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Four lessons from five thousand tweets

Listen, learn, appreciate and share are the four lessons I’ve learnt from 5,000 tweets as @DuncanChapple. A “tweetaversary” is an arbitrary and trivial landmark but, looking back, it’s been a valuable experience.

Most importantly, I’ve realised that it’s important to listen to the silences as well as the messages on twitter. In the analyst industry, for example, there are people I follow closely and who influence me a lot, like Richard Stennion and Pim Bilderbeek. However, it’s really important to remember that a lot of the discussion is concealed on twitter by languages (I follow people who tweet in four European languages, but I’m missing out on the languages in which most tweets are written, including Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Turkish, and Italian). More importantly, most people are not using twitter at all

Learning is actually rather hard to do. Using Klout, I had a look at my influence landscape. Despite the global nature of twitter, most of the people who influence me most deeply are people I’ve met here in London, and are friends on facebook as well as on twitter. That suggests to me that there’s a strong interplay between the online and offline, and that face-to-face meetings, even if they are few, provide an essential glue.

I hugely appreciate what Twitter has to offer. Certainly, twitter’s produced a number of benefits for me, both large and small. It’s a great way to stay in touch with people, especially by direct message where people are are often much more candid, and it’s allowed me to reconnect with very old friends – even people I have not seen since I was a teenager.

It’s also been a great opportunity for sharing. I’m especially fascinated by the way we share lists of people. I’ve been added to around 65 lists on twitter, by people who for one reason or another think I have something useful to say about AR, tech, influence relations, marketing operations, mobility, PR, social media, productivity, non-profits, the arts and film-making.There’s a lot to discover there: what are sources I am drawing on, and what are the conversations I am (perhaps unknowlingly) part of.

What have you learnt from twitter?

Oxford insight on how social media anticipates analyst trends

Impact of social media is overestimated in the short-term and overestimated in the long-term: what was the message from the Oxford Social Media Conference last week. I was lucky to be invited to the event, held at its Said Business School. Thinking over the day, and especially comments by Richard Sambrook, I think the four key trends he outlined that have impacted the traditional news media will also start to impact the analysts.

  1. Experts don’t own the opinion any more. There’s a big power shift and cultural opportunity in the public media. It’s not been very helpful to talk about citizen journalism because is a catch-all term to describe a range of roles: eyewitness, submissions from views are more easily integrated and absorbed into the media process, as case studies and ‘vox pops’ can be integrated into analysts’ research. But that’s one aspect. The discussion on twitter and other social media is also starting to integrate into the research process of some analysts (especially those working on social media or in North America), and it can be an active way of working in the user perspective for analysts with few end-user clients – as phone-ins have been for radio stations without reporting resources. Social media are not integrated so well into the media [an exception is the BBC's ‘World have your say’]. But social media is where news is broken because there’s so little news about it other than fabricated stories pushed by PRs. Social media are also real story areas: few papers have a Twitter correspondent. In this respect, the analyst community is ahead of the media: little work is being done by the media to source news from the internet, let alone the other genres.  There’s a number of analysts that do work in this way (we have a controversial early insight into this, which we called ‘crowd surfing’), and Redmonk certainly springs to mind. In the media there is now the notion of ‘network journalism’ which uses the audiences’ insights to develop. Little work being done there by journalists. But there’s one aspect where analysts continue to struggle: The audience knows more than the writer: how can analysts tap that insight?
  2. Transparency is the new objectivity. The trust in higher-quality journalism comes from transparency. There’s little transparency about research methods at some firms, especially vendor-funded firms where the topics under investigation are largely determined by vendors. Accuracy and fairness means showing how analysts made their choices. There’s often issues about how analysts made the judgements, and how they work. Gartner is leading, I think, in reflecting the media trend towards editor’s blogs, readers’ editors, access blogs (like the NNC’s Newswatch): all these developments need to go further in the analyst community.
  3. Information is not insight. Evangelists increasingly get their news from Twitter: gossip, links, marketing, campaigning, discussion… but there’s neither analysis not journalism there because that needs verification, accuracy, explanation, judgement and context. There’s exponentially more information; good analysis and journalism does something with that base data. So that means that the growth of social media should lead to more need for analysis, not less. The value of analyst organisations is in that processing of information. It’s hard for to journalists monetize it, but analysts have an edge.
  4. If you find yourself in competition with the internet, find a way out. The basic culture – link culture and open borders – will probably continue. Perhaps commercial or government borders will be erected to hamper the flow of information. But if you value if being provided also by the Internet then that’s a business to either get out of, or use only as a way to sell something else.

The basis of how the media gather news is changing. Increasingly firms are build a network to share the work needed to source information and gather news. The same approach essential for analyst firms who want to provide a better customer experience by pooling the effort needed to gather information (something which PAC, Springboard, Datamonitor and Experton seem to be leading on).

Analyst firms must learn from the Mzinga case study

Gianni Catalfamo, co-leader of the European Technology Practice of the Brodeur|Pleon Worldwide, has posed some important questions in his recent Mzinga case study. As one of the few nuclear engineers working in PR, Gianni’s thoughts are always worth reading. He discusses the choice of Forrester’s web strategist Jeremiah Owyang to caution clients about Mzinga, a firm about which Owyang had heard rumours and was intending to soon meet. Jeremiah acted from the best intentions, but mistakenly.

Gianni raises important concerns about whose interests are influenced by this use of blogging. It’s important for every analyst firm that allows its analysts to blog to review its policies in the light of Mzinga’s experience.

However, the lesson for AR professionals has to be that – whether or not we like it – the impact of these events will have been greater for Mzinga than for Forrester. Firms needs to be prepared for news to leak faster than ever. That means that where AR is being handled by media relations specialists, as seems to be the case at Mzinga, they understand which analysts needs to be responded to most quickly.

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.