Develop a strategic content strategy

This post is the first in a short series bought to you by Kevin Anselmo on how you can build your digital presence as an academic.

It is increasingly important to build your online presence and there are many benefits to be reaped. Increased visibility for your research and ideas leads to the following potential benefits:

  • More citations, which often times impacts tenure decisions
  • Access to grants
  • Personal consulting opportunities
  • Visibility for your institution
  • Enhancing your network, which could lead to new career opportunities.

It ultimately is about impact. Just a small group of your peers have access to your work published in academic journals. By distilling your research and ideas for public audiences, you have the opportunity to impact how people think about a situation. Odds are if you strategically communicating your research and ideas to external audiences, it will benefit society, your institution and yourself!

Building an online presence is good starting point. Unfortunately, many academics are not leveraging this opportunity. Some are scared of the process, for various reasons. Others who have dabbled with building their presence online have content hubs that are inconsistent and sporadic (for example, a blog updated every six months). If you feel you are in either of these categories, let’s change that!

The radical changes in the digital communications infrastructure have made it possible for any organization or individual to be a media company. To a certain extent, individual academics’ YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts compete for individuals’ attention just as TV stations, newspapers or radio stations do. Surely, your primary role as an academic is teaching and research. But if you want to be serious about your content creation online and reap the related benefits, you need to model some of the traditional media’s approaches.

It starts by defining an editorial mission. Most every media outlet has an editorial mission that answers three questions:

  1. Who is the core audience?
  2. What will you deliver to them?
  3. What is the desired outcome?

As an example of an individual editorial mission statement, consider what Duke University Professor Dan Ariely states on his blog:

Hi, I’m Dan Ariely. I do research in behavioral economics and try to describe it in plain language. These findings have enriched my life, and my hope is that they will do the same for you.

These friendly few sentences essentially are his editorial mission.

Next, consider thinking through your editorial beats. For instance, a newspaper will have someone covering the police beat, the education beat, the sports beat, etc. As an academic creating content, you should think about editorial beats in the same way. Once you have your broad categories, you can narrow it down to come up with specific titles that need to be delivered within that beat.

Let’s role-play this and say you are looking to create content to position your book on refugees’ adaptation to a new culture. (This same model could be applied regardless of your discipline and the topic you wish to focus on). Let’s say we define three editorial beats: 1) best practice; 2) research; and 3) community perspectives.
Ideas for titles and subjects for the best practice beat would be:

  • How refugees can best learn a new language
  • How refugees can secure meaningful employment
  • How religious organizations can integrate refugees into their congregations
  • Other how-to best practice

For the research beat, titles and subjects could be:

  • Resources overview
  • How to teach students to be responsible policy-makers as it relates to refugee adaptation
  • Case studies
  • Analysis of research on refugee adaptation

For the community perspectives ideas, this could be an opportune time to make your audiences the story. This could involve:

  • Interviews with refugees
  • Interviews with policy makers
  • Interviews with NGO leaders working in this space
  • Guest contributions from your community

From there, just as a media outlet does, it might make sense to come up with an editorial calendar. Maybe the goal is that each month, you will create one new piece of content in each editorial beat category, ensuring three new features. The editorial calendar can outline the subject, description and deadlines for a particular piece of content. The deliverables may vary, but consistency is key.

Embedded in all these activities is a professional approach to content creation. Surely there are times that your favorite columnist doesn’t feel like writing his / her weekly piece or your favorite news anchor isn’t keen to report the evening news. Fortunately, they are not creating content based on how they feel. If you as an academic want to be serious about creating content that helps achieve some of your personal goals, you need to have a similar mindset.

Good luck!

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Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a communications consultancy serving higher education. Learn more about his 1-to-1 PR coaching for academics and his Media Training for Academics workshops. Prior to starting his business, Kevin led the public relations for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and for IMD, a business school and in Switzerland.

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