Analysts as bloggers: three sides to a triangle

Merv Adrian, the former Forrester analyst who recently founded IT Market Strategy, has produced a useful summary of some of the discussion about analysts who blogs. It’s a useful summary of the discussion on blogs’ influence, because it shows both what’s on people’s mind and also the blind spots that are not coming up in the discussion, some of which we have touched on here and here.

Much of the discussion rotates on the notion of blogs being a topical comment on news flow and the analysts’ immediate activity. That sort of information is of much more interest to vendors, the media and to other analysts than it is to end-users. So, while blogs seems to matter, it’s worth thinking about whom they matter to. Too much of what is written about analysts’ blogging focusses on the two-sides connection between the analysts and the vendor community. But don’t forget the end-user organisations, the original source of the revenues both groups depend on.

That also means we need to consider the broader discussion on the value of blogs. Jonny Bentwood, whose triangle diagram I’ve used for this post, has a paradigm for analyst relations:

  • Contact: are you touching the people you want to connect with regularly enough?
  • Value: is the content what people are looking for?
  • Reputation: how agreeable is the message?

Analyst firms should be posing these questions about their analysts’ blogs to their customers, and making sure that the substantial time and reputational risk is in clients’ interests. Are clients consumer the blogs? Does it focus on the clients’ interests or on those of others? Do clients agree with the focus and message?
Clearly many analysts blog in order to build up their personal brand and to increase their market value, which also increases their value to the current employers. Readers of the blog might also benefit, since they get early and free insight from analysts. However, the analyst firm might come to see itself as a loser in the deal. What were previously quick-take notes that gave clients added valueare now no longer available for analyst firms to either monetize or to use to increase switching costs. Now if you end your contract with an blog-heavy analyst you can continue to get much of their insight, and even can attempt to discuss with them online.

In that context, is the slow adoption of blogging by larger analyst firms really a question of ‘slow cach-up’? We think the caution of these firms is wise. Smaller analyst firms struggle to sell and to monetize the value they create. There’s no opportunity cost of they give away their insight; indeed, insight can act as a magnet for customers in the absence of methodological sales or a clear value proposition. However larger firms do have to protect a corporate brand, ensure that blog postings reflect expections about the client experience and ensure that they do not cannibalise existing revenue streams.

While it’s important for analyst firms to offer fast processes for corrections, it clearly is the case that blogs will be more error-prone than traditional published research, especially that which goes through a peer review process. It is certainly in clients’ interests for firms to give real consideration not only to the accuracy and consistency of analysts’ blogs, but also to the content and direction. Rather than turning back to the 1990s, when analysts wrote about their own interests and those of their closest peers, analyst firms need to consider how blogs can be used to focus on the issues facing end-user organisations. In so far as analyst blogs focus on news flow rather than the medium-term issues facing managers and IT professionals, they will remain a supply-side focussed discussion with limited value to end-users.

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