How researchers get heard
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Welcome, Welcome

From Inbox Collective’s Dan Oshinsky (who directed the email programs for The New Yorker and Buzzfeed):

The secret of the email world is that welcome emails open at incredibly high rates — often multiple times higher than a normal email. (77% of readers open my welcome email.) And when you get a chance like that to make a first impression, you better take it. If the inbox is a living room, the welcome series is a host inviting you in, taking your coat, and getting you comfortable in your new surroundings.

77% open rate — that catches your eye.

What also catches my eye: “the inbox is a living room.”

I don’t know about your inbox, but mine feels more like Times Square, with hundreds of organizations shouting at me that I can’t remember ever meeting.

And yet: there are a few emails I zero in on immediately every day or every week amidst that cacophony, like a friend’s face. Safe harbor, those faces say to me. Trust, amidst a sea of bad faith.

Oshinsky is quoting himself from a Nieman Lab piece about his hire in 2017 at The New Yorker (and what it meant for the New Yorker’s increasing reliance on newsletters). Here’s the full quote:

“This has always been a loyalty type of business. You don’t last that long without building strong relationships with readers. Email is kind of like a living room. It’s a very personal space. You let in your friends, the coworkers you like, and a couple of brands you really trust — like this one,” he said.

Research-driven organizations are forever thinking about getting attention for their research products — not about building strong relationships — aka authority.

We do this because we pretend that research impact isn’t about relationships but about citations and media attention. So we over-rely on drive-by communications, trying to flag down a critical mass of attention at the moment we need it, usually through media and other third-party channels.

Imagine The New Yorker relying out solely on press relations to get readers every time they published an important article.

Every other sector rises and falls on the trust and loyalty it intentionally cultivates. Research, for some reason, pretends it’s immune from this work.

Activating and growing your networks — the networks you know personally, and the networks that you create, that have given you permission to communicate with them. You don’t need to get their attention, because you already have it.

What’s in your welcome email or series? Do you have one? If so, is it simply an acknowledgement of their subscription to your list, or is it the beginning of a conversation? Does it ground the reader in not just your organization’s expertise, but start to let them know you own the answers to their questions in that expertise?

Do you want to be in their living room? Or just be another face in the crowd?