By the end of this section, you should be able to…
- Determine your audiences and tailor your message to meet their needs and expectations
- Understand what makes an effective communications plan
- Define communication instruments appropriate to your audiences
Communications both within and beyond the Research Infrastructure can, at first view, seem like a simple case of having a website and issuing press releases on social media. But communications is a two way process. How will you know your messages are being heard, and are emphasising those aspects of your work that your users value? How do you even know that you are reaching all of the stakeholders you will nee to maximise your sustainability? Indeed, an insufficiently thought through communications plan can be a leading contributor to project failure (Warwick, . A carefully structured communications plan is therefore an imperative for any research infrastructure, to ensure timely, efficient and effective communications. What follows is a series of tips to assist you in thinking through your communications planning.
Tip 1: Start Early
The right time to plan your communications plan is at the initial proposal stage for your project or RI. Careful consideration of audience, dissemination methods (instruments) and your message will determine your budget, and should therefore be done at the same time as devising just what it is you are going to do with your project.
Tip 2: Know your Audience
You may know that one of your key audiences is ‘Researchers,’ but this covers a wide range of people working within the academic sector, and when looked at in a more nuanced manner can reveal different needs. Therefore, who are you targeting?
Are they early career researchers? Are they more senior researchers? Do both sets of people have the same needs, or are there differences that you can address? Is there is a chance that one set might be more proficient in one area that the other group, but less so in another area? It’s wise not to assume that early career researchers are all ‘green’ in all things – it’s highly likely that they will know more than their more senior colleagues in certain areas.
Furthermore, while researchers may be your end users, they are probably not the only people you need to target. Senior executives within an institution, for example, may need to understand and promote the value of your work. They will have different needs than those working more closely in research. They might not necessarily be as familiar with a subject or materials as those working in their team, but still need to know the issues at hand in order to make informed decisions. To give another example, Content Holders may be another group of people key to your success, but requiring a very different approach and message. Who are your audiences?
Remember that regional differences can have an impact on communications as well. Not all sectors and countries will have the same norms of communication: some places still get a lot of information from posters, where as others may not have the level of comfort in English that you might expect in, for example, the Netherlands. Taking such factors into account will ensure you don’t miss out on reaching a key cohort of users or supporters.
Tip 3: Tailoring your message and medium
You need to know your own message in order to be able to communicate it clearly. This goes hand in hand with knowing who your audience is, as different groups you engage with may value your work for different reasons. This may lead you to emphasise certain activities in certain communications, or indeed to create certain deliverables, showcasing perhaps methodologies or processes, or the barriers you at a certain point in the project development and how you addressed them.
Once you know what you want to communicate and to whom, you will also need to decide how to reach them, that is, what instrument to use. There are many ways to get your message across, and you should always be aware of the options available to you: face to face or skype meetings and conference presentations and networking are perhaps the most intimate and targeted, but high quality scholarly publications will also build your reputation among researchers. For larger meetings, you may decide to sponsor a stand, advertise in the programme, or hand out branded items, like the now ubiquitous project USB drives. These can be good for establishing recognition, but will do little to inform potential audiences of what you do. Posters, flyers and printed newsletters can be effective ways of reaching people where the culture of communication is less focussed on the electronic, and when you have a specific milestone (such as a call for proposals). Their tangibility can also trigger a different reaction in someone who may already have seen your message electronically. Radio, television and newspaper still can have a big impact, though they can be time consuming to set up and generally don’t stretch beyond the local or national frame.
In short there are many ways of getting your message across, and you should try to imagine using them and how they might help you reach an audience as a part of your communications planning
Electronic Communication Instruments
The vast majority of research infrastructure communication these days, however, occurs electronically. Some people struggle to use these media effectively, however, so here is a brief guide:
Not so good for
|Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked in, Instagram)
| – Contacting a lot of people at a low cost (once the follower base is established)
– Providing a means of eliciting feedback from stakeholders
– Targeting messages to certain groups
| – Archiving news items
– Reaching people who DON’T use the internet
– One-off communications, as you must work to build a following
|eNewsletters (eg. using a service such as MailChimp)
| – Batch-issuing news items to stakeholders
– Keeping in regular touch with stakeholders
– Providing a richer selection of information items about your progress
| – Sending out timely information or urgent single pieces of information
– Resources, as they can take a long time to put together
| – Housing all the project information in a structured manner
– Giving a ‘one-stop-shop’ for stakeholders
– Providing an established landing spot for search engine queries
| – Providing information for those who aren’t already aware of the project or the website
Tip 4: Don’t Neglect Internal Communications
As well as communicating your message to your external stakeholders, you also need to ensure that all those working within your RI or project, are well informed of the aims of the project, and know the progress of the project or RI as it develops. This means your team must be aware not only of what they must do, but why they are doing it, that is the vision, aims and objectives of the project. This will help every member of the team to be able to advocate for it, and understand the importance of their own role in the wider scheme (which, at infrastructure scale, can be quite large!) By regularly updating all team members, and encouraging and acknowledging feedback from them around ongoing developments in the project, you are building your best communication medium for your RI.
The following lecture covers some of this material in a bit more detail, speaking specifically to the questions of how a research infrastructure can understand its audiences and build a communications strategy to reach them.
Claire Warwick, Melissa Terras, Paul Huntington, and Nikoleta Pappa. “If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying Teh Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data.” Literary and Linguistic Computing 23, no. 1 (2008): 85–102.
Your progress through the “Management Challenges in Research Infrastructures” module