Is Jeremiah Owyang an analyst or is Aaron Brazell right to call him out?

Okay, today’s tempest in a teapot is centered around Chris Brogan who, on his Dad blog dadomatic did what I have done at least a half dozen times: wrote a sponsored post, receiving payment from Izea (formerly Pay Per Post).
You should start your adventure by glancing at his posting: Sponsored Post: K-Mart Holiday Shopping, Dad Style.
Back? Now, did you realize it was a paid, sponsored post to the weblog, and that Chris made some $$ for doing so? Yeah, I thought so.
Apparently, some folk got into a bit of a twitter-uproar and started assailing Chris and questioning his integrity and position as a thought leader in the social media space. As a result, Chris wrote a new blog entry about the situation, entitled Advertising and Trust.
One of the people who called Chris out for his sponsored posting was Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research. His Twitter message on the subject stated “Transparent, yes. Authentic? debatable. Sustainable? no.” People had a strong reaction to Jeremiah’s tweet and he ended up writing a blog entry about the situation, entitled Understanding Izea’s Sponsored Blogging Service but it’s really more about the Brogan brouhaha than anything else.
Still with me?
Enter another friend of mine, Aaron Brazell, better known online as technosailor. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, Aaron has really gone after Jeremiah over this situation, notably in an aggressively titled blog entry Jeremiah Owyang Inserts Foot in Mouth (Again) Over IZEA Sponsored Posts.
Okay, now we’re caught up. Now I’d like to add my two cents to this situation.
First off, as I insinuated earlier, I am a publisher through the Izea network and have posted a couple of blog entries that were sponsored by one of their advertisers. I have done this to see how it works, write about their service and, yes, make a few dollars in the process. I am not an idealist, I can’t pay the mortgage off of good intentions and positive karma, and neither can you, dear reader. Even bloggers need to make a buck.
So fundamentally, I have no problem with Chris Brogan writing a sponsored posting on his terrific Dadomatic weblog. In fact, I’m already a subscriber to the blog, and I saw the post when it first came out. And didn’t think twice about it.
Further, I have had a number of good conversations with Jeremiah Owyang, most recently over beers after the Thin Air Summit in Denver, and he’s a very sharp industry analyst who understands — and probes – the edges of the modern Internet and its intersection with commerce and business. That’s his job.
I’m also friends with Aaron Brazell and find it highly ironic that as I write this blog entry, I’m also coordinating meeting Aaron for dinner while he’s here in Boulder. I imagine we’ll talk about this issue while we’re gnawing on sushi together.
Nonetheless, this really is a tempest in a teapot and I’ll say that a lot of the criticism comes from what I believe is a place of idealism, not reality. What I mean by this is that pragmatic people recognize that other people need to earn a living, so rather than complain about the ads on TV, for example, they pay to support public television or subscribe to a commercial cable channel (or skip it and go to Hulu, but that’s another story).
Jeremiah was right to call Chris on this issue in the way he did. He didn’t say Chris was a loser, he didn’t say Chris was unprofessional, he didn’t say that Chris had sacrificed his integrity and was forevermore a shill for K-Mart and he didn’t say that Chris shouldn’t earn money. All that I see Jeremiah said was that a pay-per-post model of online publicity is not sustainable. And I agree.
Aaron’s the one I have the proverbial bone to pick with, and I started this posting by writing a comment on his blog, but realized that it was gong to be wayyyy too long and moved it here instead. So, finally, with all that said, let’s get to what I want to say.
(does that qualify as the world’s longest lead in to a blog entry?)
Aaron complains about Jeremiah’s original tweet, saying that he “depart[s] from the typical role of an analyst, where neutrality and objectivity are key in providing unbiased advice, and instead insert[s] himself into a conversation as a subject matter expert on a topic he really knows nothing about.”
Analysts analyze. And no-one is unbiased, which is why we have the “scientific method”, among other things. But the fact is, Jeremiah’s very job depends on him being able to both analyze and probe the edges of his area of expertise, and, yes, he is most certainly a subject matter expert on social media and marketing.
Aaron continues:

“Jeremiah is, as a representative of Forrester Research and in his function as a research analyst, expected to be a thought follower, not a thought leader. That is, his role is not to editorialize, or offer public opinion in such a way that exerts his influence outside of his Forrester client base.”

I almost gasped at this comment. Jeremiah is absolutely supposed to be a thought leader in his role and indeed, every industry analyst is supposed to not just know the aggregate statistics (which is the “thought follower” part) but understand their implications and be able to draw conclusions and make recommendations based upon them. If that’s not thought leadership, what is?
I don’t want to pick on Aaron, though, because these guys have all scuffled enough at this point, but I do want to highlight that as leaders in the social media space, it’s their (can I say “our”?) job to push the edges, to test the boundaries, to “eat their own dog food”, and that not only includes doing things that might be questionable, but also criticizing and analyzing what’s been done and the community response.
What I haven’t seen in this entire discussion, for example, is whether the original post by Chris on behalf of K-Mart was successful by their criteria?
Go back again and read Chris’ sponsored blog post: was it worth $500 (or $1000) for the company?
Now also go back and read what Jeremiah actually said in his twitter messages on the subject (start here) and ask yourself: isn’t it the role of media analysts to ask questions and make pointed observations about unusual occurrences in the social media space?
Frankly, it always amazes me that bloggers have these thrashing discussions around what I see as a sense of guilt over the incursion of capitalism into the blogosphere without noting that there are plenty of bloggers who are making good coin writing not just about what they want, but what they perceive their readers — or advertisers – want them to write about. It’s just part of the landscape.
I have no strong conclusion, no great moral to this story. I just wish we’d have a bit more of a civil discourse when we are all discussing what does and doesn’t work in the blogosphere.
How about you? What’s your take on this whirlwind?

9 comments on “Is Jeremiah Owyang an analyst or is Aaron Brazell right to call him out?

  1. As I stated in other blogs. I believe this is a big non-issue. The “controversy” behind this was unwarranted and frankly I think made up ala killer bees, shark attacks and well, you get my point?
    Why? Because Chris disclosed. Fully. When you do that, social media, blogging, whatever… It all goes on the blog reader, who can then choose to unfollow or unsubscribe, etc…
    We’re past this. This was something that was a big deal in 2006. We’re all publishers now, not “bloggers”. Publishers monetize. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I KNOW you get that Dave.

  2. I think it was B.L. Ochman who said: Purists are rarely realists…
    I think you’re bang on. Nice thing about being busy is that I missed a lot of this, however I concur with your take on our mutual friends.
    You can’t buy milk and bread with comments and trackbacks so we have to earn a buck.
    I’ve done a couple paid reviews and accept products to review. I make it clear when I do.
    Jeremiah was hired by Forrester because he is a sharp guy. He has wisdom and insight, sure he analyzes, but who is going to read (aka pay for) analysis if the analyst isn’t seen as a thought leader?
    A good thought leader steps back, asks the questions that aren’t obvious, and even better takes a risk.
    Without challenging what we think, we can’t move forward.

  3. Dave
    Thank you, very thoughtful, balanced and clear.
    I really hope you an Aaron have a good time at dinner tonight, I’d love to join you guys.
    Aaron, as I expressed in your comments, I’m happy to meet you half way, I’m open for further discussion as you see fit.
    I think between your experience being a sponsored blogger, and my desire to learn, we could figure out together how to make social media, bloggers, and brands work well together.
    I don’t hold any ill feelings towards you, and think we could come to a better understanding, I’d rather have you as an ally rather than a critic.
    Kanpai! (cheers in Japanese)

  4. Thanks, Dave for the synopsis of this brouhaha. I had seen snippets play out on Twitter but hadn’t gotten a fuller picture until now. It was also one of the topics that came up at a Tweetup yesterday in the Denver area.
    As you noted in your keynote at the Thin Air Summit, a divergent set of views is a sign of a healthy system and we all operate from our own biases. Both are visible here.
    Themes that I resonated with:
    * Sustainability–a balance between the core reason for a blog (e.g., to serve a community, share a passion) and living in a capitalistic society (the grocery store doesn’t do barter.)
    * Innovation–requires risk-taking, reflection, and experimentation. Thought leaders, like Jeremiah, open the space for others to innovate.
    Agree that full disclosure is the key. And sometimes, the story we tell ourselves overshadows what’s right in front of us.
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  5. I don’t mind what Chris did…the reaction was an overreaction and probably got too personal. And you’re correct, Jeremiah was correct to raise issues regarding it.
    The problem for the long term will be what’s legit and what’s not. Transparency may not be enough at some point.
    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think there’s a fine line established yet. It’s fuzzy. And that fuzzy line – or perhaps fuzzy area – will keep on moving until we get it right.

  6. Glad I was busy enough to miss this “controversy.” Walmart’s testing out ideas that frankly aren’t sustainable or scalable, but so many of the social media marketing ideas that are around now have the same problem.
    What really irks me is the bashing by Allen Stern that these bloggers should have bought something for people in need. As if they have some great moral responsibility because people read their blogs? Why?

  7. Glad I was busy enough to miss this “controversy.” Walmart’s testing out ideas that frankly aren’t sustainable or scalable, but so many of the social media marketing ideas that are around now have the same problem.
    What really irks me is the bashing by Allen Stern that these bloggers should have bought something for people in need. As if they have some great moral responsibility because people read their blogs? Why?

  8. Dave, this is a good post. This is what I posted over on Linkedin Bloggers as a response:
    Your post is very good. I think it’s naive, though, for writers to expect that, once they start publicizing that they are being paid for a sponsored post, that their relationship will not be put into a different category by their readers.
    Like it or not, when a trusted celebrity starts selling access to his/her network, his/her rating on individual “trust-o-meters” will be impacted. This diminution of trust doesn’t mean that people think capitalism is bad, it’s just recognition that money, celebrity, and ratings are all intertwined and that people have a natural mistrust of advertising. This is one of the reasons that corporate blogs apparently generate little public trust.
    I also think that whether a sponsored blog post is published in a business oriented or a family oriented blog is increasingly irrelevant in this day of RSS feeds, Feedburner, and Twitter. The facts and details of sponsorship are likely to be lost, with only the name and reputation of the author remaining.
    Dennis McDonald
    (Disclosure: I’m a consultant. I publish my blog primarily to promote my professional, research, and business interests.)

  9. Thanks Dave. I’m relieved I don’t have to read *all* the comments on the various blog posts to get the story or to form my own opinion. You’ve struck a nice balance. The whole conversation reminded me of other conversations I’ve been in, in the past, about the artistic implications (read “artistic compromise”) of commercial interests sponsoring theater companies, theatrical performances, art exhibitions. What, commerce and art collaborating? Surely not?

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