Introducing SageCircle’s Fog of Influence

icon-social-media-blue.jpg(Editor’s Note: A draft of the Fog of Influence graphic has been replaced with the final version. 2/4/08 12:50 pm PT)

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.

sagecircle-fog-of-influence-2-feb-08.jpgOver 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.

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23 Responses

  1. Carter, I am not sure what to do with this foggy concept? >grin< If I tried to address the whole lot, surely it would feel like boiling the ocean?

  2. Hi Ludovic, Oh yes, this is a pretty big topic that I will addressing frequently over time. Very “analyst”y. Guess I never got being a Gartner analyst out of my DNA. >>grin<<

    Seriously, any comment about one aspect or another. Or, questions about where I did not make some clear would be nice.

    We will start posting research and best practices on how AR, IT managers and other members of the analyst ecosystems can use the new influencer landscape to do their jobs better.

  3. Cartner,

    I think this diagram is open to misinterpretation. In so far as it has blogs as the ‘air’ through which ideas travel, it overstates the role of social media. More misleadingly, it eliminates hierarchy and time. It really is the case that ideas tend to originate in few places and disseminate outwards from there.

    This notion of fog weakens understanding of agency and causality.

    Duncan.

  4. Carter,

    I like it – it’s refreshing and makes some sense of the swirl of information and influence out there. And your perceptions regardiing the impact of social media are spot-on in my opinion. More and more senior people are being introduced to online networking and blogging… it’s no longer all done on the golf course, those days are fading behind us as we move into ever-connected times. I can understand why some folks may think you are getting a bit ahead of yourself, but things are moving quickly in the social media world and people are constantly finding new ways to exchange views, information and meet new people. Keep pushing this!

    PF.

  5. Ludo: Good point about boiling the ocean, but I am not sure that is what Carter is proposing. Sorry to switch metaphors, but he is really talking like an old mariner and pointing out that you need to understand the nature of the ocean if you are going out there to catch fish. If you don’t have that understanding, best case you do not find the shoals, next best case, you get a horrible surprise, worst case, you drown.

    Duncan: re social media, I agree with your observation that many are currently over-estimating its importance based on a snapshot as at today, but you cannot ignore the dynamics, as Phil points out, and that is what I think you are missing. I have some snippets of research (end user decision makers and internal influencers) that we gathered for our own internal planning purposes – I’ll post some of this on my Open Reasoning blog at some point as there seems to be lack of objective data out there at the moment on where the rubber meets the road. Regarding “This notion of fog weakens understanding of agency and causality.”, as an ex-research scientist, while I find your highly theoretical approach to AR and the language you use very interesting, I think the more empirical approach based on observed reality may be more helpful to many at the moment. We need to remember that theories and fundamental principles, while they may hold true over time, manifest themselves in different ways depending on the environment and scenario – that’s the old drug safety biochemist speaking there :-).

  6. Dale,

    We deduct our theories from data, so it’s misleading to counterpose theory to reality. There’s no lack of objective data: our CIO studies, the Vanson Bourne research in 2007, the Sybase study in 2006 and more just don’t show new social media (NSM) having a major impact on B2B technology purchasing.

    The dynamics are quite unclear, and in this respect search for my blog posting on megamistakes. We tend to assume that trends in the past continue in a linear way, but human systems do not always work that way. That is why we need to focus on current reality. And that is why comparisons with chemistry, whose notions of the process of diffusion are hegemonic in high-tech marketing circles, are weak.

    At the moment, communications professionals and industry analysts are greatly overstating the impact of NSM and are misaligning their budgets.

  7. Hi Duncan

    Good to see the old CIO research being referenced – I don’t doubt for a minute what you suggest that indicates.

    I guess we are back to the old chestnut, though, of whether the the CIO is personally responsible for all planning, ideas, systems analysis, systems design, evaluation of technical options, supplier due diligence and recommendation of solutions – or maybe, just maybe, some of that activity gets delegated to functional IT managers, programme managers, technical architects, enterprise architects, security specialists, storage specialists, etc – i.e. people whose job it is to assess, plan, evaluate, advise and recommend – even make procurement decisions themselves when working within the parameters of a well designed budget structure and IT governance framework that all good CIOs have in place.

    The middle IT management ranks, and particularly the senior IT practitioner constituencies, tend to be a lot more peer community oriented. I think we need to be careful not to under estimate the significance of the activity going on in that space.

    Can’t really comment on the Sybase stuff – not sure how relevant research from 2006 is to this discussion.

    Anyway, as always Duncan, a pleasure to spar with you mate – I just wish I knew as many big words as you do :-)

  8. Hi Dale,

    Our CIO study is conducted annually and covered a range of IT buyers with and without the CIO title. While these IT directors are not the only influencers in their organisations, they are the key decision-makers. Their use of information is highly significant. It would be odd to discount them.

    The impact of peers should both be under-estimated, and we include that in our surveys. However, the care we take to correctly estimate the impact of new social media should not tip-over into assuming that the process of decision-making fundamentally changed in 2007. That is not reflected in any research.

    Dale, you are a thoughtful guy drawing on a wide range of sources. You know all the words I use. Precise language aids communication, and side-swipes against it reduce the space for rational discussion.

    Duncan.

  9. Oops! In my commet above, it should read “The impact of peers should not be under-estimated, and we include that in our surveys”

  10. “We deduct our theories from data, so it’s misleading to counterpose theory to reality” – sorry Duncan I don’t follow you?

  11. Hi James,

    In Dale’s comment, he wrote to me that “while I find your highly theoretical approach to AR and the language you use very interesting, I think the more empirical approach based on observed reality may be more helpful”.

    Dale’s comment suggested that, to him, theory was an alternative to empirical observation of reality. In my opinion, that is an ineffective and misleading viewpoint. It’s ineffective because theory aims to explain explain and predict observed reality. In doing so, it allows us to overcome one-sided or partial insights which give false explainations. It’s also misleading, because it suggests that theory is disconnected from observed reality. In fact, theory is built from observations, as objects are built from atoms and as knowledge is built from data.

    Dale’s viewpoint rests on the notion that existing research and explanations of the patter of influence are flawed, but that the exact reality is unknown. Somehow he feels able to reject these theories without disproving their hypotheses. He offers data, such as the number of subscribers to this or that, and then extrapolates from that data.

    Of course, keeping this discussion on a methodological discussion also keeps things calmer. In a post on ‘Crowd surfing’ last year I discussed some methodological concerns I have. Considering Britain’s libel laws, in which accuracy is not a defence, I felt that I had to withdraw that post in response to blunt expression of displeasure from some participants in the vendor-funded ‘”open”-but-not-open-source’ research community. However, I remain concerned that bad method, and bad science, are found in our community.

    Duncan.

  12. This is turning into a most interesting debate. Dale’s had problems logging into this blog so he’s asked me to post a link:

    http://openreasoning.blogspot.com/2008/02/lessons-from-horace-spider.html

    Personally, one of the things that fascinates me about the whole debate is how I find much of it so totally at odds with my own – not theories or analyses – but experience. Perhaps I never did run an IT department for 3 years, or maybe those times spent working with a wide variety of clients were all just some kind of dream. Or – just perhaps – we are talking at quite crossed purposes.

    IF one sees the analyst’s existence and relevance as revolving entirely around the procurement decision, THEN indeed, I can see the logic – and concern – that taking funding exclusively from vendors could be fraught. IF one sees procurement as just one small step in a much larger process, AND one doesn’t really get that involved in specific procurement decisions, THEN (a) one sees a different picture; however, (b) one may be dismissed as irrelevant by watchers whose role is defined by helping vendors influence analysts whose primary concern is the procurement decision.

    I’m not an analyst by background, so maybe I missed the point of the whole analyst thing. Please, don’t spoil if for me – ignorance really is bliss. If I found I was only supposed to be helping people buy stuff, or indeed sell stuff, I might lose the will to live. Now, helping people get value out of stuff, that’s far more interesting!

  13. Dale’s comment was to be as follows:

    Duncan – you are the grand master of inference :-)

    Anyway, for those interested in my actual thoughts and experience on research approaches and methodologies, please check out Lessons from Horace the Spider :-)

  14. Thanks Jon, though I think the Horace link is broken and should be:

    http://openreasoning.blogspot.com/2008/02/lessons-from-horace-spider.html

    Regarding your comments about the role of analysts and the scope of analyst activity in general, that is a very shrewd observation on the debate. I think it highlights the vendor oriented nature of the analyst watcher business in general, which is confirmed by client lists such as:

    http://www.lighthousear.com/code/clients.asp

    You have highlighted very well the need to keep things in perspective and re-focus the debate onto the delivery of customer value rather than purely value to vendors.

    As I alluded to in the Horace post, it is the win/win approach that underpins what good analysts do, i.e. considering both the vendor and the customer agenda and fostering synergy between the two camps. It should not viewed as a crude ongoing competition between buyers and sellers.

  15. John, you wrote that “Personally, one of the things that fascinates me about the whole debate is how I find much of it so totally at odds with my own – not theories or analyses – but experience.” This experience is really at the heart of the scientific method. Our personal perception is partial – but in the meaning that it is fractional, and in the reality that cognition is fraught with bias and prejudgement. That is why effective theory is built up from facts.

    But we have to be clear about what it is that we aim to describe. This post, and much of the discussion, is about analysts influence. Their reason for being, their motivations are quite different. Lighthouse researches analysts’ influence on vendors’ fortunes. That influence reflects itself in many ways, all of which interest us. The point that I have been trying to make is not that new media have no influence, but that they have a specific influence, which has been measured and which remains modest. That seems to me contrary to what is suggested by the metaphor of a cloud in which ideas are refracted primarily through new media.

    I see Dale’s point but don’t quite concur. In so far as all our businesses are funded by vendors, we are equally oriented to their concerns. However, Lighthouse is focussed on helping vendors by researching how technology buyers use analysts. That seems to me to be a strength in a discussion like this, rather than a weakness.

    If Dale’s post is a response to Carter’s post or to my comments, then it misunderstand them. My comments here are not trying to make any point about the *quality* of new media or analysts who use those methods. I am commenting on the *influence* of that research.

    There is a discussion to be had about quality. Vendor-sponsored research can be a win-win for the consumer, but not always. But our research shows that consumers and vendors both feel, on average, vendor-sponsored research firms to produce less good research. That is a reality which is worth discussing, if the vested interests at play will let the discussion unfold.

  16. Hey Carter, I *love* your updated chart. I think the boxes add a lot.

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  18. [...] Introducing SageCircle’s Fog ofInfluence [...]

  19. [...] amount of influence is not fixed, but can grow and morph over time as we pointed out in the SageCircle’s Fog of Influence. For instance, the New York Times has seen its paid circulation decrease steadily to about 1 [...]

  20. [...] that set up “influencer relations” departments that take a unified view of the Fog of Influence. Until then, let’s see if the members of the analyst ecosystem can develop a definition of [...]

  21. [...] Line: AR executives and professionals need to think about how influence is evolving (see SageCircle’s Fog of Influence) within their markets. While in some markets, AR can focus on its traditional constituencies and [...]

  22. [...] Some of the questions are addressed to “influencers,” not necessarily only analysts. For our answers we are going to focus on the industry analysts, thought SageCircle does think a lot about the broader influencer landscape (e.g., see Fog of Influence). [...]

  23. [...] Line: There is no guarantee that any particular analyst firm will “get it” when it comes to the Fog of Influence and take the steps necessary to maintain or increase its influence. However, it is not inevitable [...]

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