Jen Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.
Most media professionals are now familiar with some online tools—if they don’t at least read blogs or participate in social networks, then they have had articles or press releases published on their institution’s website. But how can new media like blogs and content-sharing sites help advancement folks with an issue as old as parchment and quill pens: getting a general audience excited about academic research?
Menachem Wecker, formerly a writer and editor for George Washington Today, The George Washington University’s online news site, is now an education reporter with the U.S. News and World Report. He is also the conference chair for CASE’s Annual Conference for Media Professionals, which will be held in Washington, D.C., next month. While there, Menachem will be moderating a panel on using new media to translate faculty work for a broader audience. He was gracious enough to answer several questions on the topic.
What are the common challenges for media relations professionals in promoting faculty research?
I’d say the primary challenge is that there isn’t necessarily a common language. Many faculty members speak a language called “academic,” which may be foreign to media relations professionals.
On the faculty side of things, if you’ve devoted your entire career to studying something narrow, like the sociology of Elizabethan cutlery, the chances are very good that you are going to resist having to collapse the research in your magnum opus to small sound bites that work well for reporters. Even if the media relations professional is well versed in a particular academic discipline, she or he is increasingly called upon to be a generalist as well, and how many people can follow a scholarly conversation in law, medicine, business and the arts?
There’s also another issue, which is one of scope. New research–under certain conditions–can be newsworthy, but it also might be too technical or too focused for many journalism outlets. It becomes the media relations professional’s task to find a way to make that research more accessible and more relevant to larger audiences.
What advantages do new media tools have over traditional media approaches to these challenges?
One topic that we are going to address on the [Media Relations Conference] panel is the potential of blogging. Many professors’ email boxes are goldmines of information. One professor I used to work with–a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso–used to exchange thousands of words over email with reporters covering East Africa and the Horn. We started publishing those email exchanges on the blog, and just by repackaging existing content and posting it to the [publication sharing] site Scribd.com, we got tens of thousands of fresh eyeballs.
The only investment many “new” (though they’re hardly new!) media tools require is time; many of them are free. Professors—if they write accessibly, blog regularly and construct their sites properly and strategically–can sometimes achieve digital followings that overshadow many of the reporters that they used to pitch.
What new media tools or platforms work best for promoting faculty research?
With the caveat that I’m on the payroll of none of these companies, I’d say the following tools/platforms are essential, in descending order of importance:
1. Scribd (for posting transcripts and then embedding them in other sites)
2. Twitter (for driving traffic to your site or as a microblogging platform if you don’t have a site)
4. Facebook/Google+/Tumblr (if you’ve got the time)
5. BlogTalkRadio or any of the other web-based radio stations.
How can media relations professionals collaborate with faculty, either using new or traditional media approaches, to ensure accurate translation and effective promotion?
When I worked at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, I was charged with raising the profile of 300 faculty members (about half were full-time and half were part-time). Of course, that was too many to actually collaborate with. My thought was that I would start with the ones who really wanted to be engaged in social media and to connect with reporters, and in the unlikely event that I actually could help all those professors, I would then resort to begging/bribing/threatening/or in any other way cajoling the others to enlist.
Needless to say, I more than had my hands full with the ones who were already excited about social media—and it turns out they were the ones who were willing to work hard at building online presences and audiences. That’d be my advice to media relations professionals: Work with the folks who are already interested in the power of social media. And don’t be surprised if those who used to be nay-sayers change their minds when they see their colleagues’ success.
How do you use new media to promote faculty achievements? (You can also use the hashtag #casemrp to discuss these and other advancement and media relations issues.)