You Can’t Take The Personal Out Of Blogging

by on 02/08/2010 • 32 Comments | Blogging

While many of us were watching Michael Arrington throw a 17-year-old under the bus this weekend, another story spread through the blogosphere worthy of some attention and discussion.  The SageCircle Blog reported that Forrester management had put a ban on personally-branded research blogs, stating that anyone with a personally-branded blog ( think Web Strategy with Jeremiah Owyang during his time at Forrester, for example) must either (a) take down the blog or (b) redirect readers to a Forrester-branded role-based blog. Basically, if you are a Forrester employee and blogging, you just lost your face and voice in favor of a corporate-approved uniform. Sexy!

There’s been a lot of debate over whether this was a good decision, a bad decision or just a paranoid decision. (Not surprisingly) I’m leaning more toward the latter.

If you’re Forrester, the new policy probably sounded like a great idea for a few reasons:

  • You’re able to share information from all Forrester analysts in one central place. You’ll even argue this makes things less confusing for clients and people looking to get Forrester opinion.
  • The Forrester brand is put center stage, rather than individual personalities.
  • When employees leave, Forrester gets to keep their blog and their audience. I imagine Forrester took quite a hit when people like Jeremiah and Charlene Li left the fold.

If I was a paranoid corporate person, I could understand what Forrester was thinking here. However, as a normal person (shut up), I think they missed the point a little. Actually, I think they missed it by a football field or so.

Here’s the deal: You can’t remove the “personal” from blogging because that’s what makes blogging work. People aren’t interested in companies. They’re interested in people and the characters these blogs create.

When Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li offered insight and free information on their personally-branded blogs, yes, they were establishing their own brands. But they were also building satellite Forrester communities on the Web. Communities that were interested in Forrester solely because of these personalities and the individual credibility they had built up.  When you attempt to take these stars and hide their brand inside a corporate marquee, you lose that authenticity and the spark that made them successful. You turn off their established audiences.

Essentially, you create the anti-blog. You also create a host of problems.

You Neuter Existing Talent

Sorry, gentlemen...

When you take an established blogger and move them over to a identity-less blog, you clip their wings and force them to surrender their voice. Even if that’s not your intention and even if the blogger says they are okay with the move.  You still risk losing the magic that made them who they are and their voice as strong as it was.   Because as a blogger, your voice is wrapped up on your identity and your audience. Mess with that and you mess with everything.

I don’t think Forrester wants to do this. I don’t think they’re looking to silence stars. I think they’re looking to better take advantage of their analysts celebrity and its own intellectual property, but this isn’t the way to do it.  Create a social media rule book for the company, but don’t attempt to shuffle blogs around. When you take someone’s name off their blog, you  change the blog and the blogger.  You risk making them less invested in its success. They feel less ownership of their words. They can’t talk to their audience with the same candor.  You may not think I have experience in much, but I have experience in this. The difference is night and day and it affects everything.

You also take away some of their power when you taint their audience’s trust. A super star writing on their own blog is authentic. A super star writing on a corporate blog is marketing.  You’ve just created suspicion because their words are being placed inside a corporate wrapper. [There's a good example of this down below.]

They Alienate Future Talent

This is going to be a big deal. With the new ban on personal blogs, Forrester risks shooting itself in the foot in a couple of different ways.

They deter established talent from joining by making them give up their own blogs and audience. I’d imagine that Forrester uses social media as a way to find strong new voices and talent. It’s going to be a hard sell to find new talent because of their blog and voice, and then promptly ask them to redirect it over to Forrester. It takes time and a heck of a lot of work to build an audience that trusts you and a blog that earns its cred. You’re gonna have a tough time getting new faces to give that up.

Forrester also throws away the power of new talent. Think about it. If you’re hiring someone based on their smarts and their influence, what sense does it make to attempt to rip that influence away from them? Whether they intend to or not, by taking someone off their personal blog and putting them on a corporately-wrapped blog, you diminish the value that they bring to your company.

Imagine if someone hired Rae away from Outspoken and then made her re-direct Sugarrae to a corporate site? [I use Rae in this example because (a) Rae’s the only Outspoken member with a strong personal blog (no offense, Rhea) and (b) the chances of Rae leaving us for a "real job" are as likely as the Colts getting that Super Bowl back.] Think about what the company would be losing out on making Rae to do that. They’d lose Rae’s “rae-ness”, they’d lose the built-in audience that’s followed Rae on that blog for years, and they’d risk tainting her authority.

Not everyone has been vocal against the new policy. Some seem to like it, employees even. For example, Forrester analyst Augie Ray has already shared his thoughts about having to move from Experience: The Blog to a company-branded blog. Shockingly, on the Forrester-branded blog Forrester employee Augie Ray says he’s okay with losing his blog and writing on Forrester. I’m not even trying to sound smart here, just to give a taste of the trust loss that occurs.  Do we really believe Augie is happy with the policy? Maybe we do and maybe we don’t, but either way, if he didn’t like it, would we know?

The new policy by Forrester makes me feel like they missed the point of this whole ‘blog’ thing by attempting to rip the personal from it to ‘protect their IP’. When Robert Scoble blogged for Microsoft no one “got confused” and forget where he worked because he was on a separate domain. Because he was on a different domain, people trusted his opinion more, it allowed him to speak a bit more freely (even if subconsciously) and it created a character for people to follow. That’s what successful blogs are based upon – the creation of characters that people become loyal to.

Trying to change that and create policies that limit the effectiveness of these characters makes you look like a paranoid company  trying to keep its stars and their ideas tied to the company. Its everything blogging is not. Plus, if you think banning personally-branded blogs is going to prevent employees from doing it, well, then you’re just silly. And once you start taking away personally-branded blogs, what’s next down that slippery slope? Twitter accounts? Facebook accounts? Feels it a bit like we’re going backwards trying to close everything up, doesn’t it?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

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32 thoughts on “You Can’t Take The Personal Out Of Blogging

  1. Excellent points, but i think only hard data would convince Forrester that they made a mistake. They will see the drop in before and after unique visitors count and revert back to the old model.

    • As Michael notes down below, it’s hard to quantify trust, however, I do think they’ll see the stars of their analysts fall a little bit and maybe that will be a wake up call. Though, probably not. I’m more interested to see how the blogging changes from the employees. It’s hard to put someone in a cage and expect them to perform the same they did in the wild.

      • They won’t notice the falling stars. They can’t measure the drop in credibility. Exactly because all of those things (including cage vs in the wild behavior) are hard to quantify I am betting that the drop in total visitor count would be the canary in the coal mine.

  2. EddieB, trust, respect and moxy are pretty hard to quantify in numbers, try as you might it’s like trying to catch a moonbeam, you can’t really do it, but you can measure some of it’s after effects

  3. I see pros and cons. It doesn’t sound like their policy is saying the bloggers can’t have a personality. Kind of like this blog. Lisa it’s very much your voice on this blog, but all it is on outspokenmedia.com, not your personal blog. I’m not really taking their side though. I just see their point. I’d rather they have an open policy.

    • But its very hard to have personality and blog as yourself when you’re doing it under someone else’s umbrella, especially if you’re used to doing it as yourself. For example, yeah, I blog under Outspoken’s name — but I also own part of this company. That means there are no filters other than the ones I create, it means I’m invested in growing this blog, it means I own whatever I say. I don’t think it’s the same as an employee.

      I see their side and what they’re trying to do, I just question whether they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot in the hopes of owning everything. Appreciate the comment. :)

  4. This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard! Forrester is taking their strongest brand advocates and silencing them! I mean employees with blogs talk about their company, link to their company, and further a discussion about their company. Try getting a non employee to start a blog that mentions Forrester as much…fat chance!

  5. Totally agree. My company lets me blog, Twitter, etc., under my own name personally and under theirs as well. It has helped both of us move forward — people who wouldn’t normally follow my company on Twitter do because they know I’m talking back to them, and at the same time, I get a boost on my personal blog and Twitter account from people who are like, “Oh, cool, that’s the guy who runs the Twitter account at that company.”

    It’s win-win, not lose-lose.

    • Definitely. When analysts sign on with Forrester, they get a huge bump in brand recognition and street cred. But they’re absolutely adding value back. They’re exposing their satellite communities to Forrester and they’re putting a different flavor on a cold company. Building your people up and letting them become super stars is a great way to grow your business.

  6. What’s a blog without a person behind it? It’s faceless, bland content. It’s reading a white paper or generic marketing material. It’s mind numbing and uninteresting. Good luck with the big change, Forrester, I’ll put my attention elsewhere, thank you very much.

    Garry

    • And I fear that what the Forrester blogs will turn into. Blogging under blog.forrester is very different from having your own space on the Web. It’s way too easy to come off sounding like generic marketing or a white paper. And that’s not really in the spirit of blogging.

  7. Lisa this topic is so very interesting as companies try to figure out what their policy is going to be for employees. I cannot agree more that personalities make a blog interesting to read – most corporate blogs are about as fun to peruse as a college Chemistry textbook.
    I think one of the main issues for corporations here is keeping their employees replaceable. If several become online blog stars then suddenly there is leverage for higher salaries, more decision making powers, etc.

  8. Blogging is absolutely personal and Forrester likely has a bitter taste in their mouth because my guess is when Jeremiah left, he took with him a number of people who paid attention to Forrester, thereby diminishing their reach.

    It’s the old corporate idea that who you are after work is still representative of your corporate persona. They want to control it, and they don’t want to lose should someone get a great lot of cachet again. Couple that with being all about numbers and you can bet they have a very number related reason for making the decision they did.

    I agree with you. In my opinion blogging, and the following derived from it is about the personal brand. To deny an employee the right to express themselves is like them off at the knees. This isn’t like an NDA or anything even close. This is simply about control and not allowing their message to go out in any way they don’t approve of – also not allowing their employees a right to an opinion that may differ from their corporate perspective. Fear is a powerful motivator as proven by the politics in the world.

  9. One aspect that hasn’t been mentioned in all this is payment. Many writers are not paid for personal blogs, but paid to blog for a company in the name of a company. Some of it do it as themselves; some of them develop a persona and make sure that contracts cover ownership of persona, blog title, content, etc.

    In the blogging contracts that have come across my desk, the pay ratio usually isn’t enough for the amount of ownership and control that they want — I bring them my readership and grow the readership under their flag for X amount of money, but they retain name of blog and content created on the site.

    The sticking point for me has always been money (not enough of it, in my opinion. for what they want), and the fact that I’ve built my readership with a very distinct voice, which is part of what draws readers. Actually, I have several voices, since I publish under multiple names, but again, it would mean developing yet a new voice/persona for that blog which THEY WOULD THEN OWN. That’s a lot of creative energy on my part, and I expect to be well compensated, the same way I am for a play that a specific company commissions. The same way I negotiate a ghost writing or for-hire writing gig that has someone else’s name on it and doesn’t pay me royalties — all rights means a big chunk of change both up front and at regular intervals.

    I believe a distinct personality is what draws and holds readers to blogs. That’s what draws and keeps me reading.

    But, in the above, I didn’t see any mention of money. I can understand if the individual bloggers started their own blogs without compensation –but if the company expects them to blog under the company banner and then own the content, the bloggers better be getting well compensated. None of the $1/post or pay-per-click that so many paid blogger positions seem to consider “compensation.” I’m talking actual, respectful, living wage for a specific skill set, which is what good writing is. That’s something separate from their job description, I’m sure, and part of new contract negotiations many companies and individuals need to consider moving forward.

    • That’s a really interesting point. Obviously there’s no way to know whether contracts were re-done to including company blogging, as opposed to personal blogging, but that would certainly make the situation that much more interesting. And you’re right, it’s a very different skill set and the bloggers would be giving up A LOT to move over so I hope they’re being compensated well.

  10. Lisa, sure you have ownership in Outspoken Media, but you didn’t in your previous blogger incarnations ( at least not that you’ve ever shared), yet your personal style and wit came through there as well.

    How do you think Forrester’s policy compares with traditional journalism? 40, 50, 60 years ago there were no blogs, no Internet. If you wanted to share your ideas you had to either buy a printing press, write a book and convince someone to print it or go to work for some kind of publication. Were all the journalists that worked for major papers back then stuck in a cage? Was there value to the public when something was published in the New York Times or Washington Post rather than in the local newspaper or some independent zine someone was making with a photocopier and passing out around campus?

    If Forrester is doing this in a genuine good faith effort to consolidate the best content under a single brand that stands for premium content it makes sense to me. If they are just being paranoid and trying to horad ‘intellectual property’ it’s crap.

    The burden is really on the individuals themselves to fight this. If a writer already has a high profile blog and an audience they should evaluate carefully if they want to sell their soul to the corporate man – and if they do, they should get top dollar.

    • Lisa, sure you have ownership in Outspoken Media, but you didn’t in your previous blogger incarnations ( at least not that you’ve ever shared), yet your personal style and wit came through there as well.

      It did…but it was also heavily filtered. One of the loudest comments I received shortly after starting Outspoken was how different the blog was and how I seemed more confident. Really it was just a case of the cuffs being removed.

      The problem is that Forrester’s trying to put the cat back in the bag. They have all these Stars who have created brands and built audiences, and now they’re trying to stuff them back under one corporate umbrella. it’s a less powerful way of doing things. Back before blogs, we didn’t know better. We always promoted the organization. There’s been a shift in how do things now. We’re less likely to do business with a company than we are with people from that company. Times have changed.

      • Absolutely, the Outspoken blog is less filtered, and I think that’s usually good.:)

        The problem is that Forrester’s trying to put the cat back in the bag. They have all these Stars who have created brands and built audiences, and now they’re trying to stuff them back under one corporate umbrella. it’s a less powerful way of doing things. Back before blogs, we didn’t know better.

        Maybe, but from a company perspective it can make sense. Their interest is in building a business, not helping the world at large. Going after stars and bringing them into the organization is like signing free agents rather than trying to bring up y our own draft picks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but if the price is right bringing the experienced talent can have a huge impact. Times may have changed, but people are still people. What worked before will likely work again.

      • Lisa,

        When I first found your blog, I had no idea it was a corporate blog. That’s why I loved it and subscribed to it right away. It was only after reading for a while that I realized it was actually part of your company.

  11. Devon that’s a great point! You’re absolutely right that there’s a lot of creative energy going into a blog – it’s free branding for the company if they expect their employees to develop it for them.
    I wonder what companies would say if employees offered blogging as an added service (almost as a freelancer)? Does anyone know of any brands that pay their employees beyond their salaries to blog for them?

  12. Hey Lisa,

    Prior to business school I worked at Forrester Research for 2 years. There main asset is the analysts and intellectual capital. I can’t say I support their decision at all because they basically are holding back an employees ability to grow. To silence analysts is really a ridiculous move on their part because it’s really reducing the ability to spread their brand. One of the things that we love about personal blogs is that they are personal and it’s the perspective of an individual. By nature we almost look at corporate blogs and assume that there has been a bunch of filtering and editing that’s gone into it.

    Personally I was never a fan of the culture. It’s an organization with rigid rules and regulations that rewards conformity. In other words, you won’t see many Linchpins coming out of that place with the exception of those like Charlene Li and Jeremiah who were smart enough to realize their value. I can only imagine how much bad press they are going to get for this move. I can personally attest to the fact that their blogs generated more interest in Forrester. When I worked as a social media intern at Intuit, people’s interest in Forrester’s services peaked because of Charlene Li’s blog. I’ll be curious to see the backlash that results from all of this and if it results in a retraction of the policy.

    • Thanks for chiming in. Your views obviously offer a valuable look at what’s important to the team at Forrester. I think you’re right about Charlene and Jeremiah being smart enough to realize their own value. They were Linchpins.

  13. They certainly have missed the point of blogging. I have followed bloggers from specific companies for one reason – they connect their big company to me in a very direct line of communication. I feel like the corporate blogger who inserts personality and gives us the straight poop is saying “Come on in – we’re really much friendlier than we look.” And I trust them more than say a corporate wonk site oozing the latest company memo.

    I am the voice of seven different blogs, six of which I ghostwrite for corporate clients. In each case I’m given topic parameters and let loose to create a following and a voice that positions these companies as experts. As Devon says above, there is a rather large disconnect sometimes between the amount of control some companies require versus compensation, but so far I’ve been fortunate in that my clients understand the value of a more personal voice.

    Forrester’s stand seems to be one of “We trust you – we just don’t trust the other guy with our company information.” It’s like saying “That dress doesn’t make you look fat – it just makes everyone look fat.” Here’s the thing, Forrester – if you want to position your company as thought leaders and the go-to force in the industry, that means creating a stream of information that’s personal and feels like you’re drawing your readers in to a private club. We tend to go back to industry “experts” who share and comment and interact. We avoid those who are hog-tied to the company policies to the point where they can’t comment beyond the official press releases.

  14. Forrester did what many foolish brands are still trying to do, the old standbys: drive traffic to the website, control the brand, control the message, run everything by the lawyers.
    It will fail, they’ll lose credibility, traffic won’t increase (it’ll actually decrease because there won’t be all those employee blogs out there driving it), the part of their brand that Forrester doesn’t control, perception, is now saying that they’re chumps, they’re “the man”, they don’t “get it”. Their misguided brand managers will suck all of the personality from their blogs, the bean counters will strip out anything they thing they can charge for out, and the lawyers will strip any opinions (so they don’t risk a lawsuit by exercising their rights.

  15. Functionally, I never understood the purpose or mindset behind the “forrestor blogs”. They do not even offer robust share functionality which seems completely counter to one of the primary end benefits to having a blog, that being people can agree or disagree with your point of view and then share that opinion with their connections. Unless of course they find the user base of digg and delicious really as a massive funnel. Augie more than hints that things are going to be redone over their in more ways than one, but when he talks about content aggregation as key to SEO, he can’t be blind to the idea that they are now competing with the likes of Charlene and especially Jeremiah in the web/social strategy space. And there is an uphill battle for them to compete with the audience, linking, sharing and participation in a big way. Despite Forrestor’s brand name, they can’t change that without the same developed effort.

  16. I think it is a mistake but I get why they are doing it.

    They basically funded Jeremiah becoming a star. He had his own branded site. He was writing and creating content on their dime, they were flying him to speak at conferences as a representative of their company, and basically helped accelerated him to be bigger than them. With him leaving I am sure he also took a sizable client base away with him that wanted to continue working with and couldn’t or new clients that went where he was because of the name recognition. (All that money that they invested plus all that money they lost… was it worth the years that he worked with them? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.)

    You are seeing this happen with PR and Marketing Firms where people that don’t have a piece of the firm have branded themselves on the company’s dime and then spun themselves off into their own consulting position. (While these people probably can’t take clients with them because of non compete clauses but imagine the clients they lost because they wanted to work with the person that left.)

    These companies are left with divisions or departments without the person that became their voice, drove their traffic, and was one of their main selling points.

    So I guess in their mind this is their only recourse. But because this wasn’t their policy on day one it is going to come back and really look bad and potentially really bite them on the ass.

  17. I’ve been saying to people for a while that you can’t remove the personal from anything because people are what make everything work.

    Everything is personal. The old excuse of, “It’s only business” doesn’t hold water anymore. If you place more importance of the professional over the personal, you will ultimately fail.

  18. Good example of the portability of things – your twitter name came with you – just like Rebecca Kelley’s when she left moz – somethings you can’t chain down but people will try

  19. I think you nailed it when you said that “You also take away some of their power when you taint their audience’s trust. A super star writing on their own blog is authentic. A super star writing on a corporate blog is marketing.”

    Perhaps Forrester figures that even with the reduced trust, they’re getting enough return on their new blog ‘marketing’ to risk loosing a few super stars, but if there are no satellite writers out there pulling new readers towards Forrester and their blogs, how do they expect to grow their audience?

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