The Art of Outreach
On top of classic media platforms like newspapers, radio and television, we've now gotten access to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many others.
Reaching out is simple, you might say. However, the outreach of our Drop Your Thesis! project turned out to be quite challenging.
Outreach is a mandatory part of our project. ESA is our main stakeholder and sponsor, and we do something in return by publicising about what we're doing By spreading the word about ESA's educational programmes, we can point out future opportunities to our fellow students. However, not only ESA benefits. I think my teammates Lidia and Álvaro will both agree that the outreach is a very fun and rewarding part of the project. Moreover, our outreach is an attractive platform to third parties who might be interested in sponsoring us in exchange for access to our audience.
Within The Ferros, I'm responsible for outreach. I discovered quickly that outreach is far more complicated than just writing a Tweet or a Facebook post. The different stakeholders that are involved in our project make outreach pretty complicated. We need to take into account the desires of ESA, the ZARM Drop Tower, our universities and possible sponsors. And what's more, they are all pretty strict when it concerns how they present themselves to the outside world. One thing I've certainly learned is that identifying all your stakeholders and prioritizing them is absolutely necessary.
Also the platforms that we choose for our outreach belong to our stakeholders. For example, it might against the interests of a radio or TV channel to mention the name of a sponsoring company or institution. I had not anticipated these aspects of outreach when I first started to spread the news about The Ferros. Moreover, choosing the right media platform depends also on your own experience with the platform, the desired target group and the message you'd like to convey. And, you've got to have the guts to actually get in contact with that magazine, website or TV show that you want to be on. We are using a Facebook page (@TheFerros) as our main outreach platform. On Facebook it's easy to quickly reach many people. We have had posts with over 3,000 views! However as many professionals in the academic world or private sectors don't use Facebook, we are actively using other platforms as well. This has resulted in articles on various websites, an interview on the Spanish radio and the very blog you're reading right now.
In conclusion, outreach is more than just writing a few lines about your project. I must say I slightly underestimated everything it involves. You have to take into account the desires of all your stakeholders and choose the appropriate platforms, which can be quite challenging. There's a good reason why TU Delft has a dedicated communication department, and so do all faculties. I like to think as outreach being an art on its own. It is complicated, it calls for boldness and creativity and at the same time, you need to be very careful with it. But when done right, it is rewarding for all of those who care to look at it.
Tim Hermans, a master's student in space exploration, participates in the 'Drop Your Thesis!' programme at the European Space Agency. This is a hands-on student project in which an experiment will be designed and carried out in microgravity in the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany. The exciting but challenging programme requires hard work and careful management and planning. The coming year, Tim will post monthly blogs every last Friday of the month about his experiences and the ups and downs of his project. You can follow Tim's project team on Facebook as well.