#1 Shift your mindset
Your path to success starts with shifting your mindset away from focussing on ranking metrics as a strategic goal and towards building the academic communities that will help you achieve this objective. By communicating, nurturing and engaging on a more regular basis, you can help create a sustainable model of growth that diminishes the need for a last minute ad campaign to influence survey results.
#2 Conduct a situation assessment
The purpose of a situation assessment is to define your current academic position, reputation and strengths, with a view to establishing which research areas you should be focussing on. There are two key data points to explore to close the gap on performance and reputation at an institutional and subject level. The first is establishing your research performance by area and the second is the benchmark of these against the wider context. By understanding these both, you can identify and leverage your research strengths, as well as act on those areas where you fall behind your peers. If you don’t have access to THE or QS data points then you can utilise the nominations list supplied to QS to explore the disparity between nominations and responses. To avoid a generic approach that falls flat, look to pick a few areas of priority at a category level and stick to these. For example, instead of highlighting your strength of research on health, instead split this out into niche areas like COVID research, micro biology, how to live a longer life, dementia, mental health, or whatever is most relevant to your organisation.
#3 Get to know your audience
The key to understanding your audience is to leave all assumptions at the door and instead use the information available to you to build a picture of who your audience are and what matters to them. By understanding trends across gender, age, geography, interest and lifestyle, you can tailor your content to align with this and increase engagement. There are a lot of data points you can use to build this picture but it is worth starting with your QS nominations list. Whilst you won’t be able to communicate without their permission, consider asking if they want to subscribe for a newsletter when sending out your nominations so you can keep the line of communication open. Industry connections and strategic partners are also worth reaching out to, to compile a list of relevant audiences. Your alumni audience can also provide a fantastic resource. Those who are still in academia and who may now be professors or researchers, provide a pool of advocates to share your research. Finally you can use both Google Analytics and Facebook to profile the demographic of your audience and offer insight into the type of content they consume. It is important to note that this process should be always-on with learnings constantly measured and fed back in. By observing those who engage positively with content on an ongoing basis you can refine the approach accordingly.
#4 Create Shareable Content
The important word here is shareable. By this we mean telling a story that resonates with the audience on an emotional level and inspires them to circulate it within their network. A good way to ensure that your content is shareable is to make it service led, tapping into a known need and connecting information, context and even advice in this area. Look to align your content with key events each month, as well as trends across the academic community, to ensure your content lands at the right time and with the right message. As the most common place to share content is across social media, this comes with the benefit of a range of data points and insight into what will (and what will not) work for your audience. By analysing performance data across live and historic posts you can establish which tactics best resonate with your audience and lead to the behaviours of engagement and sharing that you seek. We recommend taking inspiration from the approach adopted by Science Magazine who have amassed over 4 million followers and generated significant engagement across their posts, through short, intriguing content which taps into key areas of interest for their audience.
#5 Leverage academic partnerships
A great strength for many universities is the creation of strategic partnerships with peers from across the world. However, these partnerships are not often leveraged across content, and the excellence happening through collaboration is frequently lost. By highlighting your involvement with partners, celebrating the success stories of individuals bringing partners on board and producing press releases of new collaborations, you can credibly grow both your reach and perception. Some of the ways you can explore doing this is through co-creating networking events and running collaborative webinars or even podcasts. We recognise that blockages in communication channels can make it hard to seek out these stories, but there are ways to address this. If you are in the early stages or have not yet started building your own academic communities, then you may look to research dissemination platforms like KUDOS where researchers are actively pushing their content to reach broader audiences. This can help you keep an overall eye on what research is being published and collaborations that might be taking place with a view to sharing them more widely.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your international research reputation, get in touch with us here at The Brand Education and ask us about our 30-minute consultations which are bespoke to your institution. We’re always excited to hear from you.