How researchers get heard

Why Your Content is Lonely

You’re author on a new paper just published. Congratulations! Of course you tweet about it, to make sure everybody reads it.

Too bad no one will click on the link to actually read your paper, according to a new study shared by Wharton’s Ethan Mollick (which I got the gist of from his tweet with screenshot of the paper’s abstract, so didn’t click through to read).

But that’s OK, because…hardly anyone will see your tweet anyway, according to a new essay by Rand Fishkin, which I have read over and over. In it, Fishkin painstakingly details how the algorithms of Twitter, every other social platform, and Google have over the past five years increasingly de-prioritized posts with external links in them in favor of amplifying posts that keep audiences on the platform. (And no, telling your IG followers that “the link is in our bio” doesn’t drive traffic back to your content, either.)

Fishkin’s full essay is essential reading for anyone who produces content. But in the likely case you’re not going to click through to it, here’s the money quote:

The incentives for content creators is clear: make stuff for our platform. Native video. Native images. Native text posts. Don’t you dare link out. Or we’ll crush your reach. We’ll end your engagement streaks. We’ll bury you so far down the feed no one will see you.

Conduct and publish amazing research on your own site. Crickets.

Publish it as a tweet thread, a native LinkedIn article, a big graphic of text on Facebook, a photo series on Instagram. Likes, shares, visibility, and the dopamine hit of social validation are yours.

A lot of researchers and research communicators think they already understand this. And then, when they or their organizations have a new something to launch, they act like it’s 2016 and put out social that links to the new something.

They use social to promote the content. Not to create it.

Fishkin’s solution: Focus on creating native content on the platforms. But also focus on those platforms that still return high relative engagement — “podcasts, YouTube channels, industry publications, email newsletters”…your own and other people’s. (“Focus on the much-more-highly-engaged value of email subscribers, and less on raw reach,” he advises. “As I often say, I’d rather have 1 new email subscriber than 1,000 more followers on Facebook.”)

That phrase “high relative engagement” is key.

You need to identify and focus on your high relative engagement platforms. But platforms alone aren’t magic. When you put a piece of low engagement content on a high relative engagement platform — guess what happens?

It’s no longer a high relative engagement platform.

For researcher leaders, engagement — public expertise — starts with translation. Of the research to the language, needs, concerns and desires of the audience; of the research narrative and voice to the narrative forms and voices best suited for the audience and the platform.

We need to bend to the platforms. But first — we need to translate our research expertise into public expertise.