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If you follow my writing, you’ve seen blog posts with titles such as Industry Exposé: Technology Vendors Skew Analysts and Influencers and Industry Analyst Art or Fiction: Questionable Technology Predictions, so it should be no surprise I can’t resist an opportunity to talk about a little bit of insanity on the part of technology suppliers and industry analysts about social media.

It is both funny and sad to see how the technology industry is still fairly insulated from the use of social media channels such as Twitter. More organizations still ignore social media than embrace and use it to advance their agendas. It’s obvious how important social media is in streaming news and entertainment information, and startling how it has toppled political leaders. Despite its obvious power, many in the technology industry see it as a distraction for anything beyond basic promotion of a press release or live-blogging their conference. Many industry analysts completely ignore it as not part of their job description.

Some technology suppliers surface news and information on a regular basis across Twitter but do little to build community and dialogue about their brands or showcase the satisfaction and success of their customers. Few technology suppliers are actually trying to listen and understand their buyers’ conversations on social media, let alone interact. For most vendors, it is a struggle to find any roster of marketing or product professionals using social media; I typically have to Google their names or see if their social media information is on their LinkedIn profile. When I inquire about an individual’s or team’s use of social media, the standard reply is that it is not for them, and is beyond their age range or generational dialogue. Some representatives of technology vendors profess their embracing of social media for their products, but individually do not engage in it themselves. Even individuals in corporate communications supporting public and analyst relations seldom monitor or read information on Twitter; they fail to use it as an advantage to stay on top of conversations that impact their brands and products.

All of that is just lame. Anyone can participate in multiple social media channels through the use of applications such Flipboard on iPhone and iPad devices, which can take Twitter feeds, or activity stream updates from Facebook or LinkedIn, and make them easily to flip through with a stroke of the finger. Or just using TweetDeck is pretty darn simple.

I find many IT industry analysts from firms such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC regard the professional use of social media as some futuristic activity. Twitter has been operating since 2006 and now has 500 million users; it is clearly a well-established tool to gain leverage in the IT industry. This lack of analyst engagement is unfortunate; you should not be a technology analyst in this day and age without embracing and interacting via social media. To not use this communication medium is to deny the value of individuals who are conversing on any given technology and its use in the industry. But maybe I should not be surprised, considering that many IT analysts do not even use a computer at technology events to keep track of key points that one would think would be critical to include in any analysis of a technology vendor’s announcements and products.

Why does this all matter to you? Analysis and opinions of technology industry analysts are critical information sources. If an industry analyst is listening to only a select set of IT organizations and individuals and not using social media, then that analyst’s opinions and views are sheltered. Many industry analysts would respond that to criticism by saying they do not have the time. I would tell them I am sorry if you do not think you have time, but if you are responsible for analyzing technology in this industry or are promoting your brand or technology and do not use social media, you might want to reconsider your profession.

Though Twitter is well-established, the use of social media in the technology industry seems to still be in the infancy stage. The opportunity to raise the intellectual level of our profession and communicate more broadly with technology buyers and users should be a requirement for every analyst, and not just an activity of the more progressive segment.

Agree? Disagree? If you have feedback, drop me a comment on Twitter @marksmithvr and let’s continue to advance the kind of dialogue that will help all of us advance the technology industry.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

In my more than a decade of writing on the trends and direction of the technology industry, occasionally I have talked about the dark side of technology industry analysts. In that vein, I wrote about the diminishing science of research in technology analyst firms, which has impacted the quality of the analysis and advice given by analysts. It built on my previous post on Why Bad Research Could Jeopardize Your Business. Unfortunately, the ethics and morals in the technology analyst industry have not gotten a lot better since I wrote those pieces, especially when it comes to the objectivity and independence of the research. Now it is time to provide shed light on the financial bias of written research and blogs by industry analysts and the firms they represent and publish under in coverage and rating of technology vendors.

What qualifies me to make that assessment? In my career I worked at technology vendors, among them Oracle and SAP, before I became an industry analyst at META Group, now part of Gartner. After a stint as a solo independent analyst and after spending some time reflecting on cleaning up this industry, I started Ventana Research a decade ago. Our firm focuses on supporting business and IT with in-depth fact-based research, including primary research and deeper analysis of technology products to help assess and recommend better technology strategies and plans.

Information from industry analysts can provide critical input for technology decisions. Given the rapid pace of technology change, it is not easy for businesses, no matter how large or small they might be, to determine what technology trends and vendors they should work with. Yet despite the increasing need for informed help on the part of businesses and IT, the volume of timely research from the large analyst firms has gotten smaller, not larger. Granted, the business of reviewing, editing and publishing research is no easy task, and the larger the research firm the more challenging the process. But nowadays one insidious factor is having a pernicious impact on not only the timeliness of the research but its honesty as well. The dirty secret is that some of the largest technology vendors have forced industry analyst firms to contractually agree to the right to review, edit and approve any written research that references their name or products before it is published.

Technology vendors claim this is because they want to fact-check industry analysts’ work before it is published. However, it is the job of research analyst managers and their operations staff to ensure that what is written is accurate and properly stated. We have done it that way for a decade and refused the financial control of our research just to get access or to have our research purchased. And vendors, even the best-intentioned, cannot escape the biases they bring to reviews of their products. Vendors’ heavy oversight has led to less research from industry analysts being written that offers a useful level of detail or analysis, let alone opinion. Moreover technology vendors use their influence to control access to their executives, offering interviews to those who agree to play this game and leaving out those who do not while leaving executives in the dark about the decisions about who is being scheduled.

Nowadays, Internet information has significant influence on technology buyers. Social media dialogue and blogs have surpassed the influence of industry analysts. Here again, though, some vendors are bringing money to bear to influence this channel. We have technology vendors now who are paying for seemingly independent blog entries to be written in order to gain visibility and promote their latest announcements or marketing activity. If you read a blog entry that ends in a promotion of a vendor activity like a webinar or event that seems out of place – well, it probably is. Any coverage of technology vendor products should be based on the merit of the technology and its impact to the market, customers and the analyst research agenda and not the result of the financial influence of a technology vendor. Blogs and written research that has been funded should have a disclosure at bottom disclosing it has been funded directly by the specific vendor no matter where you read it as they are distributed and syndicated across the Internet.

I feel personally obliged to help reestablish the standards of the industry analyst business, as it plays a critical role for research buyers and suppliers of technology. This is an industry that I passionately enjoy working in, but it needs cleaning up. Individuals and firms that represent themselves as industry analysts and influencers should not allow vendors to use editorial or financial influence to shape their research. Technology providers should stop demanding contracts that allow them approval of research or paying covertly for written coverage and should cancel existing agreements that do so immediately. If industry analysts and teams cannot apply quality control to their own research or correct errors after publication, and if the head of research is not able to stand by the research written, you as a company executive should not work with them. Unfortunately, today you still have to scrutinize everything you read from what you might think is a trusted provider, and certainly from any new source, to ensure you have analysis and opinion you can trust and not propaganda that has been edited, cleansed or manufactured.

Many of we newer analyst firms refuse to play into this game of contractual review of research as it crosses the line beyond which we stop being independent and objective research and advisory services firms. It also tilts the markets because the power of a very large vendor to control industry analysts creates an unfair situation for smaller vendors that do not have similar power to influence the written research of industry analysts.

It is time for change. I hope business and IT increasingly will demand to know if some vendors have edited and changed research that assesses or rates them as a vendor or in some other way put their thumb on the scale. Maybe the answer is for analyst firms and analysts to disclose when research has been reviewed and edited by a vendor before it was published or if it was paid for advertising disguised as a blog. We take the opposite tack, declaring that our Value Index research on vendors and Benchmark Research on buyers has not been edited or reviewed by vendors and we do not allow our blogs or research notes to be scrutinized by vendors before they are published. If we make a mistake that is factual, then we correct it. Our goal is just to ensure the best possible research and insights from our firm that is independent, not skewed by technology vendors.

I, Mark Smith, approve this message and verify that this article was not reviewed, edited, paid for or approved by any technology vendor before it was published.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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