Forrester’s Blog Policy Will Make It Harder to Create Customers 5

What more can be said about Forrester's new blog policy restricting personally-branded blogs?  Josh Bernoff has commented on the policy here, and discussions so numerous I could not possibly aggregate them here have also followed.  Two of my favorites have been Shel's thoughts and a recent article from CNET.  I for one am inclined to not be so hard on Forrester, but in the end controlling employee blogs is perhaps the wrong decision.

The libertarian in me gets fired up when so many outsiders want to tell Forrester how to run their business.  I believe a company has every right to try and protect its brand and overall reputation.  I recall the uneasy feeling I experienced when I read that two high profile Forrester employees were now working together at a new agency.  Ouch.  What employer would not be uncomfortable having two former stars working together and competing with you (however indirect we want to argue that competition is).  While I am sure Forrester benefited from the personal branding efforts, I believe the company has every right to ask whether or not they received full benefit. After all, Forrester signed the paychecks and absorbed the costs while these personal branding efforts were taking place. The employer has every right to maximize value.

Perhaps those balancing on the fence as employee-bloggers should pay the most attention.  Is this case really about how far we can push our rights to build a personal brand while collecting a paycheck from an organization that wants to protect its brands and overall reputation?  No matter how much we admire people like Rubel or Scoble, their status makes them outliers and we all cannot command the same premium even if we are exceptionally good at our job.  We have less room to maneuver as we balance the competing interests (please note, I am not say we have no room).

But when all is said and done, I think Shel has made the correct call.  The benefits of extended reach through blogs and podcasts makes the most sense.  Did Forrester do their cost-benefit analysis?

Even though I am personally uncomfortable seeing Forrester employees jumping ship as they did, we see this sort of behavior everyday.  How many professors move to higher ranked universities after building an impressive and personal research record?  How many bankers switch to a higher status investment bank after a few very lucrative deals?  How many car salesman switch to a brand with higher margins after demonstrating their ability to move product out the door?  Talent is more mobile, and companies must respond accordingly. 

Companies need to work on retaining talented people, and Forrester has lost two extremely good ones.  Perhaps for Forrester (I can only speculate; no inside information) it feels as though these personal brands were being built a little too publicly and (in the end) a little too much at the employer's expense.  I certainly would feel some of that if I were in Forrester's shoes.  But I do think this case can teach us something.  At some point does our personal brand perhaps comes a bit too close to our employer's brand?  It never makes good sense to potentially put yourself in direct competition with the company writing you a check every month.  We must keep a prudent distance and not call into question our motives.  As PR folks, we should understand extremely well that pushing boundaries can sometimes evoke a reaction to regulate and restrict (e.g., government relations).

And the employer?  Avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  As Shel reminds us, understand the actual processes by which these consultants create value.  You must feed that process wisely.  And if you want to hire big name consultants who can sell reports costing thousands of dollars, then think about Michael Porter and the consultant's power to say yes or not to you.  Forrester has every right to run its business as it sees fit, and consultants are free to say yes or no.  Every decision has benefits and costs, in this context.  The cost of Forrester's decision might be those larger conversations and outreach which are so difficult to measure and put your hands on, yet are essential to building trust and eventually getting people to write huge checks for a piece of paper with your words on it.  Recognizing that portions if not large amounts of these reports end up on the Internet anyway, I would think the business owners should maximize the opportunity to build relationships and trust….and quickly sell as many of these reports as possible before we get the content for free.

But then again, just because the content is scattered over numerous blogs and podcasts does not mean that people will actually go gather it or use it.  "Can" and "do" are two very different things.  Round and round we go….

In the end I feel for Forrester, but that is about as far as I can go.  Drucker teaches us that our job is to create customers, and I suspect Forrester's blog policy will make the consultant's job more difficult.


  1. I can certainly understand Forrester’s move (especially when you consider Charlene and Jeremiah’s departure) but I definitely don’t agree with it. This happens all the time. Clients convince agency people to switch over, people giving a presentation at a conference make new connections that may lead to new opportunities – social media just makes these moments less rare, but they have always (and will still) happen.I think about the alternative where employees are not allowed to have a "personal branded blog" and the company just seems bland. But ultimately that’s the company’s choice. Bring in "superstars" and enjoy the benefits they bring you but be ultimately prepared to lose them, or be average. I can’t see the latter being a good your blog only allows Posterous or Twitter comments, people who have neither can’t comment?

  2. @uniquefrequency Thanks for the comment and for the tip about comments. Situation corrected. The more I have thought about this, the more I think the issue of personal blogs, IP protection, companies capturing value, and retaining top talent should all be managed by means other than the social media policy. If we protect our interests properly, which includes retaining top talent, then the social media policy is at best a secondary concern. To go the other direction, if the blog policy is central to how you protect your IP, then I suspect you have bigger problems to deal with. I think Shel read this one pretty well.

  3. Mr NetzleyYou raise very good points, and I agree with you and Mr Holtz. It’s very simple actually. If Forrester knew they had two or more stars, then they should have done what it took to keep them, obviously, (since three of them left) they didn’t do a good job rewarding them. I hope they learn and take better care of their employees, I’m sure/know other employees are looking out the window wondering if the grass is greener.-a former employee

  4. The dilemma faced by companies like Forrester is the tip of the iceberg, I believe. The ability of an individual to broadcast to the masses shifts a lot of power back to the individual. Companies can no longer hide behind a corporate front, but individual shining stars will become apparent to the public.We will find the rise of the individual prevalent in all industries.Even this blog or your podcast – is it the property of the organisation that hires you or the person who produced it?

  5. Thanks for visiting, everyone. The Forrester case certainly provides a stimulating case for thinking about the tension between employers capturing value and employees creating branded content. As a university Prof I am in an unusual situation (hopefully). By contract I am expected to engage the larger community and IP usually remains in the professor’s hands (in most cases). Thus, I am encouraged to build a two-way exchange where I share ideas with both students and the larger community. But when we take this out of the public sector and into the for-profit world, the issue becomes much messier. Lucian shares a good point, and I hope our students are listening, that this tension between personal and corporate interests will likely grow (and not go away anytime soon). Managing this tension is an everyday part of managing our own career or managing our talent pool.

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