October 26, 2022
As part of the eResearch Australasia Conference 2022 (eRA 2022) in Meanjin (Brisbane), members of the NCRIS Communications Network and NeSI explored the challenges of communicating across and beyond research ecosystems through a Birds of Feathers (BoF) discussion, chaired by Aditi Subramanya (Pawsey) and Jana Makar (NeSI).
Communicating across and beyond research ecosystems to support greater research translation represents a key challenge for the research support community in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Here, the BoF participants share three tips for strategic communications discussed at this eRA session that researchers and their research support peers can use daily.
1 — Communications, marketing, and media professionals are here to help
Communicating research and communicating about research infrastructures requires unique skills and can be time-consuming, so it is unreasonable to expect researchers and other research support staff to take on communication tasks without any support. It is, therefore, important for these practitioners to get to know their communications team (or, more frequently, person), or leverage the communications and marketing teams associated with the research infrastructure they are making use of. It is in our interests to promote research to justify investments in the research infrastructure we support. We are here to listen and translate your message and tailor it to specific audiences.
During the translation process, it is important to:
- Know who you are talking to. Sometimes you will need to create different pitches of the same story for different audiences.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of your work. You may not have made a breakthrough, but funders and stakeholders want to know what you’re doing – even if it’s just ruling something out. Small goals achieved over time can add up to a big impact from a higher level.
- Take into account the researchers/infrastructure concerns: a story that negatively affects the branding or the researcher’s reputation, even if it goes viral, should not be produced at all as it can cause irreparable damage.
- Be aware of the unique characteristics of the communication process. For example, it is not the same to communicate research outcomes (discoveries, publications, etc.) as it is to communicate what a research infrastructure does and its impact. Be clear in the overlaps and distinctions.
- Remember, if it’s not viral, it’s not a waste. If it’s out there, it’s telling your story – it is far more valuable for you to have a consistent track record and control your whole story. In the absence of information, audiences can come to their own conclusion – you have an opportunity to tell them what you want them to know (and how to talk about you) if you do end up in the spotlight (under good or bad circumstances).
2 — Be strategic: ask yourself five questions for all communication activities
Communicating research and what made it possible (infrastructure and expertise) needs to be strategic, even if it’s as simple as crafting a Tweet! Here are five questions that you can ask yourself before embarking on any strategic communications activity — small or large, in digital or traditional media:
- What is the purpose of this communication?
- How do you plan to achieve that purpose?
- Who is the target audience/stakeholder of this communication and how will this communication project help to meet their needs? I.e. they may need an imaging facility but not know it.
- What does success look like for this communication? It is important to have tangible KPIs.
- How will you measure success? I.e. digital analytics, survey feedback, attendance rate?
There are many freely available templates online to help you through this process. Here is one to start!
3 — Know your audience well
Know the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of your audience. Ask yourself:
- Who is my audience? If you don’t know, research them (this is often an ongoing process).
- What media and research communications do they consume? What/who do they trust? From this, you can gauge what kind of language and visual styles resonate with them.
- When do they like to consume that media? Early week, Fridays, weekends, quarterly, ad hoc?
- Where do they consume that media? Social media platforms, conferences, elsewhere?
- Why would they want to learn about what you have to say? How can it benefit them?
- How can you design communications that ‘cut through the ‘noise’ for your audience to see?
If you ‘meet your audience where they are’ in terms of language (written, visual), interests and location/platform, you have the best chance of your communication delighting, inspiring and persuading your audience.