Friday, 17 November 2006

On Blogger Relations and Influencers Relations

We have received some echoes of the last IIAR meeting. Apparently James came to present about blogger relations and independent analysts. He made a few good points about blogs allowing an open peer review, his other views are pretty well summed up here. John Simmonds, an IBM AR Manager, also posted on the subject here and there.

James' conclusions in a nutshell are that:

  • In today's Web 2.0, conversations are in the open: blogs force corporations to rethink the line between what needs to be protected (actively) and what can be left in the wild
  • Communications need to be crafted around communities, not articulated for the masses

This is both a significant departure for AR, traditionally more used to one-on-ones and NDA's. As we expressed before, it is a unique land-grab opportunity for AR departments:

However, it requires a rethink not only from AR Managers (Open Source Briefings anyone?) but also from analysts (Coo-petitive Reports folks?)

We'd like to ask the question back to James: how would you envision a Briefing 2.0?


Dana Gardner said...

How to define Briefings 2.0 is an intriguing subject that I have given quite a bit of thought to. I agree with James wholeheartedly: Keep your NDAs, observe consulting dialogue as different from a briefing, but recognize the value of a lively briefing soars with the size of those exposed to it -- and stretches the boundaries of education and understanding. Analyst-only briefings sans an audience are of far less value in terms of market education.

And these exposed briefings are powerful at self-qualification of eager communities. The content tends to be geeky enough to engage those closest to the issues, like buyers, but too geeky for those tangental to the meaning. No need to water down the benefits to suit a wide audience, or general reporters. So my sense of the proper balance on this is to as an IT analyst do a vendor briefing, gather my notes and invite the subject-givers back for a second recorded version, which they sponsor and the listener knows that up-front.

As we deliver this podcast/transcript out to the blogosphere and to IT media partners, the educational boundaries grow, communities are defined, the analyst moderates as a trusted truth-seeker, and the vendor gets the pertinent details into the public domain while an engaged and selective audience adds real meat to their bones of needed interest -- at no cost. Expose the tagged transcript and blog on it, and viola -- true communications via search, link, comment, and actively involved communities of reaction and validation (or not). Listen or read, search or RSS. By keeping it all on the level of a briefing, it is by definition informational and not slippery.

Incidentally, I recently moderated a panel before the Publicity Club of New England on these issues, and the consensus was that within IT media and communities that one-third of the content would soon be user-generated (blogs and comments), one-third would be vendor-generated (white-papers, sponsored podcasts, webinars, webcasts, etc.), and one-third would be traditional reporter-generated content (news stories, reviews, columns). Openly available analyst briefings aid and abet all three.

Jon Collins said...

Agreed, Dana. Perhaps the single thing that should distinguish a briefing 2.0 to from a traditional briefing is the interaction. There are still plenty of vendors who brief from the perspective of "here's something we want to tell you, oh and by the way you'd know it anyway because here's the press release" - such briefings are a waste of everyone's time. Far more interesting and useful are the sessions we have, generally with other analysts, that encourage debate about the issues etc.

Its obviously difficult to generalise but I think one of the aspects about 2.0 that doesn't get mention so much is that its actually a very efficient way of debating a topic and building on the conclusions of others; it also has an audit trail. Far more efficient for example than spending 6 hours on the road for a couple of hours of dialogue. There is always a place for face to face, but the point here is that briefings 2.0 should also be looking to benefit from such economies.

My perfect briefing 2.0 would be one in which I only participated in those parts that interested me (rather than spending half the day in irrelevant sessions), together with other analysts that focused on the same topics; then, which encouraged a lively debate from the other analysts, particularly those who we don't hear very often. That tends to be the analysts from the larger firms, funnily enough - but we've already had the conversation about whether the james-bond-at-the-poker-table model is sustainable in the longer term.

Meanwhile, vendors should be asking themselves what the briefings are for in the first place. If its just to tell people stuff, briefings are inefficient as they can only ever offer a shotgun approach. If they are to ensure that analysts tell their customers, it becomes even more inefficient. This goes for briefings big and small, from vendors big and small. Alternatively, if the briefings are to gain feedback on positioning, product strategy etcetera, the vendor needs to ensure the mechanisms exist to take such feedback into account - for example, it needs to happen at the right point in strategy or roadmap development.

I don't believe - at all - that analysts have the monopoly on good ideas or critique, and it always amazes me how companies the size of some vendors can gain anything they can't already do for themselves. However, if there is one thing they can gain from the "2.0" idea it is to take its other name, social networking. Socialising an idea, roadmap or strategy with outsiders is a great way of finding out if it stacks up; equally, networking is the basis of collaboration, and collaboration is at the root of influence, if that's what the game is.

So - more interaction; let us choose the bits we want to share in; ensure feedback is actionable.

Incidentally I only say "analysts" as shorthand for the people who are able/allowed to turn up - I remember a great vendor briefing with a journalist who knew the space, and again, I welcomed the interaction. Why some vendors keep analysts and journalists apart is beyond me, but that's a whole new topic!

Duncan Brown said...

Further to Jon's comments, what are briefings for? My experience has been that vendors see briefings largely as marketing, where they are seeking exposure for their latest strategy/products. That's why most AR functions report into the marketing VP. If vendors are genuinely looking for input into their positioning, strategy, etc then the conversation changes from a briefing to consulting, and the meter starts running.

What is changing is the nature of marketing itself, from a one-way delivery to a two-way conversation. Blogging is an on-line example of word-of-mouth conversational marketing, which itself is part of a wider so-called Marketing 2.0 (sigh).

The reason why most vendors find blogging and Marketing 2.0 uncomfortable is that it challenges their traditional command-and-control model of information release.I expect briefings, and other marketing activities, to become more interactive, but only as marketers and AR leave their current comfort zone.

ARonaut said...

I guess the "uncomfort" comes from two things:

- AR usually reports to Corporate Communications (for incumbent vendors) and to indeed Marketing (for challengers). Both functions are used to 1:many communications and unified messages. In a world where everyone can post a comment on a blog, many are wondering how to control, few are at the "empower" stage.

- The other aspect is that blogs are in the open. AR is more used to briefings under NDA with selected individuals. How can AR conciliate the requests from analysts for insight and non-public information (roadmaps, beta customer references, size of deployment teams, etc...) with blogging in the open? Most corporate blogs are just a regurgitation of marketing stuff combined with what pizza they ate the night before. Is that insightful?

Dale Vile said...

I feel very old-fashioned for saying this, but after reading through the posts and comments both here and on James' blog, I have to say that I think the whole briefing 2.0 concept is being taken a bit too far.

Not that I think it doesn't have a place, but I think of all these ideas as an extension of the way in which we all relate rather than a replacement or transition thing.

On the topic of briefings, for instance, there are many vendors and/or spokespeople that I have the kind of relationship with that allows an open exchange of ideas and concepts before they are fully formed. If some of these discussions were taken out of context or disclosed prematurely, e.g. on a blog, they could easily create the wrong impression and be open to abuse by the press or misunderstood by customers.

Of course you could have exchanges of this kind under explicit NDA, and at the other end of the spectrum I appreciate the argument that broadening participation can sometimes be useful, but it would be shame to jeopardise those free flowing conversations between people with a strong relationship based on mutual trust and understanding. It's not so much about the extremes of secret vs open, it's more about trusted communication, judgement and discretion.

On a specific point, I agree wholeheartedly with whoever drew the distinction between blogging first impressions or immediate reactions, and taking time out to think about what you have heard/discussed then structuring some considered analytical output. I have seen a tendency for a journalist "scoop" style mentality develop among analysts who blog, which I am not sure is that healthy.

Bottom line is that I think AR people need to take community oriented communication mechanisms seriously, but blend them into the traditional engagement models and not lose sight of the value of effective individual relationships.

I have believed for a long time and still do that the most effective AR people are those who "get" the whole relationship thing. If someone understands relationships and not communities, they can still be effective. If they focus communities at the expense of relationships, they will let their companies down.

Anonymous said...

I recently came back from a major analyst boondoggle with one of the major vendors. I was personally shocked at how out-of-step most of the "branded" analysts are with today's industry. I believe this is as a result of vendors preferring analysts who know little and ask dumb questions which mean nothing and provoke no controversy. I also believe the deterioration of analyst quality to be caused by the little exposure they are getting to the end-user and over-exposure to the vendor marketing hype. I worry where this industry is headed and hope one of the leading analyst firms goes "back to basics" soon and refocuses its analysts on what they should be doing - talking to the customers!

Joe Martins said...

Briefings, by definition, are meant to be short and to-the-point. Vendors are barely up to the challenge of getting to the point in 30 minutes let alone answering detailed questions too.

If you want to open up discussions and record them, by all means go for it, but a)don't call them briefings (because they're not) and b)don't use the the sessions as an opportunity to grandstand as some seem to do when they know they're on-the-air.

I view briefings as a quick and easy vehicle to receive news in advance of a public announcement. Although, admittedly some of the briefings may follow on the heels of a public announcement.

If I want to dive deeper based on what I've heard, I request a follow-on discussion. Such discussions might be worthy of recording, but they are, by their very nature, not briefings.

Quite frankly, when I first read the term "Briefing 2.0" my gut reaction was to strangle the person who coined the phrase. If I read one more CatchPhrase 2.0 I'm going to lose it.

Off topic, regarding the anonymous comment (posted above mine) about analyst quality, and going back to basics...what analyst firms SHOULD do is hire qualified resources. There's absolutely nothing more aggravating to real-world practitioners, and more harmful to the reputation of the analyst industry, than the continued use of a bunch of technology and business poseurs.

If I want advice about, for example, SOA from a guy who has never written a single javascript let alone developed an enterprise application or managed a development team, I'll ask my truckdriver brother and it won't cost me a dime.

Businesses that seek advice from these individuals deserve whatever fate befalls them.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Joe Martins. Most of today's "brand" analysts have zero experience developing software or even using/testing any of the software they "write about". Moreover, most of the "services" analysts have never worked with a buy-side customer or professional services firm to help work in/run any services operations. To these analysts' defence, you can forgive their lack of real-world experience if they actually spent time talking with developers, customers, services professionals, however, as one analyst confessed recently "I haven't spoken to a user in over a year. I just do vendor briefings for my research". This explains why some analyst firms only have vendors for their clients, as the vendors are simply "checking the boxes" to say they briefed all the "relevant" analyst firms. When we analyze this situation more deeply, we can draw the unfortunate conclusion that a rather uninspring cottage industry has grown up: Analyst Relations teams who exist solely to brief analysts whose only value is to write up unsubstantiated research that is only read by those AR teams to ensure they talked about them. What a waste of resources and money!