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Its time for analyst relations to step into the 21st Century: Influencer 2.0

When I saw the title of this blog entry, Should AR run Influencer Relations?, I assumed it would talk to the new patterns of influence emerging through blogging. I have had quite a few conversations with senior analyst relations people about blogs, bloggers and what they mean for the business and figured that might be one of the subjects of the piece.

Bloggers and emerging non-traditional analyst firms are increasingly influencing technology and product strategies. In order to make money, many of the new blog influencers will try and make their way as paid trusted advisors. Some will do implementation work as well. They are the new influencers.

As usual the new is both a threat and an opportunity for "traditional AR", a function that is only really emerging now, blinking into the light, to define its roles and responsibilties. For every world class AR program there is another that seems like an afterthought.

It turns out though that Duncan Chapple, the author, is actually talking about the traditional segmentation between consultants and industry analysts as influencers.  I don’t want to put words in his mouth so please read his article. Anyway, he provides this useful segmentation in the context of his argument:

Despite this superficial blurring of lines between analysts and consultants, there is a fundamental difference. Analysts follow their own research agenda, and their findings are largely independent from the interests of the vendors they follow. Advisory consulants are often tied to commercial relationships

Blog influencers however, are likely to meld both approaches.

Before I talk a bit more about blog influencers and why AR needs to consider changes in patterns of influence, its worth pointing to ARmadgeddon, at least partly because of its imaginative and relevant headline, Step up a geAR or disappeAR!

ARmadgeddon’s take:

  • We believe that only 5-15% of IT vendors have best-in-class AR practices and AR staff of the right caliber to transition from AR and grow into IfR: Influencer Relations. This supposes the ability to recruit the right people and secure significant incremental resources.
  • Second tier AR teams will face budget cuts and (re)-integration within the communications department, with the prospect to be compensated/promoted on clippings levels (or worse, on activity) rather than relationships and sales impact (or even research quality and thought leadership).

While I agree with both Duncan and ARonaut that consultants and industry analysts are traditionally somewhat of a different breed, its important to note that the separation seems to be changing under the weight of the blogosphere. New variants are emerging, with new influence characteristics.

What is deal architect? Well lets see- Vinnie Mirchandani is invited to Sapphire, wheras SAP usually only invites "tier one analyst firms" to its conferences. But he is just one guy. He is also contributing to the techspend network.What is he? An influencer certainly, someone that gets the changing influencer game. [Note to IBM Global Services if you read this – I would advise you to reach out to Vinnie, his default positions tend to be rather skeptical of IBM, and he works on Fortune 500 services contract issues.]

How about Dennis? God knows what he is but he knows the SMB business and acccounting application space better than anyone else I have come across. His advice is worth paying for. And he is a renaissance man – not only an SMB guy but the "lead researcher" for Rene Vanadik TIBCO CEO’s latest book.

What about RedMonk? Are we bloggers? Are we industry analysts? We’re both. Some people at SAP like our content shareware model because its different and effective. Some of its customers too.

What about patterns of inbound influence? RedMonk is somewhat weighted towards technical communities, and we like it that way. I know that we’re influencing Sun product directions, for example, based on our market conversations, many of which are unpaid. But there is enough paid work at the vendor too, for that to be more than OK.

Then there are journalist/blogger/analysts such as Dan Farber, David Berlind and Jon Udell. They may not take paid gigs, but it would be foolish to ignore their advice, or influence, or to address them solely through PR channels. They are conference speakers and organisers. Jon’s title is analyst.

Emerging networks such as Federated Media Publishing will create new stars and influencer models. Architects like James McGovern and Scott Mark speak for themselves.

There are also independent vendor bloggers. That is people whose advice you trust, even though they work for a vendor. Some vendor bloggers I would completely ignore their advice, others I would accept in a heartbeat. What if you’re looking for best practice rather than product advice? Then who do you talk to? In a world where language often defines deployment choices IBM competes with Gartner. We all do.

I suspect that the nature of trust is changing, too, as it becomes based on networks rather than large companies. This is not to say classic brands and companies don’t have a role to play, but transparency is leading to some different ways of quickly establishing trust. Prejudices tend to show, like dark hair through blond roots. That is maybe OK, as long as the bias is made clear.

Its a bit like the difference between Identity 1.0 and Identity 2.0

In a world where the first port of call for an inquiry is Google, patterns of influence are bound to change. From top down to clusters, for example.

Of course in this new world, personal branding becomes more important, while judgements about relative authority become somewhat more subjective. New skills are required by influencer management organisations and professionals..

One of my favourite sayings about blogs is that they are about being "famous for 15 people." If these readers are the right people that influence can be profound. When people ask me who reads your blog I usually point them at this guy – check out his blogroll. But how do you formalise that? Qualititative analysis becomes more important.

It seems I am possibly more confident in the AR community than Duncan or ARonaut, though. I work with some really talented people.

My take: the critical point about any influencer program is understanding influence as a lifecycle. Treating PR, AR or consultant relations as a pure outbound marketing function is certainly the wrong approach. Those that can foster a dialogue, be prepared to get out of the way of the transaction where appropriate, but ensure the feedback loops keeps turning, is in a good position to be a successful influencer manager. You need to learn to work multifaceted webs of influence.

I am not sure whether it makes sense to establish a new function – blogger relations – because roles are converging, merging and melding. This is a renaissance era. This is a remix era. Influencer roles are being mashed up by practitioners.

My point is not to criticize Duncan or ARonauts’s commentary, but hopefully to add another aspect to consider. Any ambitious AR person should be thinking about the opportunity to bring bloggers into their sphere of influence. Someone is going to do it. Why not you.

I expect to see more and more bloggers turning up at Industry Analyst conferences. The vendors and AR programs that invite this new constituency along will be marking themselves out as industry leaders.

I am also waiting to see the first blog-driven AR consultancy. There are plenty in the PR space but none that I know of from the AR community. AR has blogs about AR but not blogs for AR.

Another place to look for precedents is the political blog space. The Daily Kos‘ Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is now a well paid political consultant, all biases intact…

Its time for AR to step into the 21st century, which means understanding that the world is flat. Social skills are increasingly important in the influencer management role as we move from hiearchy to wirearchy. You also need to use the tools bloggers use if you want to really understand what is going on. Aggregators, Blogs, and Tags. The ABT of early 21st century influence.

I hope that is helpful. If you work in AR and you want to know more I would be happy to spend some time going through the issues with you. I would also very much like any comments or insights you have on these issues.

disclaimer: IBM is a client. It also happens to have a world-leading influencer program. Sun is also a client. It has truly excellent relationship-oriented people working as influencer professionals.

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14 Responses

  1. echoes what I wrote in The Changing Influence Game, but the last para I has is telling. AR is having a nard time coming to grips with the fragmenting landscape

    http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2005/12/the_changing_in.html

  2. As usual James you frame the discussion. We’re forwarding your blog entry to everyone at the agency.

  3. Aren’t blog just and only a medium?

    Shouldn’t IfR concentrate on people rather than on where they happen to speak up? And what about those who only speak behind closed doors?

    Just thoughts…

  4. Great post. The only thing it doesn’t address is the need for continued clarity in the influencer community – by declaring ones status as an influencer, one is also declaring (I believe) a certain transparency of approach. While the vendor community should be looking to broaden its remit, so should the influencer community be looking to assure its integrity, a la http://www.joncollins.net/wordpress/?p=177.

  5. ARonaut, no, not really. Blogs are a means to an end, and in this case the end is influence. Its important to take a holistic view of the latter, whatever mechanisms are involved.

  6. James – SAP invited other top bloggers as well. I think maybe 4-6? That’s because Jeff Nolan sees the world of blogging in a completely different context. Who knows, we might get asked onto the EU leg of that gig? Boy – that would be fun. I have so many questions of Henning from the last time I met him which was 5 years ago now.

  7. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Analysts provide value to customers (in this case, businesses who buy technology) as do vendors. Blogs have expanded the reach of smart people to customers and can have as much of an impact to business as the Internet has had. Value can manifest itself in page views or engagements. Whether enough of the latter flows will be the acid test.

  8. vinnie: i linked to your post in my post already.

    brenda: thanks. I appreciate your kind words and any further exposure

    ARonaut- i wondered this yesterday and decided that no a blog is not just a pen and paper for the web age. there are cultural changes afoot that can’t be ignored. Our blogs are CRM systems. I am a bit surprised you and Analyst Equity seem to be heading the other way, with a view of the world in which Gartner dominates everything with no disruption in sight. But that’s your lookout.

    Jon: I agree with you, not surprisingly.

    ARonaut – the question basically is does the internet change patterns of influence?

    Dennis- yes I know SAP is hip to this. That was my point but thanks for the clarification.

    Jon: I can vouch for their being a low pH in the test tube as far as RedMonk engagements and concerned. Blogging is a sales pipeline in its own right.

  9. Wouldn’t 21st century analyst relations have a changed focus to not necessarily pursue those who are full-time analysts but instead put some energy into pursuit of us part-time analysts such as Scott Mark who is in many ways more influential in terms of his peers?

  10. OK – let’s take this one step further. MSFT gets panned for increased profits. Lots of comment flying around. Scoble says my idea of engaging with the CFOs office is no good because of regulation and compliance. How DOS is that?

    OK – so analysts are pretty ticked off. But no-one is putting meat on this. enter Paul Kedrovsky (Infectious Greed) via Vinnie. Paul says this really suicks and explains how MSFT is screwing around. Thinks: when wedded to what I know from MiniMicrosoft and what I can get out the 10K/Qs – I can probably do a fair job of figuring out how the undisclosed spending jigsaw comes together from an investment perspective.

    Now I blog it and so does Vinnie, Nolan, Paul, Sadagopan, Zoli Erdos, the Redmonk crew – cos they’ll want a piece of this – and a few others.

    NOW we have analyst 2.0, seamlessly mashed up.

    Does MSFT bring the finance boys into the blog arena now ? I think it probably does. Because now, the A2.0 mob are providing intelligence to a much wider and potentially lethal gourping…customers.

  11. James,
    I invited 13 bloggers to SAPPHIRE originally, and all but Dan could attend (Gartner has their symposium gig the same week, go figure). Anyway, Dion is coming on Dan’s ticket.

    The 13, and I probably could have picked a better number :), are bloggers I am comfortable with in terms of their knowledge of enterprise software, diversity of opinion (backgrounds really), and the quality of their work. It is by no means an all-inclusive list, just a starting point for the first year of doing this. I have to pay for everyone out of my own budget, and it’s not escaped me that I have put a lot of my political capital to work in order to make this happen so I really need to nail it. I’m not expecting this group to softball anything, and you know as well as anyone that these guys simply won’t do that, but I do want to drive some blogosphere coverage for stuff going on at SAPPHIRE and interesting backstage commentary and that’s a reasonable goal.

    If all goes well I will be in a great position to do the same for SAPPHIRE in Paris, but first I want to get through Orlando and do an after action report to see what worked and what didn’t.

    As to the initial topic on this, I don’t think bloggers belong in any of the traditional *R functions but rather spanning all of them in a virtual fashion. Dan Farber is a blogger, but he’s also a journalist, Charlene Li is a blogger who is also an analyst… I need a group of people that can identify with the content that is being created in the blogosphere, not the bio of the blogger creating it. I think that people like Dan and Charlene also have different expectations for how they will be engaged by SAP than a straight up blogger like myself or Ross or Zoli.

    It’s a work in progress, we’re making a lot of it up as we go along but we are keenly watching and learning from other companies as well.

  12. Jeff’s motivation is fine with me. I appreciate the risks he’s taking both personally and commercially.

  13. I’m curious about your opinion on ethics and influencer programs. If a major OEM invited you to box seats at a baseball game with all the alcohol and food you wanted, would you attend? Most publications banned their journalists from activities like this long ago. Can IT influence through bloggers be bought?

  14. James, Jon,

    A quick search on Redmonk.com gives 451 hits for “conversation”. A conversation is about people, ideas and a place for those to meet. And that’s all it’s about, in a pub, on a blog, during a briefing. Don’t be so obsessed with the medium.

    Influencer relations is simply about fostering those conversations. Easier said than done…



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