Here’s a rule of thumb for public expertise that almost nobody talks about: Share your expertise consistently — at a regular frequency that produces anticipation for your insights in the communities you’re trying to reach.
As with most rules, you only find out how important this one is when you violate it.
Take Act Now Coalition, which published the biweekly newsletter Covid Act Now, upon which I’d lavished praise in April as the best one-stop COVID-19 resource.
On July 13th, Act Now Coalition announced in that day’s edition of Covid Act Now that it would be the last, because the organization was pivoting to refocus on other work.
A pity, and odd timing (with the Delta variant revving up) — but organizations have business plans.
Last Thursday, though, Act Now Coalition sent out a new edition of Covid Act Now to (as the intro copy put it) “provide some clarity about what’s going on” regarding COVID-19.
In addition, Act Now Coalition now announced that they would now be “sending out these Special Downloads every so often to provide some updates on the ever-evolving pandemic world.”
Hmmm. In those five weeks between the July 13 and August 19 Covid Act Now editions, we’d seen the rise of a) a Delta wave in many countries around the world, b) sometimes violent controversies about masking requirements in schools, c) withering criticism of both the FDA and CDC for their communications tactics, and d) controversial US and Israel plans to offer universal booster shots for their immunocompetent citizenry, among many other major COVID developments.
I guess “ever-evolving pandemic world” is a way to describe what happened during those five weeks. There was certainly a ton for which to “provide some clarity.”
But you can’t go from publishing a twice-weekly email to no email for five weeks and back to an occasional email and expect your audience to turn to you again for that clarity.
You’ve lost relevance and positioning with your audiences that will be almost impossible to regain. You’ve used those five weeks of silence to teach your audiences not to rely on you for clarity or insight — and they’ve paid attention. The world has shifted, the conversation has new voices and a new public expertise market has been made in the space that used to be yours.
Anyone who read Covid Act Now before mid-July did not mope about after its cessation was announced, holding a torch for the missing emails. We the former readership got busy finding other information sources and habits to rely upon.
Act Now Coalition decided not to acknowledge any of that, though. Instead, they simply brought back the Covid Act Now newsletter as if we the audience had put our search for perspective on the pandemic’s new developments on hold.
The subheads they use in the August 19 edition of Covid Act Now — “What’s the deal with breakthrough infections?” “What’s the deal with booster shots?” “What’s the deal with masking and mitigation measures?” “What’s the deal with variants?” — strongly suggest that the writers thinkwe had been waiting for someone to summarize what’s been happening for the last five weeks with all of these things.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the conversations the world has already been having about those questions far exceeded, to be polite, the answers Act Now Coalition provided to those questions.
There is still so much wishful thinking in non-profit communications. That includes the inability to a) recognize when you’ve actually created an expertise resource for a community and b) maintain that resource.
Public expertise isn’t just a direction you decide to take with your expertise. It’s a contract made with a community, built on value and habit.
The inbox is a polluted commons. We reward the publishers who act like publishers — who deliver value consistently, in ways we can count on.
If you’re cutting yourself slack about a deadline because you’re “just a non-profit” or “just a researcher” — your subscribers aren’t.