How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Pew Invents the Authority Email Course

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Pew Research Center last year launched a five-lesson email course on US immigration issues, drawn from its extensive research on those issues.

The move — which I’m going to call the authority email course — fascinates me. That’s because — if done well — it combines three powerful engagement tactics:

  1. The online course (think Kahn Academy);
  2. I-chose-this (permission marketing) with I-control-how-I consume-this (the drip of email); and
  3. Expertise made accessible and useful to a broad audience.

Together, it potentially creates a new genre of authority content — an avenue to create deep trust from the audience to the expert organization.

And, not insignificantly, the authority email course might bring in lots of new email subscribers to the teaching organization.

How can a research-driven organization become a thought leader? With moves like this.

Now, Joseph Lichterman of Lenfest Institute’s Solution Set breaks down why Pew decided to do an authority email course, what it took to produce it and what they got out of it.

Read it if you do marketing or comms in a research-driven org or institution. Or if you’re just interested in turning any kind of IP into a high-engagement lead magnet.

What caught my eye from Lichterman’s piece:

  • The whole series had a 60 percent average open rate. Wow.
  • It took a while to get leadership on board, because the idea didn’t fit their conception of what a newsletter is supposed to look like. (Nothing new there.)
  • Pew focused on immigration because it hit a sweet spot between their expertise and a topic that’s often in the news. (The perfect embodiment of hook and white-space thinking.)
  • Each email header posed a question (e.g., “Who are today’s US immigrants?”) that the subheads of the email answer (e.g., “Mexicans are the largest group, but not among new immigrants.” (Perfect for people who simply want to skim.)
  • Pew’s editorial and visual staff worked hard to keep the content readable and evergreen — conversational, not stuffed with statistics, and foregrounding visuals.
  • Pew put a survey asking readers to rate the course at the bottom of each email to capture feedback of those who might be dropping out. (Learning from failure, not just success.)
  • It also inserted reader-friendly graphical course progress trackers at the top and bottom of each email.
  • Finally, Pew has not yet marketed to the list beyond the course. It’s taking a conservative approach instead of blasting them with content or asks that they might not want. (Refreshing!)

Lichterman also quotes the New Yorker’s Dan Oshinsky (he of Not a Newsletter fame) on how he used automated course newsletters at Buzzfeed to great impact. “The open rates were consistently excellent, and they were a good way to show readers how useful our newsletters could be,” he quotes Oshinsky saying.

An authority email course clearly takes work to produce.

It also has a great chance of becoming strong foundational lead generators for any research-driven org.

You’d be remiss not to seriously consider at least experimenting with one in your planning.