It is clear that social media will change everything. Unquestionably they will continue to impact to industry analysts, both overall and in my area of focus, business technology. Here I’ve already seen the effect of new channels that deliver insight, research and advice, continuously and in small bits. I myself have been engaging in social media for many years both personally and professionally and across many mainstream brands. In 2009 the firm I lead, Ventana Research, integrated into its communication efforts providing research insights, blogs, education and collaboration opportunities through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Business Week – Business Exchange.
But that was last year. 2010 is proving to be different yet again. The numbers of business and IT professionals embracing technologies like Twitter for business and social purposes are growing dramatically. I have witnessed this as I have tweeted at industry events on topics like analytics, business intelligence and performance management. Each time I do, individuals from global 2000 organizations respond by direct-messaging about specific points of view or with questions. This is the first step in driving true business social collaboration across Twitter. Of course, full collaboration only happens when tweets are retweeted to everyone so they can read and respond, which drives a larger volume of voices to comment or question.
Social media collaboration, like any activity related to marketing or interactions in general, is best assessed through measurement. Figuring out how to measure social media interactions and effectiveness has been no easy task for technology providers as measurement is easy only in comparison to the challenge of truly understanding its effective value. It’s not dissimilar from the challenge marketing organizations face in striking the right balance of quality and quantity in the business opportunities (“leads”) they generate (which, incidentally, most are still not very good at). I have time and again looked at supposed listings of top bloggers, only to discover that those topping the list don’t post blog items any more often than every three months. Too many of these lists are nothing more than friends promoting friends rather than any analysis of relevance or value.
As challenging as rankings are of blogs, that’s nothing compared to assessing Twitter, where the high frequency and short length makes it far more difficult to evaluate relevance. It’s far easier to say what isn’t important: A high number of tweets does not indicate their relevance or aggregate value. Many people tweet both personally and within their business or professional context. I myself have a personal Twitter handle to express my more personal perspectives as distinct from those that have to do with my business or business-social identities. Yes, the blending of business and personal can help provide insight, but that needs to be balanced with a sense of what it’s appropriate or useful to communicate to the broader audience that follows you for your business opinion and perspectives. Analysts many times forget that the quality of tweets can impact those who actually chose to follow because they want to read something relevant in the tweeting; if they aren’t getting that, it’s all too easy to take the one-click action to do an unfollow in Twitter.
This lack of attention to relevance in an industry analyst’s communication via social media inevitably will generate the only kind of feedback that ultimately works – declining numbers – as the application of sentiment and text analytics increases to enable followers to tune their selections for relevance. This step forward in sophistication is not as far away as some might think; today already you can extract tweets by hashtag for a time period and process them through social media and text analytics tools to determine relationships and relevance. I recently was shown new SAS Institute technology that will change the landscape by applying this realm of analytics to marketing and Internet activities. Clearly, going forward statistics on number of tweets and followers will not be sufficient for a savvy marketer to determine an individual’s influence. Using such analytics, though, not only can I make a better informed decision about the influence of an analyst but they can then be applied to the people that analyst is following and the people following him or her to get a more rounded three-dimensional view of relevant influence in a particular technology segment.
The use of social media by analysts around a technology provider’s industry conferences or analyst summit can play an instrumental role in educating and promoting the company, products and customer efforts. The rise of the new social media has spotlighted some dramatic differences among analysts. There are analysts who still take notes on paper or ones recording key thoughts in a document. There are those who are actually writing a research note or blog in real time that will go directly into research operations and quickly be processed or directly posted on the Internet. And then there are those who go the next step to complement these efforts by tweeting.
I have been amused to still hear analysts ask, “What’s the point to Twitter, no one actually reads this stuff?” My perspective is that the more you put into social media, the more you get out of it. It is not difficult for any technology provider to evaluate industry analysts fairly quickly on their use of social media, since most of it is public on the Internet, and they can then assess all their work – if, or course, they can get access to the complete listing of their written or audio perspectives on the firm’s secured Internet site. I recently have done three global analyst summits (hashtag and blog following) at Informatica (#infaanalyst) and related blog (See: “Informatica Demonstrates the Value of Data for Every Organization”), SAP and (#sapsummit) and related blog (See: “SAP Broadcasts New Enterprise Software and Applications Strategy“), and SAS Institute (#sassb) and related blog (See: “SAS Simplifies the Science and Use of Analytics in 2010“), and I can report that the balancing act of listening, assessing, comparing, collaborating real-time on Twitter and putting out your perspective and research facts real-time on Twitter and into a blog isn’t easy. Frankly after a day of it pretty much can turn your brain into mush. But it’s important to do, and I believe it generates value.
This social media revolution has been difficult for the larger IT analyst firms to deal with. They’ve now realized that their paid employees are quite busy building personal brands that have little connection to their organization’s brand or efforts. Sagecircle (@sagecircle) and Carter Lusher (@carterlusher) have one of the most complete industry analyst firm listing of blogs and Twitter handles in the industry, and Lusher has closely reported on the crackdown on analysts’ personal blogs and tweeting at Forrester. This knee-jerk reaction and less-than-balanced policy response has already impacted its analyst team, with many departing to new roles and analyst firms like Altimeter Group (@altimetergroup).
This social media movement will be one of the transforming elements of our time. It is one that will move newer, and in most cases newer generations of, industry analysts away from the larger, more conservative and rigid analyst firms.
I personally have enjoyed what the advances in social media have made possible. I certainly would not classify myself as a guru in this area, though I have had substantial experience in publishing views and perspectives freely on the Internet going back to the late ‘90s. I spent more than a decade working at technology providers like Oracle, SAP and others in product and marketing management roles along with more than a decade on the research and industry analyst side of the industry, all of which provides me with a higher-than-average appreciation for the role of analysts in the industry. It is clear that this new social media channel can play a huge role in shaping discussion of and collaboration around one’s brand and products. Indeed, social media have infiltrated all elements of marketing – consider how much of the consumer packaged goods companies’ advertising drives potential customers to its Facebook-branded site where they can influence further their brand across the world.
What does this all mean for you as a buyer of technology? Well, you have available important new channels of communication and collaboration with analysts to get perspectives to help you with your buying decisions. These are interactions that do not cost you much but do require an investment of time. It’s for you to decide whether and if so how to recognize their value through supporting them and even purchasing their time to help you strategically with education and insights in the area of your needs.
For technology suppliers, this means you must look beyond the status quo and conventional wisdom of just focusing on the largest analyst firms. Ask what their true value is to you, and look at the sources of influence of the people who actually state their opinions and views. Who truly is influencing and leading your technology segment? And don’t just ask that question once, or even once a year. The social media channel is growing at such a rate that you may find that before long your influence points have changed completely; you perhaps will need to do quarterly reviews and monthly monitoring of those individuals who are measurably influencing your customers and buyers across all channels.
Any way you look at it, if you are not embracing social media yourself and for your organization and finding methods to leverage it to your advantage, you are part of the legacy and not part of the future. The revolution in social media is becoming mainstream, one that we all need to improve the quality of our social media communications and now you must determine what to do next.
If you want to talk further, send a question or direct message me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/marksmithvr) and find out how it works. Your life will never be the same.
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Mark Smith - CEO & EVP Research