How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Why Impact Metrics are Everybody’s Job

Funders want impact metrics. As do boards.

At which point all eyes in the research-driven organization turn to…communications.

Really?

I guess it makes a narrow kind of sense. Comms teams are supposed to keep numbers. The numbers they’ve historically kept (“likes,” “follows,” “traffic,” “media hits”) are meaningless, and now everyone (even funders) knows it. So comms needs to find some better ones. Start filling up those spreadsheets, people! 

However: if you want to measure impact, you should actually be delivering impact. If you’re not, the metrics are just going to make everyone very unhappy.

And impact isn’t simply about the organization doing what you’ve always done and promoting it better. That’s just the universal vanity of non-comms people thinking their stuff is great and the comms people are inept. 

So before you throw the comms team under the Greyhound, ask these questions of your organization:

  • Is its brand identity tightly positioned and its brand story clear? (Yes, even research-driven organizations have brand identities and stories.) 
  • Do you know your audiences cold — right down to being able to target a dozen or so influencers in each one that you need to build better relationships this year with?
  • Is your research program designed to produce the kind of thunderclap results and insights that can get headlines and change conversations among decision makers? Or are you just producing incremental advances and trying to dress them up as revolutionary?
  • Are you resourced properly to produce content at high volume — not just research, but the content that differentiates your research staff as thought leaders?
  • Is that content integrated into and serving all your other strategic functions?

The other thing everyone in organizational leadership should go through is the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework. It’s a brilliant strategic communications planning process that demonstrates how many of the metrics research-driven organizations think are impact are really just outputs.

Bottom line: “Convincing impact metrics” isn’t something you offload to your comms team and expect them to produce in isolation. 

They require an organizational decision to generate and prioritize impact. 

Impact is always impact on someone; the audience comes first and defines everything. 

That’s not how many research-driven organizations decide to pursue what they’re researching. 

It’s how they’re going to have to do it going forward to get attention.

Which, come to think of it, we’ve always thought was just the communications’ team’s job, too.