December 3, 2008
Copyright © 2008 PRSA. All rights reserved.
The following article appears in the December 2008 issue of PR Tactics.
By Ryan Zuk, APR
It’s Monday morning, Oct. 13 and Carter Lusher is sending 140-character messages to his followers via Twitter.com from his mobile phone at Walt Disney World’s Dolphin Resort in Orlando, site of the 2008 Gartner Symposium and ITxpo.
Thousands of technology professionals are in attendance as Gartner senior vice president of research Peter Sondergaard delivers an opening keynote address. An additional 747 people, some in attendance and others not, are reading Lusher’s “tweets” (@carterlusher) about their observations during Sondergaard’s speech and the week-long conference.
Lusher is the industry analyst relations (AR) strategist for SageCircle, a research and advisory firm that works with members of the analyst ecosystem. His adept use of social media tools such as Twitter has empowered how he communicates with and supports his clients.
The practice of analyst relations — like nearly all communication disciplines — is rapidly encountering new ways to engage with influencers, clients and colleagues through social media.
Regarding the complementary nature of AR and public relations, first note the difference in how analysts and the press work. Analysts representing firms such as Aberdeen, AMR Research, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Ovum, Yankee Group and others are advisers to technology buyers. As such, their thorough evaluation of vendors, products, technologies and trends within specific areas of focus requires a more meticulous methodology than the press generally needs to cover a subject or file a story.
As practitioners, we typically accommodate the information needs of analysts twelve or eighteen months in advance of a major announcement, while interacting with press about the same announcement weeks, days, or sometimes just minutes in advance.
Interactions with each group can intersect and yield positive results when well managed. Pre-briefed analysts provide some of the most powerful quotes within news stories, and their third-party validation often eclipses statements from our own executives.
Today, our communication with influencer groups can be measurably enhanced and accelerated with social media.
“When we asked analysts how valuable they believe social media is, their responses about made me fall off my chair,” explains Lusher, referring to his October SageCircle social media survey of more than 6,000 analysts worldwide.
“Sixty-five percent of respondents answered yes, 17 percent were undecided, 13 percent felt it was too early to tell and 5 percent said no. This feedback, although high level with caveats, is a solid indicator that social media is here to stay, so we ought to use it wisely.”
Online communities, blogs, open collaboration sites known as wikis, communications tools like Twitter, FriendFeed and Plurk, and social bookmarking sites such as Del.icio.us, Digg and Diigo, among many other entities have all found their way onto the social media landscape. Each offers their own value proposition, with active users being a key indicator of real value. Facebook, for example, reached the 100 million user mark this August.
Lusher believes blogs are the most mature among these tools, and presently offer the most opportunity for AR and PR practitioners. In fact, he’s only identified five technology vendors who have blogs targeting analyst readership and sees a huge opportunity for other companies to do likewise before the space gets crowded. SageCircle’s survey data backs this up: 77 percent of analysts replied that they would read an AR blog for fresh and relevant information.
Tekrati.com tracks more than 200 analyst blogs and Lusher indicates that they are an incredible source of intelligence. “A lot of analysts use blogs to informally talk about their research agendas. This is information AR managers desperately need since many individual analysts do not publish the detailed equivalent of an editorial calendar.”
Scott Nelson, Gartner analyst and managing vice president of research, agrees and adds, “blogs are another vehicle to research ideas from, and incubate our ideas through other people’s comments.”
Nelson also cautions readers to recognize that blogs do not go through the same stringent review process that published research does, and therefore offer a different sort of opinion that should be considered accordingly.
In September, Gartner introduced the Gartner Blog Network, which according to Lusher, instantly legitimized analyst blogging. “Gartner published blogs for several years, but with an underwhelming approach,” he says. “Their new focus changes everything. I liken it to when IBM entered the PC market in the early 1980s. Computers of the day such as the Sinclair and Commodore were considered hobbyist machines. Only when IBM entered the space were they taken more seriously. Gartner has created this same awareness for analyst blogging.”
Extending social media benefits
Timeliness is a big benefit of using blogs, joining online communities and following analyst and press contacts on Twitter. Receiving information at the right time, perhaps ahead of others, can provide a valuable leg up.
Lusher shares that a San Francisco AR manager learned of an analyst traveling to the city via the analyst’s Twitter post. “She got her executives a dinner briefing with the analyst that night and leapfrogged competitors in the process.”
Efficiency is another blogging benefit. Companies receive a lot of product and strategy questions from many channels, which is generally good. Yet consider that many analysts and editors rotate in and out of positions. Publishing a blog lets communicators offer a standardized and easy-to- update location where existing and new contacts can keep getting refreshed.
Blogs also provide a quick way to address any factual misunderstandings that may occur, and their one-to-many communication and commenting aspects can help an organization broaden its audience, whether external or internal.
An internal AR blog, for example, addressed to the sales team, executives, company spokespeople and extended AR team members — including public relations and marketing — can share knowledge about who analysts are, what they do, and how AR manages relationships. Internal AR blogs, per Lusher, should also include best practices for employees who interact with analysts, and provide sales teams with the information they need to leverage positive analyst evaluations or mitigate negative commentary.
Catching up and keeping up
With all the social tools to consider, communicators who interact with analysts or other topic-specific constituents may wonder how or where to begin.
SageCircle recommends an A-through-F grading approach for analyst relations, with the considered criteria spanning from asking analysts about their blog-reading habits through sharing collected analyst insights with your sales team. (See the “Five go-to sources” sidebar for more detail and additional advice.)
General consensus among social media and communications experts says to monitor tools to learn how each operates before actively participating. Listening to what your customers and influencers are saying in these forums will advance your learning curve.
Former Forrester analyst and Altimeter Group thought leader Charlene Li, who wrote “Groundswell” with Josh Bernoff, suggests that organizations focus on relationships not technologies. Leading with your audience and communication objectives, then identifying the best social technologies to achieve them is the appropriate course of action.
The authors also warn organizations not to delay social media use by first trying to learn everything there is to know. Li offered clever articulation of this last point during a September speaking engagement in Tempe, Ariz., sponsored by Sitewire Marketspace Solutions.
“If you don’t feel a little queasy about using social media, you’re probably not using it right.”
Ryan Zuk, APR, is a media and analyst relations professional and Phoenix PRSA Chapter member. Zuk can be reached at ryanzuk at gmail dot com and @ryanzuk on Twitter. He also blogs at criticalmasspr.com.
Five go-to sources for socializing analyst relations
Consider these sources when augmenting your analyst relations plans with social media tools:
SageCircle blog offers AR recommendations and directories of analysts and AR professionals who use Twitter, Oct. 6 blog post includes an A through F blogging approach.
Technobabble 2.0 blog includes top analyst Twitterers index and ranks the top 100 analyst blogs.
Tekrati Web site covers analyst relations news and includes an analyst blog directory.
Lighthouse Analyst Relations Web site offers AR advice including its monthly “Analyst Equity” newsletter.
Knowledge Capital Group Web site offers a free “Executive’s Guide To AR” among other resources.