How To Communicate
In Five Steps
The social sciences, but history especially, have been thrust more concretely into the public limelight over the past year than at any other time in recent memory. A return to the controversies over the uses and abuses of history, to say nothing of historically fake news and facts, provides ample opening for historians. Now more than ever, there is a need and plenty of opportunities to engage with the public to bring critically important knowledge, analysis, and context to the media and general discourse. More broadly, scholars are also feeling the pressure to engage beyond the ivory tower to demonstrate the impact of their work and help justify continued funding for humanities, arts, and social sciences research.
But how does one start engaging with the public?
Here are my five preliminary steps for communicating beyond academia, reposted from the History Communications resource website.
How do you wade into the public engagement pond?
With a little strategy and research you can create your own plan – or give greater definition to what you’ve been doing ad-hoc.
One of the key tenants to communicating beyond academia is for your outreach to fall within a larger framework, where each interaction helps build your public profile, engagement, and recognition of your expertise. Here are five easy steps that can get you started on a strategy for communicating beyond the academy:
1. PLOT YOUR AIMS
This may seem like one of the most basic starting points, but determining your objective(s) in communicating your work more broadly will help provide focus and a strategy for how and where you engage. What is it you want to be known for? Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn; you are the subject expert, after all. How does what you want to engage on enhance what you already do? Look for angles that complement your research and/or interests.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Now that you have a more focused sense of what it is you want to communicate about, think about who you wish to engage with. Is it merely other historians on Twitter (#Twitterstorians)? Do you seek to speak to a broader public? Or are you looking to zoom in on smaller, targeted audiences, such as the sports, foreign affairs, or political worlds? Think through who you want your main audience to be – and also note other secondary audiences.
Once you’ve figured out who you’re seeking to engage with, start researching where those audiences are carrying on the conversation. What are they reading, and how are they integrating that into the discussion? Which platforms are they interacting on the most—blogs, op-eds, columns, analysis pieces, reporting articles, or social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram?
3. LOOK AT EXAMPLES OF HISTORIANS ENGAGING PUBLICLY
Many historians (and other scholars) are already communicating beyond academia, but they each do so in different ways. Look at a variety of publicly engaged historians and academics to see what they’re saying, who they’re saying it to, where they’re saying it. Are there particular scholars or public personalities who you’d like to mold your engagement work on? What do you envision your own public voice to be like – and are there those already interacting in a similar vein or voice?
4. DEPLOY YOUR PLAN
Every good communications plan requires a strategy. Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, sketch out how you’re going to engage with your key audiences. You don’t have to – nor should you – be everywhere at once. Select a few (or one) platforms or venues where you wish to start and focus your initial attentions there.
Feel free to experiment! Encourage yourself to play around on different platforms and let your public voice evolve. You won’t be perfect at first – few of us are – but you’ll create your own unique voice and positions the more comfortable you are with communicating beyond academia.
If your school, department, or program is interested in more targeted, in-depth trainings, workshops, and services communicating beyond academia, please contact Lindsay!