How researchers get heard
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You Need a Content Flywheel

Mission statements are like home fragrances. Go ahead and have your communications team create its own, if they need a pick-me-up. Make it short enough, so it fits on the back of your softball league jerseys. But don’t be surprised when, in a year or six months or three, it no longer makes a difference.

Mission statements are not strategy. They do not tell you what you do and why you do it, every day, in that uniquely valuable sense of answering the question “how does this help our bottom line?”

To create communications that answers that question, nothing beats a good content flywheel — a virtuous circle of content ideation, iteration and use. Develop one if you don’t have it. Or try, and see what the process uncovers about your lack of understanding about how what you do connects to the rest of what matters to the organization.

Jimmy Daly at Animalz, a content strategy shop for SaaS businesses, tweeted this yesterday:

A simple, compelling flywheel for one business of 1) where its content ideas come from (their sales process), 2) what its content is (the trends and pain points they’re hearing about in their sales processes that Animalz has ideas for and expertise in solving); and 3) how they use content to achieve business objectives (to drive leads and close deals).

I would guess (having read Daly for years) that everyone at Animalz understands this process and everyone in the organization relies on it because its value is demonstrated again and again.

Content flywheels are very rare in research communications. Why? Because

  • Research-driven organizations are often allergic to strategic planning (read Joan Garry’s hilarious rant in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on some reasons for that). The organization itself lacks its own strategic flywheel, which means the communications shop has only the vaguest idea what’s actually strategic and what’s just activity and noise;
  • So comms can’t really intelligently create a content ideation process to nurture ideas that might help drive the organization’s flywheel and select the best ones;
  • And comms ends up creating content based on the latest paper or that reacts to something in the news, instead of content that proactively driving the organization’s strategic positioning and solves problems for its audiences.

Takeaway: If your organization doesn’t have a strategic flywheel and is resistant to one, you might give license to your comms team to take educated guesses and create its own. I’ve seen that approach drive the organizational strategic conversation by forcing the rest of the organization to react to it.

That move takes guts, and guidance. But it’s the only way to produce content with coherence and strategic purpose.

Home fragrances are nice, though, when you first walk in.