How researchers get heard
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See Me, Find Me, Talk With Me

If you’re promoting research, you must reckon with the law of shitty clickthroughs.

The law of shitty clickthroughs, as defined by Andrew Chen at Andreessen Horowitz: “Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty clickthrough rates.”

“Marketing strategies” for Chen = Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, banner ads, e-books…any channel or format we use to promote our expertise, ideas and work.

A new marketing channel is like unsettled territory: pristine and exploitable. Then it gets crowded and everything goes to hell. So what keeps marketing afloat? More new channels and approaches keep appearing. If you can get into these early enough, you might enjoy some relatively uncontested early-mover success before the locusts appear and you have to find the next new thing.

So when a scientist says to me, “I need to be on Tik Tok,” although I might disagree with her about Tik Tok as a vehicle for her audiences, her marketing instincts are in at least one sense correct. For now.

Chen’s law is irrefutable. The question is how to respond to it.

Chen’s solution: keep looking for and colonizing new marketing channels before they get choked with competition. But only rich orgs or startups can pull that off.

The SaaS content marketing agency Animalz puts forward the opposite strategy: stop chasing novelty on other platforms and invest in channels you own. The difference in effectiveness crudely charted here:

Jimmy Daly of Animalz recommends three tactics: growing personal brands; growing organic traffic; and growing your email list. It’s worth quoting him in full on these, because it’s in many respects a perfect marketing strategy for lean, scrappy research communication and marketing:

  • Personal brands: This is increasingly important because influential individuals can amass huge social media and email followings. These followers tend to be more engaged than your average blog reader and are more likely to follow an individual than a company. Growing the personal brands of the people in your company isn’t always a perfect strategy, but if you’re inclined to try it, we’ll encourage it.
  • Organic traffic: There has never been a cheaper, more reliable form of traffic. If you do nothing else, invest in growing your organic presence. Not only does it bring in more qualified traffic, but it boosts other important metrics as a by-product.
  • Email: An email list is a powerful owned channel. It’s similar to organic traffic in that it compounds. It can also take a long time to grow, but it’s worth it.

Another way to think about this: See me, find me, talk with me.

If you’re a researcher or a research communicator, you should invest in just three marketing tactics: one to help people see you, one to help people find you when they want to connect with you, and one to help people have conversations with you.

Your tactics don’t have to match Daly’s recommendations. For #1, you might want to concentrate on giving talks or doing podcast guesting. For #2, SEO is good, but you might want to focus on thought leadership for elite media instead. For #3, you’re on Twitter a lot, building your network.

But Daly’s conclusion, I think, is as ironclad as Chen’s law: “You are your promotion channels. It takes time to build your foundation, but it’s a much better use of time than any one-off gimmick to bring in new visitors.”