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Answering the Faculty's Toughest Question

What’s in it for me?
That’s a question that is often explicitly or implicitly asked by faculty members when the subject of engaging with popular media comes up.
It makes sense. Faculty members are already engaged in teaching, advising, and service to their institution. Many are also performing research and publishing their findings in academic publications that are influential in their field. And new faculty members are keenly focused on the requirements for promotion and tenure.
So when campus communicators turn up and ask faculty members to also engage with mainstream media, we are often met with some skepticism, particularly because while the benefits can be considerable (see Kristine Maloney’s 2013 post on this topic), they can also be hard to quantify.
This recent article in The Guardian provides some great anecdotes from faculty members about the payoff they’ve experienced when sharing their research with the general public. But there are ways that campus communicators and institutions can help make the benefits of this engagement more tangible.

  1. Get all the data you can. Some publishing platforms, like The Conversation, make it easy for authors to find out exactly how many times their pieces have been read. For other publications, you may be able to get similar information from the editor. Don’t forget to track social media shares and comments to create a more comprehensive set of stats for your faculty expert.
  2. Identify your evangelists. Those faculty members who have taken the leap with you and encountered success when engaging with the media are your greatest asset. Offer them up to those who are new to our world as sounding boards, coaches, and mentors. Ask them to keep an eye out for others who might want to share their research or expertise more broadly. Bring them to brown-bag sessions or workshops for new faculty to serve as living, breathing examples of the benefits of this sort of outreach.
  3. Recognize those who participate. Brainstorm ways to recognize and thank those faculty members who are willing to engage with the media. Create a social media campaign around your faculty experts and their mainstream media citations. Think about a monthly or quarterly campus-wide email from the dean, provost, or even the president that highlights faculty media hits. While she was at the College of the Holy Cross, Kristine created a semester-end reception for those faculty who were willing to give of their time and expertise by engaging with the press. These may seem like small things, but they all send a message that the institution recognizes and values this work.
  4. Consider updating promotion and tenure criteria. This one is the Holy Grail for many campus communicators, and it’s obviously not an initiative we can drive by ourselves. However, more and more institutions are including engagement with mainstream media in their promotion and tenure criteria. To me, it’s a no-brainer. After all, this is just another kind of service to the institution and the field of study. It’s also another form of publishing, and one that often garners more and more broad-based attention than academic publications do. (For more on this, see Teresa Valerio Parrot’s entry on the limited exposure of most academic writing.)

I’d love to hear about what works on your campus to encourage, entice, and support your faculty experts in their work with the media. Leave a comment below or continue the conversation on Twitter – I’m @ErinAHennessy.