its counselors to use for blogging. The difference, though, is that Hill & Knowlton doesn't require its staff to use the platform. Many of the PR agency's staff maintain their own blogs; their posts are aggregated on the same platform along with original posts.
Is it about control?
Forrester's representatives argue that the policy isn't about wielding control over what analyst bloggers write. In fact, they argue, analysts are being encouraged to stretch with their blogs.
Still, one defender of Forrester's policyâ€"Edison Research Strategy and Marketing VP Tom Edisonâ€"thinks control may well have something to do with it, pointing to a post former Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang wrote on his Web Strategy blog that required a follow-up apology. Writes Webster:
This could have (and maybe did) hurt Forrester right in the wallet. It's not my intent to rehash that particular incident, but let's all agree it was a significant black eye for the company and indeed the analyst industry as a whole. Forrester can afford to lose an analyst here and there -- but they can't afford incidents like this.
(Webster, by the way, is a terrific dinner companion.)
I'm inclined to take Forrester's word for it that the policy isn't designed to keep a tight rein on its bloggers. After all, a well-communicated policyâ€"like the one Hill & Knowlton implementedâ€"would prevent virtually all such mistakes.
A policy would also preclude analysts from giving away more of Forrester's IP than they should. But on this point, it's worth looking at an article appearing in the March 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, "Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead, and a quote from lyricist John Perry Barlow:
What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back thenâ€"the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn't regulate (taping at) our shows, and you can't online. The Internet doesn't behave that way. But here's the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.
Yep, that's intellectual property Barlow's talking about.
So I'm still befuddled about this notion of lost IP. I still don't grasp how an analyst blogging about the research he's engaged in on his own blog, informed by Forrester's blogging guidelines, represents a tangible loss to Forrester. Do they not grasp what Barlow does? Are they less savvy about social media than they've been claiming they are?
The Altimeter equation
Most of the speculation by those aghast at the policy suggest its origins rest with The Altimeter Group, founded by former Forrester vice president Charlene Li; Owyang and Ray Wang are both partners who joined Li and Altimeter after leaving Forrester. In his SageCircle post, strategist Carter Lusher writes:
Forrester CEO George Colony is well aware of that savvy analysts can build their personal brands via their positions as Forrester analysts amplified by social media (see the post on "Altimeter Envy"). As a consequence, a Forrester policy that tries to restrict analysts' personally-branded research blogs works to reduce the possibility that the analysts will build a valuable personal brand leading to their departure.
I'd be more inclined to call this "The Scoble Effect." Uberblogger Robert Scoble built his audience and his personal brand while blogging about Microsoft on his personal blog. He became Microsoft's de facto spokesperson, its voice in the social media space. When he left Microsoft, he took that brand with him to each of his subsequent ventures. No single Microsoft blogger has been able to capture the share of attention that Scoble enjoyed, while Scoble ceretainly benefitted from the personal brand he had built based on Microsoft's IP.
(Side question: If Scoble had been forced to blog on a dedicated Microsoft platform, would the company have deleted that blog upon his departure? One high-tech companyâ€"I can't recall whichâ€"was called out in the blogosphere for doing just that and had to reinstate the posts in the face of accusations of altering history.)
I'm not inside the heads of Forrester's leaders, so I can't say how much of a factor the fear of losing analysts who build strong personal brands played in the decision. I'd be disappointed if it was a major consideration, since it seems petty and mean-spirited. In his post on the kerfuffle, C. Edward Brice cited David Armano's brandividuals, "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." Brice, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Lumension Security, writes, "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."
And if you already had a blog?
One of those defending the policy is new Forrester analyst Augie Ray, who will abandon his "Experience: The Blog" in order to comply with the Forrester policy. Ray isn't thrilled with dropping the blog that has accounted for so much time and energy.
But I also understand Forrester's reasons for the changes. There are obvious benefits to the company of aggregating intellectual property on Forrester.com, including Search Engine relevance and creating a marketing platform that demonstrates the breadth and depth of analysts' brainpower and coverage.
I appreciate Ray's measured response, but I think it misses the point. He has developed a following on his blog and not all of them will necessarily follow him to the Forrester platform. That represents a considerable number of people Forrester won't reach with its message, limiting the exposure to prospective new paying customers.
Consider Scott Monty, who brought his considerable following with him to his job managing Ford Motor Company's social media efforts. He has used the blog effectively as a means of telling Ford's story to a large audience than he could reach if he had been forced to scuttle his blog and start anew on a dedicated Ford platform.
The value of Scott's Ford-focused posts still accrues to Ford (even as he continues to build his personal brand), just as the value of a Forrester analyst's post on her own blog would still accrue to Forrester. Sure, it can also serve to build the blogger's own brand, but even Forrester's Bernoff admits that his brand has been built just fine without his own blog. So what's the difference?
From a personal perspective, had Joe Jaffe told me that I'd have to give up my blog and podcast before joining crayon, I would have declined the offer. While a lot of prospective Forrester analysts may agree to drop their blogs in order to work there, it's impossible to know how many may never apply in the first place knowing what the policy is. Some have argued that nobody would pass on the job to salvage their blog, but if I would, I'm probably not alone.
Did Forrester conduct a cost-benefit analysis?
I wonder if the powers that be at Forrester engaged in a cost-benefit analysis. What is it truly costing in terms of lost IP? (To reiterate, I can't figure out where they'd lose a single nickel.) What is the cost if an analyst builds a personal brand and then leaves, taking her blog with her? (You'd also have to factor in how many of those analysts would have left anyway.) And what is the benefit of the expanded reach of Forrester's messages and stories, the same reach that leads marketers to offer the IP free of charge to people like me?
I may have just answered my own question. If a cost-benefit analysis had been done, I can't believe it would have led Forrester to adopt this policy.
So why, then? It's either a provincial and wrong-minded understanding of IP or a knee-jerk reaction to the Altimeter Group situation.
Either way, it's a mistake.
It's also Forrester's call, not mine. The company produces terrific research and I hope this all works out for them and their analysts in the long run.