It used to be so simple to identify the influencers of technology deals in those idyllic days of yore. IT managers would talk to the IT advisory analysts, read the IT trade press, listen to the IT vendors and play golf with their buddies in IT in other companies. It was reasonably predictable as to who was influencing each step of the product purchase project and to what extent.Today, of course, the model of influence is anything but simple and predictable. Social media has exploded onto the scene adding many new voices to the discussion. On-line publishing has expanded the number of “IT trade press” outlets to dizzying new level. The analyst industry continues to consolidate and simultaneously expand with analyst firms with new business and research models starting up every week even as others are being acquired. It is easier for IT managers to interact with peers beyond hitting the golf course. IT vendors are embracing new forms of communication with mixed levels of success. It is enough to make your head spin.
Over the last ten years there have several approaches to representing the ways that buyers and influencers interact (see The IT industry analysts’ role: evolution of perception). This post introduces the latest SageCircle update, the Fog of Influence (left, click to enlarge). The Fog of Influence incorporates social media, Web 1.0 and changing interaction patterns. Why “fog” as the operating metaphor? Because of the existence of a plethora of criss-crossing voices and forms of communications, rather than a distinct landscape with a few crisp lines of interactions, today we have many particles floating around in a mist. So while there are moments when the fog dissipates and there is clarity (i.e., when a clearly identifiable traditional influencer has an impact), many times we are peering into the murk trying to figure out what just blindsided us.
Within the Fog of Influence, there are the original communities of IT industry analysts, enterprise IT buyers, IT trade press and IT vendors. At one point, this was a clubby little group. Yes, there were always outsiders commenting on the tech market, but their influence on enterprise purchasing decisions was relatively low. But now there are many more voices from outside the original communities that are interested in providing their points-of-view and influencing the market and enterprise technology purchases. These include savvy technology consumers who want their personal tech tools to be available in the workplace, non-governmental organizations that push single issues like environmental impact, governments intent on regulating many aspects of the tech industry and how enterprises deploy IT, and last but certainly not least individuals like Jeff Jarvis, whose post on Buzzmachine (a media, not tech gadget, blog) caused Dell incredible heartburn over customer service.
Even with the original communities, there are changes. First are the bloggers that are scattered around each group, providing more information and opinion to anybody and not bound by the traditional rules. The vendors are aggressively adopting new rich and social media to get around the influence and gatekeeper power of press and analysts. The number of analyst enterprise clients is growing due to stepped up sales by the firms (the client box with dotted lines), but the number of clients that rely mainly on analyst opinion (the solid box) is shrinking as more IT managers seek non-analyst opinion. The walled garden analyst firms (i.e., only give content to clients) are under competitive pressure to open up as other firms put their published content freely on the ‘Net to draw clients away from the walled gardens. Finally, analysts no longer have to rely on vendor AR teams to get the official story, but can read vendor employee and customer blogs to get the scoop on what might be happening.
Bottom Line: Experiment, adapt, adopt and speed up. Sounds trite, but even after what seemed like a stressful and energy consuming leap forward caused by Web 1.0, social media is going to require a similar commitment to change. All members of the analyst ecosystem need to address the issues of the Fog of Influence to ensure that their positions in the market are not negatively impacted by the cacophony of voices.
Questions: What do you think of the “Fog of Influence” concept? How has social media impacted the traditional ways you did your job?
How SageCircle can Help: SageCircle has actionable advice and information to help each of the communities in the analyst ecosystem adapt to the changes being caused by the explosion of social media. Contact us at info [at] sagecircle dot com or 650-274-8309 to learn more about services.