Jeremiah Owyang became something of a social media superstar while working as an analyst for Forrester. Covering social media for the research firm, he also opines on the topic on his personal blog, Web Strategist, which receives over 100,000 visits a month — more than the combined monthly views for Forrester’s top competitors Gartner and IDC.
Owyang was one of many analysts to leave Forrester this year, and his departure added to the chatter that personal brands are starting to eclipse corporate brands in the tech space. With two of Forrester’s other former star analysts — Charlene Li and Ray Wang — Owyang is now a partner at consulting firm Altimeter Group.
I caught up with Owyang last week on the phone to talk about what he’s up to at Altimeter and what research firms are going to have to do to retain top talent.
What will you be doing at Altimeter?
We provide a pragmatic approach to emerging technologies for companies. Notice I didn’t say the social word. We have four areas of focus. Charlene Li has a focus on leadership, with her upcoming book. I’m focused on customer strategy and support. Ray Wang does enterprise strategy — ERP and CRM. His world and my world are colliding. Deborah Schultz ran the social media labs at Proctor and Gamble and she’s leading innovation and best practices for us.
So you don’t want to use the ‘social’ word anymore?
Social is here today, and brands are wrestling with how to harness
it. However, there are more technologies coming, and we don’t want our
clients to be blindsided by the next wave of tools that will empower
customers and leave brands behind. Mobile, location based cloud services are all on the horizon. It’s more than social.
There was a knee-jerk reaction with social: “Quick, establish a work team.” But social is just one tool set. We’re looking at the broader set of emerging technologies and on boarding these technologies. We want to get companies ready with the roles and process to onboard these new technologies and conduct experiments where failure is acceptable. Rather than having the knee jerk reaction like they did in social. It used to be that all of a sudden, a CEO would mandate they must have a blog but not truly understand why and how it fits in to the corporate strategy. Most companies don’t have a way to allow new technology to come in. Most importantly, employees and customers can adopt these technologies without the CIO involved at all. If management allows for experimentation to happen, the successful elements will come through. Right now they happen in skunk works that are not sanctioned by management.
You’re very well known outside of your Forrester role. How important do you think personal brands are today?
Consumers are more likely to connect and trust people who are open and show transparency. There is a big opportunity for personal brands to fulfill that need.
What about your personal brand? How did it factor into your work at Forrester?
I was hired because of my blog partly. If you’re going to analyze, you’re more credible if you’re using the tools yourself. My brand was already being developed prior to Forrester. It grew immensely while I was there. As personal brands are emerging, companies want to hire people with these personal brands that have a large network. But they’re not sure how to value and weigh what this means. One of the challenges for companies is that these brands benefit the company, but they’re also portable. The question becomes: What’s more important — the employees or the umbrella brand?
You’ve said that being disruptive gets you paid. But what does personal branding do for companies?
Personally, the relationship has been mutual. I’ve certainly helped Forrester. But I’m very cognizant of my priorities as well. I have a motto. I believe that reading and researching and blogging my opinions every morning is important. It’s paying yourself first. Just like a financial adviser. You pay off your own money before paying your debtors. You want to invest in yourself and share what you’ve learned. It’s been a pattern in my career. Some people do this by reading books. Paying yourself first is very important. When you open email, that’s paying somebody else’s time in most cases.
Do you think the analyst payment structure will change to accommodate personally branded employees?
People come and go from every company. I had great relationships at Forrester and I really enjoyed all my time there. New technologies have empowered individuals to be known in every industry – we see that everywhere. Companies have to figure out how to recognize, retain and reward the talent that emerges.
You’ve said anyone with the opportunity should become an analyst. Why is that?It was one of the best career moves that I have made. Now I’m really able to understand where the nascent social space is and where it’s going. Being an analyst helped me meet all the people in the industry. And now I’m going to go out and deploy what I’ve learned.
What are some of the things you’ll be up to?
We’re going to spend more time with clients and have fewer clients with a deeper relationship. The big trend is convergence as all these new technologies come together. As these systems start to connect, real time is not fast enough. Companies have to be faster than real time and predict what their customers will do to prevent a detractor from derailing them. When they have the tools, they will be able to predict what their customers are doing.
You’ve said that email is the biggest social network. Why is that?
Email’s been around for over a decade of mainstream adoption. It’s one of the first and largest social networks. It’s where people share information. In fact, in many cases for social networks, email is a prerequisite. Email and social networks are emerging.
Is there a company you think is overrated right now?
Twitter is overhyped. It has mainstream media attention but not mainstream consumer adoption. There are only 20-30 million registered, let alone active users. It still has proving ground. Twitter has shown its value, but to say it’s a mainstream tool is overhyped.
What are you excited about coming up?
The digital and real worlds are coming together through augmented reality. I’m excited about that — overlaying existing digital content over real experiences. Right now toys are being created, applications that don’t necessarily provide value. But it’s an interesting way to do marketing or add contextual value.