Most academics focus on mastering the language of academic publishing. This is for good reason – academic research is indeed necessary and provides the credibility about the validity of ideas. But academics also must become conversant in the second language of digital communications and university systems should put more emphasis on rewarding efforts in this space. Here’s why I think this important:
Societal impact and promotion. Most universities have some sort of mission or goal that refers to bringing knowledge to the benefit of society. If it is not explicitly stated, then it is often implicitly implied. Blog posts and tweets are among the best ways to do this. Just writing in the Journal of (fill in the blank), usually read by a very select audience, is not enough.
In addition, professors’ external visibility on digital channels, if communicated strategically and effectively, provides valuable promotional benefit for both the institution and the individual faculty member. Surely more prospective students are following social media channels, as opposed to reading the academic journals. Business school professors would teach the importance of going where your audience is. While some are practicing what they preach, most aren’t.
Classroom performance. Academics and professors who are good at simplifying their messages for general audiences are more effective in teaching to their students in the classroom. This claim is based on personal observances. While there may be a few exceptions, I think this is a rather logical conclusion: professors who can break down the nuances of their research and expertise in ways that can be easily digested by a general audience should then be able to translate that ability to communicate to their students in the classroom. Wouldn’t any professor want students to better be able to understand and apply his/her insights from the classroom?
Learning. Bill Fischer, a professor at IMD in Switzerland, frequently talks about the importance of taking part in social media to learn (read his Forbes post about Selfish Tweeting for more information). Professors who are taking part in external communications efforts have the means to learn and gain different types of perspectives that can further inform research and ideas.
Despite the importance of this work, there are some inherent “language barriers” that prevent many academics from delving into this world. Summarizing a 30-page research paper into a blog post, tweet and / or a fun and short YouTube clip is not an easy task. The research could have in all likelihood taken years to complete, and involved a complex range of methodologies to prove / disprove hypotheses and previous work done by other academics.
Delivering this crisp summary doesn’t come naturally. Research is often times inherently complex, and explaining it in layman’s terms can be quite a challenge. Jargon used in small niche academic circles doesn’t translate well to general audiences. And of course there is the risk that the communication for general audiences is misinterpreted and not applied through the lens of an academic’s perspective. These are among the many reasons why academics should consider going through social media training with either their school’s communications team resources or an outside consultant.
Am I missing anything here? And am I wrong – are there reasons that academics shouldn’t be getting trained in this area of digital communications? Feel free to share your comments below.
Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy focused on education. He helps brands within academia – whether individual or corporate – communicate with stakeholders. He also teaches communications and public relations workshops to different individuals and groups. He is the host of For Immediate Release on Higher Education, the communications podcast for academics, marketers, public relations professionals and administrators within higher education. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @kevinanselmo.