Friday, February 24, 2017

Why Your Think Tank Report Will Never Get Read

Human attention spans may be shrinking rapidly (Microsoft has noted that our attention spans are down to eight seconds), but that is not the only reason why your think tank report likely will never be read.

Here is more from Joe Miller, the Director of Digital Media Strategy at Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG), who was formerly at the Century Foundation, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and

  • If you work anywhere near D.C., you’re probably pretty good at producing reports. In 2015, the U.S. Congress alone officially requested around 4,300 written reports. Tens—perhaps even hundreds—of thousands more are generated inside federal agencies, government contractors, think tanks, and other nonprofits.
  • The Internet has broken traditional publishing models. The gatekeepers are gone. Your report now competes with a billion publishers creating content across a million channels.
  • The Internet is so much faster at finding answers that we’ve grown a bit impatient. We want answers on the first click, and we don’t want to have to do a lot of reading once we make that click.  That means users don’t much like PDFs.
  • If your content is inside a PDF, it's probably not going to get read.  In 2014, the World Bank conducted a study of its website traffic to determine how people were using its reports.  What they found is that 1/3 of its reports had never been downloaded.  Indeed, only 13% of all World Bank reports were downloaded more than 250 times.
  • PDFs are hard to scan.  And on the Internet, users love to scan text.  A Nielson study found that users read only about 20% of the text on a given page.

We should note that even if people are reading your report or scanning it (whether PDF or other format), it is very likely that they will still only read just a small portion of the document.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch report on the overabundance of think tank reports.  [This pic describes how Think Tank Watch feels poring through all of them.]

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on why Donald Trump will probably never read a think tank report during his time in office.

Does this all mean that think tank reports should be shorter?  Do they need to upgrade their products?

Does this mean that think tanks are dead, or just obsolete?