Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Why Forrester Made The Right Call About Employee Blogs

Added on by Tom Webster.

Information wants to be free. Forrester wants to charge you for it. Even before the recent decision by Forrester to forbid its analysts from blogging about their coverage areas on personal blogs, these two facts were headed for a collision. First, let's be fair: Forrester isn't stopping employees from blogging about things outside of their coverage areas on their personal sites, and they aren't stopping them from blogging about their coverage areas period--they are simply requiring that content to be hosted at Forrester.

Still, there has been quite a kerfuffle over this move on the blogosphere. GigaOm takes the populist stance, declaring that like media, research needs to be social, too. Probably won't get too many arguments from the chattering classes on Twitter there. Most of the comments against Forrester's decision list a bunch of "personal branding" reasons, but a company has every right to insist on an employee's full attention, just as it is every employee's right to move on when their desire for a personal brand grows stronger than their desire to build someone else's brand. Critics of Forrester's move point to their loss of Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang, but those anecdotes are not representative of the analyst industry as a whole.

I've read a lot of posts excoriating Forrester for their decision, but I doubt few (if any) have been written by actual paying clients of Forrester. I've been one, so that has informed what will probably be a pretty unpopular post here on BrandSavant :)

I've been on both sides of the analyst paywall in my career. In a past life, I managed analyst relations for a company, and was in the position of writing those checks to Forrester, Gartner, et al. I can assure you that those checks were plenty big. I have enormous respect for Josh Bernoff and some of his colleagues at Forrester, but I wouldn't have written checks of that size to "Josh Bernoff, LLC." I wrote them to Forrester. I wrote them because Forrester granted me access to data--to information I could not get elsewhere--and the acquisition of that data comes at a high cost. Bernoff and other analysts add tremendous value to that data by helping their clients navigate through the interpretations and implications. But the competitive intelligence and primary research data collected by Forrester is at the heart of anything of value that they write.

In other words, the value of their analysis is inextricably tied to the value of the data they are analyzing, and that data is not only owned by Forrester, its very existence is dependent on the fact that Forrester can collect sensitive data from companies, sanitize it and synthesize to provide insight to its clients without exposing them. Take away that data, and the opinions of Forrester's analysts are just that. And you know what they say about opinions--they're like...uh...everyone has one.

Every time a Forrester analyst puts pen to paper on a given coverage area, they are doing so with the benefit of access to that information. Hosting those conversations at the Forrester blog is a tradeoff, but one that preserves the value of Forrester's intellectual property (IP.) Forrester clients don't pay Forrester to know stuff. They pay Forrester to know stuff before anyone else, or know stuff other people don't know. They pay for a competitive advantage, and they pay a lot. If Forrester's IP were spread all over the interwebs, the value of their analysis would naturally go down. This would make them more popular in social media circles, but less so in the writing-five-and-six-figure-checks-for-valuable-information circles, who would naturally start to question why they are paying Forrester when they can just aggregate the personal blogs of Forrester analysts.

As a personal example, I'd love to blog here about the work we do for the networks on the National Election Exit Polls, but anything I would write about would be dependent on access to that data, and that data is owned lock, stock and barrel by our clients, and they are the ones who will actually be sending little BrandSavant Jr to college. Can not do it. Similarly, analysts don't own the information they are analyzing, so it becomes difficult to extricate Forrester IP from the blogger's IP. Forrester has every right to dictate how its IP is used, when the scarcity of that IP is an existential question for the company.

Finally, much has been written about how this potentially tramples on the rights of the Forrester bloggers. Again, we'll see if this really prompts a mass exodus of analysts, or a renaissance in Forrester-hosted blogging--which would actually be good for clients. But consider what can happen to the reputation of Forrester (and its clients) when coverage areas are discussed on personal blogs. Now THAT'S a real kerfuffle. A human mistake, yes--it was owned up to, and all involved have moved on (and it's a testament to his character that these blog pages are still on his site.) But 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.

And, as always, your comments are welcome!