James Ransom

May 25, 2021

My communications strategy – do less communications

My blog has moved home. Part of the reason for this is rethinking how I do communications around my research and consultancy work, and my PhD. It’s also part of a drive towards simplifying things.

This blog will pick up what I talked about on the old site, but perhaps with shorter and more frequent posts. These will be a mixture of announcing new work or publications, sharing interesting things, and technical or process-related workflows. This first post is a bit different, and offers some reflections on how my approach to blogging and communications has changed over time.

Old blog, new blog

I started my Wordpress site in 2015, and posted 80 times – around 36,000 words. Of the roughly 12,000 views, 3,700 (or 30 percent) of these were for a single post, about my academic writing workflow. The second most popular post was about creating maps. Clearly if my main motivation was attracting page views, I should focus on tutorials.

However, chasing views is not my focus. My core writing, on the local role of universities, in unlikely to go viral anytime soon. The main motivation is to force myself to solidify thoughts into a coherent enough form that I am happy to publish them. Some posts are the early thinking around which paid projects or larger reports are built, and others are picked up elsewhere and reach a wider audience. In any case, nothing quite beats publishing on more established sites for exposure to a wider audience – my two articles on The Conversation, for example, have been viewed 45,000 times (a reflection on the reach of the site, rather than myself).

Yet Wordpress nudges you towards tracking your views and your visitors and a range of other metrics. Beautifully designed posts and pages are within reach with little expertise needed, but can end up sucking up lots of time to create. Masses of menus offer infinite customisation and functionality. I wanted something quicker and cleaner.

This site is hosted through HEY World, a new service linked to my email account. It is lighting fast, very simple, and doesn’t track anything. Readers are encouraged to receive posts by email (or RSS), and these look like any other plain email – no need to click through to the site, no trackers or cookies or anything else. But the essential idea remains: a repository for my ideas, and hopefully some people will find it useful. Just a little less time spent on communication processes, and more time writing.

Old tools, new tools

I’ve long been a fan of Cal Newport and his thinking on deep work and our relationship with technology. His well-reasoned advice is at odds with much of the well-meaning advice often thrown the way of people setting up their own freelance businesses: that you need to have a strong social media presence, you need to cultivate your brand, and that you need to be an expert marketer to succeed.

Here’s an example in practice. Many, especially working in research and policy, view Twitter as an essential tool. Yet Twitter became an early victim of my streamlined communications strategy. Maybe I was just bad at using it, but it always felt like I was shouting into a big empty room. I deleted my account a few years ago, and it was strangely satisfying.

However, Twitter has one very useful purpose: finding out about things – policies, projects – that other people are doing, and which aren’t posted elsewhere. Most things I can pick up via RSS or Google Alerts or email newsletters, but sometimes a personal perspective is needed. For this I use the excellent NetNewsWire – a speedy open source RSS reader for Mac that can treat Twitter feeds as RSS feeds. I can then read these bundled together with everything else a couple of times a week.

My strategy is to produce more original work with less of the time-consuming, distraction-inducing overheads and processes that traditionally surround it. This blog is one part of the picture.