Concluding my series on vendor blogs, I’d like to share my own experiences. This will be much more personal than the other three articles, but will hopefully still be helpful.
We’re All Selling Something
I’ve always been a vendor blogger, and so have you. It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but nearly everybody is a vendor of one sort or another: Regardless of whether you deliver results to your employer, sell your own services, or push a product, we’re all selling something.
I’ve been delivering enterprise IT consulting for a living for almost 15 years now. It’s easy to pretend that human services like consulting are somehow more pure than the “box pushers”, but this is simply not the case. Even internal end-user employees are trying to keep themselves employed, and the most effective way to do this is to promote their company and themselves.
It’s not a black and white scale. If we are all selling ourselves and our employers,then we are all vendors to greater or lesser extents. We all have our axes to grind, our prejudices to expose, and only our experience to draw on. So no one is perfectly credible and no one is perfectly tainted.
I’ve long labored to maintain my credibility and independence, even as I have moved from an IT outsourcer (Sprint Paranet) to a storage service provider (StorageNetworks) to strategic consulting companies (GlassHouse Technologies and Contoural) to a cloud storage provider (Nirvanix). I’ve always remained separate from any product focus, but I’ve always been part of the sales and delivery process for consulting services.
Get Out Of Jail Free?
The fact that it’s all shades of gray does not mean, however, that we are free to twist the facts with impunity or that we should object when others pass judgement on our motivations. Quite the opposite: If we are all vendors, we all had better be careful what our actions say about us!
This is the most important lesson I have learned about blogging: Credibility is our currency, and no one has yet offered me enough reward to sacrifice mine. Can I be bought? Well, in the words of Jayne Cobb, “that’ll be an interesting day!”
Because I recognize the importance of credibility, I try to keep a level head and maintain a respectable persona. This means avoiding personality-driven battles and engaging in accptable business practices I would be proud for the world to know. This isn’t always easy: As your personal profile rises, there will be outside pressure (or inside temptation) to leverage it. Our shared challenge is to keep level heads.
The Messenger Matters
One inescapable fact remains: Employees of companies known for FUD are held to a higher standard of scrutiny. No matter how personally responsible and credible you are, if you work for a marketing-driven product vendor, you will be under the microscope.
Comments that would be considered innocuous or even respectably aloof from an “independent” might seem like mud slinging from a vendor employee. Imagine reading blog posts or tweets from an end user criticizing the products of Microsoft and IBM. If the exact same statements were made by employees of EMC or HP, wouldn’t they be seen in a different light? The message is the same, but the messenger matters.
I have personally experienced the doors that close when moving from a consulting company to a managed service provider. Certain publications and event organizers have strict rules denying “vendors” the right to participate; others have no such restrictions. I was sad to say goodbye to TechTarget after 5 years, but I respect their rules. Happily, as their door closed, others opened and I was able to write and present more last year than any year previous!
If you enjoyed reading this, you’ll probably also like my Foskett Services blog!
My new role at Nirvanix explicitly allowed me to continue my personal social media presence, including organizing Gestalt IT and Tech Field Day. Management saw that my reputation was a benefit to the company and trusted I would remain objective and keep my work and non-work roles separated.
I’ve endeavored to do just that, launching a new blog, Enterprise Storage Strategies, specifically for cloud storage strategy and restricted crossover between the two domains. In the interest of objectivity, I’ve also “recused” myself from discussions of cloud storage on the Gestalt IT web site and at Tech Field Day.
I don’t want to say that this is the correct approach for everyone, but it’s worked well for me. What do you think? How can vendor bloggers remain credible in the increasingly social world?
Hot dog cart image by rollingrck
Good post. I’ll reiterate what I said on Twitter about this: I agree that we’re all selling something, but the best vendor bloggers I’ve read are the ones that are bloggers first and vendors second. It’s not that hard (and actually quite effective) to take a step back from the hype. The best ones also acknowledge/address their vested interests directly. There are times when it’s appropriate to explain something you sell in some detail, and times to actually be much more hands off about it. In my blog, I focus on the topics that I’m running across and have knowledge about in my day job, but am also trying to be pretty representative of what’s going on with cloud computing and the like even if I don’t agree with it.
Bravo. I’m pleased to read that you understand there is no “us” versus “them”, or “vendor” versus “end user”. We’re all providers and consumers to some degree.
You might recall a long and hotly debated StorageMonkeys FTC disclosure thread in which I wrote “We are all employed by vendors [of some product or service] and we’re all consumers [of products and services] so let’s cut the crap. At the end of the day this is not about analysts, vendors, consumers or bloggers, Tim, this is about people, trust, accountability and responsibility – and it applies equally to all of us.”
I only wish more people in the blogging community understood this. Clearly they do not.