Evaluate the Impact of Your Research Project Communications

By Natalie Squance

The maxim ‘publish or perish’ has long been circulating in academic circles. It’s a principle that has led many to view getting published in prestigious journals as a career pinnacle. But your work is destined for more and thanks to the digital boom, new ideals of impact have begun to germinate. 

“As Clinician Educators, our job is not to create knowledge obscura, trapped in ivory towers and only accessible to the enlightened; the knowledge we create and manage needs to impact our communities.”

Daniel Cabrera – Alternative media and metrics for academic promotion

Making an Impact Using Communication Methods

While getting published in a high-standing academic journal after many months (or even years!) of hard work is an incredible accolade, the job is far from over. For those wanting to really reap the benefits of the publication, it’s time to push out the research to create impact, rather than hope it’s pulled in. Only then can you begin to sow the seeds of change, create new partnerships, influence policy and have a lasting positive impact.

And so, you have a research idea that can be the catalyst for greater change and have even built a robust branding and communications strategy to boot.

Launching and Evaluating Communications

You’re ready to launch your idea and make a real difference in the world. Assessing research impact beyond academia is not a new idea – in 2011 Martyn Lawrence of Emerald Publishing stated: “Invisible research, is by definition, low impact.” It’s a sentiment that not many of us would disagree with, but what does it mean in practice? And how can it be measured to improve the success of the project? 

Don’t Get Left in the Dark

hand holding a lightbulb

Without measuring the impact of your communications, you run the risk of wasting precious time and resources on activities that don’t deliver the oomph. Your research might not be visible to the right communities – those who could benefit from it the most. Data is the currency of today’s marketing and communications world, and keeping a watchful eye on the metrics will result in data-driven decisions, better-allocated resources, and ultimately, greater impact. 

Making the Invisible, Visible

In order to fully understand the effectiveness of your research project communications, setting clear campaign objectives in the communication plan is fundamental. Without mapping out objectives, there is no clarity on what needs to be accomplished and your campaign will struggle to reach its full potential. Whether you want to achieve X number of video views or obtain mainstream press coverage, remember: you’ll be far more likely to reach your goals when they are fully realised, made visible, and compiled into a clear list.

Key Takeaways to Consider for Project Success: 

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • What does success look like?

Be More Human

man making notes on a pane of glass with a white marker.

With your goals defined, how can you build momentum to achieve them instead of having your campaign languish and fade away? The answer is deceptively simple: know your audience. With the pandemic amplifying the need for authentic human connection within marketing and communications, it’s critical to have a compelling vision and narrative that relates to your audience as humans and not as objects you’re trying to convert.

Find the Type of Communication that Stands Out to Your Audience 

Regardless of the research subject matter or industry, a better understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach will take you further. When you roll up your sleeves and get to know your audience’s preferences and challenges, you’ll better understand what medium to reach them through and be able to create content that caters to them. 

Key Takeaways to Consider: 

  • What do we want people to do? 
  • How do we want them to feel?

Bracing for Impact

Metrics are more than just numbers – they’re critical insights into your audience and their behaviour. Without them, it’s hard to see if your time and budget was well spent, if you need to reallocate resources into a better performing area, or if you need to change tack altogether. 

Find the Right Metrics for Effective Communication

But here’s the thing – not all metrics are created equal. And what’s more, the best metric to track for one campaign may be wrong for another. Choosing the right metrics for you will largely depend on your campaign’s objectives, goals and Call to Action. 

As you begin to measure and monitor your campaign performance, here are some key metrics to help you find your feet. 

Increase views of the research paperWeb traffic
More press coverageMedia mentions 
Awareness on social mediaSocial media monitoring and sentiment analysis

Key Takeaways to Consider: 

  • What metrics are we measuring?
  • What is the call-to-action?

Analyse, Reflect, Adapt 

Implementing a marketing and communications strategy is never a static process. It requires constant testing and analysis. If your research project has achieved a wide reach, but you find your audience hasn’t taken the desired action, it can be tempting to use your intuition to adjust your content, CTA, or copy. But this is where the true value of being able to discern which metrics are truly valuable to your cause lies.

Digging deep into these can help you to validate important campaign refinements and eliminate the guesswork.  

Key Takeaways to Consider: 

  • How can I follow the data to improve the project’s success? 

Experiencing Analysis Paralysis? 

The plethora of data available presents an incredible opportunity for researchers to understand the impact of their research communications on a deeper level, but without a framework, it can be easy to get lost in the details. If you’re experiencing analysis paralysis and need guidance on how to track, analyse and refine your research communications for maximum impact then we’d love to hear from you – book an exploratory call.

Like this article? We’ve got loads more where that came from. Sign up to Project: Insight, our fortnightly email digest for best practices in research dissemination and creative innovation for projects.

Written in collaboration with Naomi Couper

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