How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

The Expert and the Brand

The consultant David C. Baker said something to me a few years ago that I wanted to believe but didn’t quite see: “The next 10-15 years in marketing will be about individual people…The brand needs to be represented by individuals.”

He was correct, of course. The podcast crush is all about the individual. Influencers. TED was the camel’s nose in all our tents. No one wants an organization’s take on anything anymore, except maybe the IPCC’s. Connection and credibility start with a single, compelling voice.

LinkedIn changed its algorithm recently to capitalize on this shift, as Sara Fischer of Axios reports — favoring “conversations in its Feed that cater to niche professional interests, as opposed to elevating viral content.” LinkedIn’s metrics tell it that enticing users to have conversations (as opposed to simply scrolling through a feed) makes them stay longer and easier to monetize.

The move seals a trend that Facebook and Snapchat started: back to the personal, away from the institutional. “News feeds that were fundamentally built to connect one voice to many are struggling to deliver on value as communication trends move to more personal and ephemeral conversations,” writes Fischer. She reports LinkedIn’s editors “have been asking publishers to have their reporters share content to boost posts from authoritative individuals, as opposed to having content come from brands directly.”

From authoritative individuals, as opposed to having content come from brands directly. Translate that to the research world. Research brands include: universities, research centers, international organizations, journals, professional societies. Important to each other, yes; but interchangeable to the world, and impossible for others to have a conversation with.

Authoritative researchers have their own voices; arguments and POVs; modes of communications (not just writing, but talks, podcasting and/or video); and networks and platforms (such as email lists and social media followers) to have these personal conversations.

Today, researchers who want impact outside research for their work and expertise need to be working on that list. You can take my quick online assessment to see where you stand and your next steps for improvement.

Today, research communicators need more than their organization’s brand to be effective. They need authoritative researchers as the face of that brand.

Takeaway: It’s not too late to catch up to the present. But hiding behind prestigious, faceless and undifferentiated research brands (like so many identical tubes of toothpaste) is the past.