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Building a Digital Presence in a New Country: What Academic Publishers Should Know

The academic publishing and research landscape globally has undergone significant disruption in the last few years, particularly with the launch of Plan S, the rising number of preprints and preprint servers, the growing popularity of open science and data sharing, etc. Publishers have realized that their traditional business strategies need to be adapted to the changing market, and are actively exploring new revenue streams, including new markets internationally. The move toward localization is also spurred by the gradually declining Western dominance in research output; for example, in the 2022 Nature Index tables, 7 of the top 15 research institutes were based in China.

It’s therefore not surprising that many international publishers are looking to engage with research communities in specific countries, through customized and localized messaging strategies. Digital engagement is obviously easier and faster than setting up physical offices in a new country. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to digital communication rarely works with international audiences, and publishers need to know certain things about any new market they enter.

What Academic Publishers Should Know About a New Market

  1. Local information behaviors – The way researchers search for, access, and share information can vary quite drastically between countries. A 2020 study of early career researchers found that Chinese participants were least likely to use social media to share research for reputation-building, while US and UK participants were less likely to read a paper based on its journal’s impact factor or number of downloads. Searching and sharing behaviors are strongly influenced by local infrastructure, economic and political policies, and culture. For example, South Korea’s superfast Internet speed and high smartphone penetration result in an overwhelming preference for mobile-friendly content among South Korean researchers. Further, Naver is the primary search platform, rather than Google, which means that SEO strategies need to be adapted to Naver for this market.
  2. Attitude toward trends in scholarly publishing – To successfully engage with a country’s research community, a publisher needs to understand the general attitude towards highly divisive topics like open access, data sharing, preprints, etc. For example, a study in Croatia found that researchers were largely neutral toward open peer review, open data, and use of preprints, whereas in a Korean survey, more than half of the participants positively viewed preprints and open access. Obviously, a publisher cannot change its stance on, for example, preprints, based on the sentiments prevailing in a particular country, but the publisher can make an effort to understand and address the apprehensions of the local research community (e.g., fear of getting scooped). Chinese researchers’ attitudes toward open access journals are complex and changing. Download this whitepaper to learn more.
  3. What competition is doing – Building an online presence in a new market requires publishers to see how their competitors are engaging with the community and creating a following. These competitors could be local players or even other international scientific brands that have successfully created a presence in the new market. For example, is their content mobile-friendly? How are their websites organized? Do they share localized or curated content? Do they use email or social media marketing?  
  4. Social and cultural norms around the research community – Publishers need to understand their audiences as a whole, if they want to successfully engage with them. For example, Chinese researchers report high competition and stress levels with regard to getting their papers published, despite government efforts to reduce reliance on publication in SCI journals for decisions related to promotion, tenure, and funding. 
  5. Local social media platforms and how they are used – It’s not surprising that some countries have their own social media platforms (e.g., WeChat in China, KakaoTalk in Korea). And publishers looking to build an online presence in these countries cannot afford to overlook their social media platforms. However, merely setting up an account on a new platform can be futile, without a deep understanding of how people use it. For example, WeChat provides a comprehensive suite of solutions to users, beyond just messaging and content sharing (e.g., games, payments, booking cabs, and even access to some government services). KakaoTalk allows users to follow brands or celebrities through its “Plus Friend” feature and also send real-life gifts to friends, all without leaving the platform. Publishers therefore need to understand how researchers actually use a particular platform and then optimize their content accordingly. See also: Why The BMJ had difficulty engaging with Chinese researchers and how using WeChat helped
  6. Popularity of international platforms in the local market – Even though many social media platforms that publishers currently use are popular internationally, publishers will find that they have to tweak their social media mix and strategy when they enter a new market. For example, Facebook is a popular source of news in the US, but in India, WhatsApp and YouTube are more popular as news sources and Facebook is seeing plateauing growth despite there being more Facebook users than any other country. In other words, publishers will need to set up local accounts even on internationally used platforms, and then follow unique strategies to build local followings.

Conclusion

For academic publishers, entering a new market is not a matter of simply setting up a site with a local domain and translating existing website content. To build a successful online presence in a new country requires deep understanding of multiple social, cultural, and political factors. Publishers therefore need to invest time and resources into understanding the local research community, before they can successfully engage with them.

Here’s your handy guide on how to adapt your social media content for a new market


Marisha Rodrigues

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