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.

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  1. Peter, I think you hit it with this statement:
    “In its quest for control of employee social media publishing, the company limits both risk AND reward.”
    I’m disappointed by Forrester’s decision because it feels like a step backward for an organization that normally moves forward. And it almost seems like they’ve placed the yoke of ownership upon their employees – Forrester now dictates even more of what you can do and can’t do. Yes, there are always going to be boundaries an employee cannot cross (revealing secrets, propriety information, etc.). It’s always a gamble when you place your trust in your employees…it doesn’t always work out and that’s the nature of organizational human dynamics.

    One other problem that Forrester may face is that their decision may make some very smart people second guess their desires to work for the organization. Time will only tell if this is true or not, but employer branding could be affected by this seemingly small act.

  2. “This ain’t workin’, Time fer us to call in a perfessional.”

    Calm and thoughtful analysis takes all the fun out of overreacting. So I’ll pick on your neologism, instead. 😉

  3. Thanks Peter, complete post! And I wasn’t aware…

    I agree with everything you say, just too bad Forrester hasn’t said this in their blogs over the last days
    They certainly miss the (even relative) openness of social, and it sure shows

    Looks like Dachis will be consulted this year on formulating policies and PR on how to bring news like Forrester tried to bring 😉
    Because, and we can all agree on that, PR-wise this could have been handled a *lot* better by Forrester

    And still, there are other ways to communicate besides blogs. Next thing we know, Forrester will be pulling their employees off of Facebook, Twitter and the like. One thing is for sure: they’ll have to make a policy on and a decision about that, and communicate it. Waiting for that to happen, not holding my breath though

    Hey and Peter is Dachis is asked to do that we’ll split the money okay? 😉

  4. Peter,

    Great food for thought (especially given your insight from having worked at Forrester). I had an interesting conversation about this very topic with Augie Ray, the new analyst covering social at Forrester, recently. He said that at first, he was a little disappointed to have to give up his personal blog — one that he had worked hard on building up over time. But after talking with senior management at Forrester, they agreed to give him a fair amount of leash with minimal editorial control [his post on the topic can be found here: http://bit.ly/ba9TWg%5D. He said that so far, they have been true to their word and that he thinks this can be a win/win for him and Forrester.

    To that end, while I mostly agree with your premise that it’s important for businesses to at least consider letting employees — especially for folks like yourself that have a strong personal brand — maintain an external blog, there are places like Dell where chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca, has managed to balance his authenticity and credibility within a corporate culture.

    Either way, it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

  5. This reminds me of a lesson I learned from Prof. Jim Cash when he was at Harvard Business School, and I had a chance to co-facilitate several Executive workshops with him. He would ask the assembled executives, “What would you do if the price you could charge for your product was reduced to $free? How would you make money?”

    Forrester’s concern about competition from $free sources is the wrong reaction to an inevitable and unstoppable force. If they could only see it, they are in a powerful position to shift their role in the value equation, and leverage the very forces they are trying to stifle.

  6. Pete:

    I think you provide a balanced perspective. I think this is very shortsighted on Forrester’s part. What you really want (I think) as an analyst firm is THE RECOGNIZED THOUGHT LEADERS leading your practice areas.

    In this day and age, that means people who are known and respected by their peer groups. The way to do this is SM/Blogging. In the end, I think this is shortsighted on Forrester’s part – especially if they hope to advise their own clients on SM policy.

    Let’s just say certain people become superstars – well, you (Forrester) are just going to have to pay them lots of money to keep them on board. Just like in sports or entertainment or investment banking, you are going to have to pay your superstars.


  7. Hi Peter,

    To me this seems to be a case of a rumor being blown up and misunderstood. Although Forrester will ask analysts to stop blogging under their own brand identify, in its place the company will be providing every analyst with a personally-branded blog on the Forrester site. This is consistent with maintaining the value of the brand and the analyst as a key component of the brand. In addition we’re told we will have freedom from editorial oversight – i.e. we can post what we would otherwise have posted on our own blog – this seems to me to be a win-win. (For my take see my post http://blogs.forrester.com/cio/2010/02/forresters-new-blog-policy-creates-quite-a-stir.html)


  8. Nigel, I haven’t dug too deep into this from Forrester’s side but what happens when you leave? I’m assuming your IP remains with your employer…which is pretty much the way it is with other forms of work we do for employers. But this just feels a bit different and offputting to me.

    Rather than an all-or-nothing proposition that Forrester seems intent on pursuing, where is the dialogue on how personal and employer brands can intersect? I believe any employee who builds their personal brand at the high expense of their employer isn’t appropriate…but neither does it make sense for an employer to deny their employees the ability to build their own professional brand.

    And here’s an interesting question: What happens if an individual with an already popular and respected blog decides to start working for Forrester? Will they be forced to also give that up as a condition of employment? This is why – from an outsider’s perspective – Forrester’s decision seems so short-sighted.

  9. Hey Pete. I suspect there’s a false choice between building personal and company brands. If I understand correctly, George wants analysts to publish role-relevant posts on the company blog, which is not password protected, right? So why can’t analysts publish their industry musings there, and use satellite media (personal blogs, microblogs, etc.) to, at least in part, tease their Forrester-hosted posts and direct readers to those assets? (PS: LOVE “perfessional.”)

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Being: Peter Kim