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What Do Level 1 and 2 ‘Researcher Thought Leaders’ Look Like?

This is the second in a six-part series on researcher thought leaders and how those just getting started should think strategically about improving their skills and impact in communicating with non-experts. If you haven’t already, please take my health assessment for researchers — it can provide you with a baseline that you can use to guide your development as an authority. Please also send me your feedback and read the other pieces in this series.

If you’re just starting out with generating authority content, in my book it means you’re a Level 1 Researcher Thought Leader — basically, a Resident Subject Matter Expert (SME).

What do I mean by this?

  • You’re known as an SME within your discipline and/or the walls of your organization — but your expertise isn’t yet well-known to external decision makers or others.
  • You’re probably either relatively early in your career, don’t have organizational support for thought leadership growth, have decided that thought leadership isn’t for you, or some combination of the above.
  • Your research and insights might very well have tremendous potential to reach wider audiences. But you’re not engaging enough in the critical thought leadership activities — writing, speaking and networking to and with non-specialist audiences — that will put your research and insights before those audiences.
  • For example, you’re not publishing — posting in a public channel — at least 750 words (written or video) on your research- or data-based insights at least once monthly for external, non-specialist audiences.
  • You’re also not receiving many invites to speaking engagements — either panel discussions or keynotes — or getting many (if any) inquiries from media to give quotes or provide background interviews.
  • Therefore, your institution/organization also doesn’t have much if any thought leadership content from you to use in achieving its strategic objectives — for instance, marketing to prospective partners, or cultivating prospective funders.

Level 2 Researcher Thought Leaders are beginning to be recognized as an SME beyond the confines of their discipline and/or the walls of their institution or organization. That means at least one (and probably several) of the following are happening in your case:

  • You’re publishing — posting in a public vehicle where decision makers can read them — at least 750 words a month on your research- or data-based insights. These pieces are written expressly for non-specialist audiences.
  • You’re beginning to get and accept invitations to panel discussions — at academic conferences and/or at conferences in sectors (corporate, policy, practitioner, civic, etc.) that you want your thinking to influence.
  • You’re getting occasional calls from media for quotes or background interviews, either directly or funneled to you by your institution’s/organization’s communications staffers.
  • You’re using at least one social media platform to connect with other SMEs in your fields. You’re also using this platform to promote your insights, writing and research as well as those of other SMEs at your institution or organization.
  • Your institution/organization is beginning to use your thought leadership content for strategic purposes — for instance, sending it to cultivate prospective funders or promoting it in digital channels as part of its marketing and lead generation effors.

“Level 1” or “Level 2” isn’t an assessment of your potential to turn your expertise into thought leadership. It’s simply a snapshot of where you are right now, both in terms of thought leadership skills and impact.

In my experience, it takes Level 1 Researcher Thought Leaders an average of 9-12 months with strategic planning and concerted effort to move from Level 1 to Level 2 — the Emerging Public SME.

And it takes Level 2s an average of 9-15 months of strategic planning and concerted effort to move from Level 2 to Level 3 — the Rising Star.

You’re going to ask me who is a Level 1 or Level 2 in the real world.

My answer: almost all researchers. Easily 99 percent of them. Having an active Twitter account and using it to engage with non-experts on occasion doesn’t mean you’re an expert with impact. It’s actually the barest of minimum platforms.

Tomorrow: A deeper dive into what Level 2 looks like — and the gap between it and Level 3.