The rise of academia – why academics are changing the influencer landscape

Back in 2016 during the UK Brexit referendum, Conservative politician Michael Gove infamously said: “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.” 

Fast-forward to today, and the past year has proven Gove’s statement false. In fact, more people than ever are listening to the experts. 

We know this from compiling the latest Tyto Tech 500 Power List report. Each year, our report examines the UK, German and (for the first time this year) French markets to identify and rank the most influential individuals in business, media and government, based on their brand, social media presence, earned media and public speaking appearances. 

In the 2020 report, there are 48 academics across the three countries that are categorised as influencers in the Tech List. The UK and Germany have 26 and 20 respectively, while France has two. For comparison, in 2019 the UK and Germany had just 8 and 12 academics in their respective lists. That’s a huge increase in just a year, clearly demonstrating the rising status of academic experts. 

So why has the influence of academics changed so dramatically? One reason is, of course, Covid-19. When the pandemic began in March, people were desperate for more insight and understanding into what this disease is, how it spreads, and how vaccines would be produced. As a result, academics and health experts became a source of authoritative knowledge on Covid-19 and dealing with the pandemic.  

However, on closer inspection of our list, another reason emerges. Ten of the academics who made it into the Top 500 are from the artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) sector, more than any other single sector. Furthermore, five out of the top 10 academic influencers are in the AI/ML field. 

What does this tell us? It underlines that people are listening intently to academics about the impact of this next wave of robotics. On the one hand, this is because some are scared about the impact of automation on jobs and the ethical concerns around AI, so turn to academics to assuage their fears. On the other hand, many are excited about the prospects of this futuristic technology and what it promises in terms of efficiency and value creation, and so want to listen to academics talk about the latest AI breakthroughs.  

There have been several major AI stories in the past 12 months. For instance, the technology was deployed across the healthcare industry to help detect Covid-19 in patients and to track the side-effects of coronavirus vaccines. But there have also been scandals, such as reports that AI-powered facial recognition software is prone to racial bias. Academics have helped journalists and audiences make sense of these stories.  

What does this trend mean for the PR industry? The fact that people are listening more and more to experts demonstrates the value of positioning our clients’ spokespeople as experts, an initiative that PRs have been promoting for a very long time. Because of this trend, positioning programmes such as media briefings or LinkedIn content strategies make even more sense as worthwhile initiatives for clients to pursue.

As well as building up a client’s own experts, this research demonstrates the importance of collaborating with and involving other established academic experts in communication initiatives. Their support will lend the initiative more weight and credibility 

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021 and beyond, there are bound to be many more major breakthroughs in AI and other tech sectors. The media will be keen to hear more from experts about what these developments will mean for people’s personal lives and businesses. Plus, it is highly likely that academic influencers will feature prominently once again in the next Tyto 500 report. Clearly, the people of Europe have not “had enough of experts”.  

To read more about the top influencers across Europe, download the full report today. 

 Tyto Tech 500: Top 10 Academic Influencers 

  1. Alison Clark-Wilson – UCL (sector: EdTech)
  2. Richard Self – University of Derby (AI/ML) 
  3. Cecile Dejoux – CNAM & ESCP Europe (AI/ML)
  4. Claudia KemfertLeuphana University of Lüneburg (GreenTech) 
  5. Afsaneh AsaeiUnternehmerTUM (AI/ML) 
  6. Aftab Hussain – Bolton College (EdTech) 
  7. Jeffrey Pollard – University of Edinburgh (BioTech) 
  8. Professor Nick Jennings – Imperial College (AI/ML) 
  9. Lisa-Maria Neudert – Oxford Institute (AI/ML) 
  10. Mark Simpson – Teesside University (EdTech) 


Photo credit (c) Brett Jordan,