Promotion of russian science in the foreign internet space: a marketer's view
Heading into 2023, I was asked to give a speech about promotion tools at the event dedicated to the internationalization of science.
As a marketer, I began my speech with promotion in the marketing system. The basic marketing concept is a marketing mix, where promotion is the sixth element preceded by positioning and branding.
Therefore, I have brought about three questions:
  1. What is meant by promotion?
  2. What is the object of promotion?
  3. Why are we going to promote this object?
Promotion in marketing is not a path from point A to point B; it is leading the audience through many points of contact. The question is: who and, most importantly, where are we leading?
In foreign scientific marketing practice, there are two key objects of promotion in science: research output and research input. Research output is about scientific results: citation index, number of publications, amount of funds raised, etc., meanwhile research input is about scientific contribution, social responsibility in science, and scientific mission.
Why is this important? The concept of promotion is an old–school marketing concept. It is based on creating an object and promoting it to target audiences, Which does not work in the era of social relations marketing, when we are overwhelmed with content. Scientists have calculated that we encounter 5,000 promotion objects per day. If 5000 people at once sent you a friend request, what would you feel?

Imagine: you are a foreign scientist and, among other content in your news feed, you see a post about the achievements of Russian scientists. You wonder, "What should I do with this information?", since this information exists in the current information field, not in a vacuum. What do our scientific publications and PR look like against this background?

Nowadays, I would talk about crisis scientific publications. With crisis comes the feeling that the old world was collapsed, and the new one will be completely different. This is why information needs during a crisis are about competence, professionalism and determination, as well as about morality, values and mission. Political strategies have found out that crises contribute to the growth of audience irritation, therefore crisis communications focus on an unfavorable audience, build trust and manage emotions. In difficult times, people feel a lot of emotions. But emotions dwindle, yet people's expectations stay the same. Therefore, in anti-crisis communications, it is important to analyze information needs of the foreign academic community in dynamics: what they want to read about being in the thick of the crisis, and what they might or might not be interested in when the emotions let up.
The third question is: what is the purpose of this promotion? The third question is: what is the purpose of this promotion?
Remember Kahneman's principle "What you see is all there is"? The image of Russian science in the eyes of the foreign academic community will be formed based on what they will see, in the first place, on the Internet. And the question of what they will see is answered by the previous level of the marketing mix – positioning plus branding.
Here is an example. One of my audience members, a professor at a regional university, told a story. A graduate who has been working in Japan for many years contacted him and asked to sign a letter of recommendation. The professor replied that he could ask the rector to make an officially sealed letter on the university's letterhead, and the graduate objected:
"Professor, there's no need in that. Nobody in Japan knows of this university. But they do know you, Professor!" Another audience member once asked me for advice on how to prohibit scientists from exploiting the university brand to develop their own brands. But there's never one without the other! The goal of scientific branding is to make people think "Manchester" when they hear "graphene", or "Cambridge", when they hear "monoclonal antibodies", as well as to make sure that scientists get more profit from associating with the university brand and not from developing their own brands.
International scientific university brand is multi-dimensional. For instance, it includes the brand of the university as an employer for foreign scientists. In order to form a compelling employer image, it is important to tell about the scientific society, services for scientists and their families, principles and values of the corporate culture of the university. Alternatively, scientific potential can become the core of the corporate brand and be reflected in the corporate slogan, like they did at Novosibirsk State University. The slogan is necessary exactly for image forming. I will not delve into the classification of scientific brands. I just wanted to show that with the use of branding tools, not just PR, we can see more opportunities for promoting Russian science on international markets.
One of the branding tools in the era of social relations marketing is the brand balance sheet. This concept was described in a book by Hugh van Bockel, the former CEO of Unilever, Redbull and MTV, the London Business School professor, in 2014. Although, Bill Gates said back in 1996 said that content is all that was left at the disposal of modern marketing, and Erich Fromm back in 1956 wrote that we need to stop asking the wrong questions; instead of "How do we make people like us?" we should ask "What can we do so that people like us?".
The main idea is that we can divide all our marketing activities or scientific communications into two category: the active and the passive; research input and research output. The "passive" category includes anything we take from the foreign academic community: time they spend on reading our scentific news, risks they bear by cooperating with us, money they spend on visits to us, and so on. The "active" category includes anything we give them: our contribution to the global agenda, services for scientists, articles and analytics, accessible infrastructure, the user-friendly website, the brand that reduces risks.
How is this related to the promotion Russian science? Digital outcomes of the pandemic and
the geopolitical crisis are multi-directional. The covid-193 gave us organized digitalization, brought us into an integrated digital community, the special military operation caused digital restrictions and changed the digital landscape — for us, but not for the foreign academic community, where, after the pandemics, the level of trust in digital platforms has exceeded the level of trust in the state, and the Internet is an environment for brands, not a channel of communication.
In the context of social relations marketing and digital restrictions, when we cannot use international social media or scientific news aggregators, it is important to switch from promotion to involvement, that is, to make sure that the foreign academic community find their way to the resources our universities in search of a solution to a certain scientific problem through organic results and search requests. For this, we need valuable content — I consider it a promising tool of promotion in conditions of digital restrictions.
If your content is valuable, it will be distributed, even in spaces we're not present in yet. But it is important to make this content available — to post it on scientific social media, in scientific blogs and in other highly-indexed external digital media as widely as possible, as well as work on SEO-optimization of own media.
On the one hand, it is an opportunity, because there is plenty of content in Russian universities and academic organizations. On the other hand, it is a threat, because the level of digital international communications of our academic community has remained low in recent years. 1
Social relations marketing controls relations with brand audiences, not promotion. And this means that the foreign academic community should want to form relations with us. For this, we need to draw up the brand balance sheet.
Olga Bakumenko, Ph.D. in Economics, HSE — Saint-Petersburg. Expert on International Digital Marketing for Universities. Olga has been working in the field of administration of university's international activities since 2008. She got her degrees from leading Russian and international on international marketing, internationalization of universities, scientific journalism, and digital marketing. She is an author of courses on digital marketing for higher education and developer of digital international marketing for universities.