In 2000, back when I was working at a large software company, I was responsible for building their online communities. And part of the challenge was trying to explain to executives that “marketing is a conversation” and that conversations occur between people - opinionated, passionate people - not PR departments.
I’d make everyone read the cluetrain manifesto.
People are brands. And like brands, they can be fake or real. The real dilemma is this - is there a line, a demarcation between the voice of the company and the voice of the individual?
My point has always been this: when companies allow their employees to blog, they are strengthening their brand by making connections, building relationships, improving the quality of the conversation with the market, etc. etc.
And yes, there are times when people go off the deep end and act unprofessional. So you’ve got to have an employee blogging policy; and these days that means you’ve got to have a social media policy which covers Twitter, Facebook, and god-forbid, MySpace, along with the rest of the social stuff.
But all of this boils down to common sense; see
Sun’s, Oracle’s blogging policy, for example. The older version spelled it out like this:
1. Do not disclose or speculate on non-public financial or operational information. The legal consequences could be swift and severe for you and Sun.
2. Do not disclose non-public technical information (for example, code) without approval. Sun could instantly lose its right to export its products and technology to most of the world or to protect its intellectual property.
3. Do not disclose personal information about other individuals.
4. Do not disclose confidential information, Sun’s or anyone else’s.
5. Do not discuss work-related legal proceedings or controversies, including communications with Sun attorneys.
6. Always refer to Sun’s trademarked names properly. For example, never use a trademark as a noun, since this could result in a loss of our trademark rights.
7. Do not post others’ material, for example photographs, articles, or music, without ensuring they’ve granted appropriate permission to do this.
8. Follow Sun’s Standards of Business Conduct and uphold Sun’s reputation for integrity. In particular, ensure that your comments about companies and products are truthful, accurate, and fair and can be substantiated, and avoid disparaging comments about individuals.
When it comes to thought-leadership or a CEO blog, the voice of the individual is even more important.
Forrester gets this, finally. In a recent blog post, Cliff Condon, Forrester’s VP in charge of their social media efforts, explains the company’s official position on the topic of analyst blogging:
1. Forrester wants more analysts using social tools because it makes for better research. The research we write for clients has always depended on a rich two-way conversation with experts and practitioners in the marketplace. The rise of social tools like blogs and Twitter allows analysts to extend that conversation with more people in the marketplace. The more smart people our analysts interact with, the better our research will be. That’s the basis of the Groundswell. Therefore, Forrester is investing in building social tools and associated best-practice training for our analysts so that more of them get involved.
2. We are building a new blog platform to provide each analyst with a personal blog. Our platform today supports team blogs based on the professional roles we serve - such as the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog. The new platform we are building will allow our analysts to also maintain an individual blog on their coverage area. We are doing this so that our analysts can have direct conversations with key players in the marketplace and so clients have the flexibility to engage at an individual analyst level or a team level.
3. We want to make it easy for our clients. Our clients rely on us to help make them successful. They have told us that they are starved for time - they subscribe to our services in part because they conveniently get the insight they need from us and others who join in the Forrester conversation. Therefore, we can best serve client needs by placing all of our blog content in one place (at blogs.forrester.com), and put it in context alongside the rest of our data and analysis.
I hope that adds some clarity to what we are working on - I’ll share more as we move closer to roll-out later in the quarter. However, I felt it necessary to add to the conversation now since there has been discussion about analysts’ brands and the Forrester brand. The fact is we want to do everything possible to give analysts a high degree of visibility. Giving every analyst a personal blog is a step toward that goal. Our analysts’ reputation and our own are tied together. Our new blog platform is being designed to boost them both.
Definitely a step in the right direction for Forrester.