What you can learn from Forrester’s new blogging policy

I’ve been following the discussion around Forrester’s new blogging policy. In case you weren’t aware, I was formerly a Forrester analyst covering social computing and wrote some of the early drafts of the company’s blogging policy. Now I’m building a strategy consulting practice at Dachis Group and advising companies on social business – wherein policies and guidelines play an important role.

Based on my experience, I understand where Forrester’s management is coming from. Forrester makes their money by curating information and social media poses a threat to its core intellectual property. How? By shifting points of value creation and capture closer to $free. So why on earth would the firm want to encourage their proprietary value-creating assets (i.e. analysts) to support and accelerate the shift? Implementing a policy to protect IP value is a smart move by management.

However, smart marketers know that not all consumers are created equal. Same goes for Forrester’s readers: some prefer syndicated research reports, others phone inquiries, and some favor in-person interactions. Professionally-affiliated, personally-managed blogs – let’s call them “perfessional” – provide an additional engagement channel for employees to support business goals, on consumer-friendly terms. Social media policies must provide flexibility from an employee perspective that permit perfessional engagement – otherwise, companies risk missing a business opportunity.

Here’s where Forrester’s decision appears to fall flat: in its quest for control of employee social media publishing, the company limits both risk AND reward. This is the point that most social media discussion has focused on. Ultimately it’s a business decision and Forrester’s to make, but case history shows that perfessional blogs like Jeremiah’s, Bruce’s, and mine help build both personal and company brands.

I think there’s a more difficult point here for Forrester – some condition in the company’s current culture drove an insider to leak the information to SageCircle. This signals internal dissonance and the uncomfortable but likely fact that malcontent employees need to separate from Forrester. When you’re playing poker, exchanging your cards as the round plays out is just part of the game. Only time will tell if the new policy is a success or failure, based on business results – but again, a smart move by management to protect core IP in the reality of an evolving social business landscape, instead of clinging to purist social media ideals.

Companies must implement policy to manage social media participation and let’s face it – the devil is in the details. To be effective, a social media policy must be tailored to a company’s strategy, culture, process, style, industry, competition, technology, and most importantly – customer needs. You can’t just copy and paste a policy you find on a wiki; you’ve got to understand how policy and guidelines play critical roles in supporting social business.