Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Thought Leadership" via (Company) Blog ... Part 1

Had an interesting discussion with a colleague last week about organizations manifesting (or not) "thought leadership" by means of a blog. It's certainly easier than hiring analysts and writing white papers. But there are challenges, particularly around the notion of org versus individual. Good blogs are almost universally individual.

Spending some time thinking about the problem I came up with a taxonomy of approached that I share here. At the time, I thought this line of thought was purely personal; by coincidence it's germane to the firestorm kicked of by Jakob Nielsen's high-handed post about serious blogging and the serious bloggers who do it.

A former boss once said, "It's hard to lead by following" ... he meant following someone else's products, R&D, deal flow, strategy, etc. Leaders lead, and they lead in a particular direction.

A couple of ways one can do this in the technology field with a publishing medium (like a blog):

Establishing thought leadership with facts

Reasearch. Discover and publish benchmarks, compatibility studies, polls, usability data, security vulnerabilities, etc. As with all research, part of the trick is finding something that hasn't been researched to death, and another part (pardon me, Mr. Nielsen)i s finding a "hook" that makes it a relevant part of current conversation in the field.

News. Many top bloggers are essentially journalists. Sounds fun, but it's hard work because you need to stay ahead of the rest of the blogosphere. Come to a story late? You're just another commenter. If you are interested in going this route, the next trick is to narrow your coverage area both topically and geographically.

Media and entertainment technology? Way too big.

"Tech in the U.S. for watching commercial video content on cell phones" or "OSS that interoperates with commercial VOD services" is getting a little more approachable.

Narrow down even more, like "Evolving interaction designs for VOD and time-shifting applications" and a single person can get it under control, though it still might be a big job

Leading with opinions, and opinions combined with research (such as predictions)

This approach is fun because you get to spout off. But it's tough because it's easy to have an opinion and there are lots of voices. The more trivial the opinion ("DRM sucks!" "Apple is cool!") the less value you're offering. But the more complex and subtle the opinion, the more attention and background knowledge you demand from your audience. You're making people pay a high price and they don't know if it will be worth it.

The other catch here is that opinion blogs work great for individuals, not so great for organizations. It's hard (and often futile) work to try and uncover a non-trivial organization-wide opinion about anything. And if you do find one in a group bigger than a small startup, there's a great chance it's just PR bull shiitake.

Leadership with product (not necessarily polished; includes any usable code, etc.)

Actually a combination of fact and opinion. The opinion is the assertion that the product is useful, interesting, worthwhile. The fact is that "Hey! It's here, done, built. You can't deny it. Love it; hate it; try and steal it... But you can't ignore it, because now it's out there." Arguably the best approach.

If you put product out there and it gets ignored, you're either ahead of your time (not a bad place to be in tech if you can afford to wait), "behind your time" (a good reality check to get with the program), or doing something off on a siding somewhere (indicating that either there's no market -- bad -- or you need to work to make your market -- potentially good).


How does all this work in the real world? Example in Part 2...

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