Gerson Agonistes


Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), the leading expert network provider, recently rebranded its social media experiment which connects business professionals at no charge.  The previous name, G+, created confusion with Google’s brand, so GLG changed the name to ‘High Table’.  The move illustrates how difficult it is for GLG to transition itself into a social media company.

Gerson Lehrman introduced the G+ brand last year, in an apparent move into social media.  The core services which connect professionals for a fee were rebranded as ‘GLG Research’, and the new product was available for free to anyone who registered.  Now G+ has become High Table, connoting a slightly elitist image.  The term ‘high table’ alludes to the tradition in universities such as Oxford to place professors and distinguished guests at a raised table at the end of a dining hall.

Here’s how GLG describes the service: “HighTable provides active and influential professionals, academics and entrepreneurs a place to collaborate around new business ideas by asking and answering questions and conducting meetings online and in-person.”

Don’t be confused by High Table’s claim of “conducting meetings online and in-person.”  If you want to go beyond online Q&A, you will need to trade up to the premium services of GLG Research.  High Table does feature some GLG Research webinars, allowing High Table members to sign up for the webinars for free.

What’s the purpose behind High Table?  The business rationale is to drive more traffic to GLG Research.  High Table showcases experts and events that can be paid for through GLG Research.  Also, High Table helps position GLG as a social media firm if it ever goes public.

An obvious concern is cannibalization of the hundreds of millions that GLG Research earns in fees.  As High Table says about itself, “The best, first-hand expertise on any business issue should be more accessible and inexpensive than ever…”  However, there is a big difference between the value of High Table’s online Q&A and GLG Research consultations where you can get nuanced responses, ask follow-on questions, and gauge an expert’s credibility.  Plus GLG Research consultations are private.

The bigger question is whether High Table can attract enough traffic to make cannibalization a concern.   High Table competes against Quora, which has a large following and very active discussions.  Although the bulk of Quora’s topics are not business related, it has discussions relating to stocks and other finance topics.  The answers are often high quality.  For example, many of the questions about Amazon are answered by current or former Amazon employees, an aspect that is becoming increasingly rare in expert networks because of compliance concerns.

High Table has the advantage of GLG’s network of experts, plus many GLG employees are active on the site.  GLG acquired a Chinese social media start-up last fall to add an international dimension.  However, High Table has queries numbering in the hundreds whereas Quora has queries in the tens of thousands.

Another competitor is, a recent attempt to create a business-oriented version of Quora leveraging LinkedIn connections.  However, Quewey seems to have less traffic than High Table.

Remaking GLG into a social media company is not an easy task.  It takes more than a free website to generate traffic.  As the rebranding of G+ to High Table illustrates, it is hard to get it right.  But give GLG credit for trying.


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