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How do Journals Stand Out in an Increasingly Cluttered Digital Space

It’s no secret that the number of research papers published each year is increasing rapidly, and so are the number of journals, preprint archives, and other platforms for scholarly communication. Journals and publishers therefore need to stand out in this increasingly cluttered digital space, especially if they want to keep growing.

Academic journals earlier largely focused on growing subscribers and building relationships with libraries and librarians. Currently, with article publication charges (APCs) increasingly replacing journal subscription fees, journals have to think more seriously about audience building, impact, and outreach as authors are looking for more “value” from the APCs they pay. Journals therefore need to change their orientation from library-facing to author-facing.  This is why it’s critical to build a strong online presence.

There are many “strategies” and “tools” for organizations that want to build their online presence, but are these strategies enough to help you achieve your desired impact? Digital marketing, SEO, and social media solutions are proliferating, as are the providers of these solutions. Journals are also increasingly experimenting with alternative content formats, such as infographics, videos, and podcasts. However, such solutions may have limited effectiveness when journals apply them without following one crucial step: understanding the target audience and customizing the outreach strategy accordingly.

Journals have two key stakeholders: 1) authors and 2) readers. Both these segments, despite considerable overlap between them, include a diverse range of ages, demographics, geographical locations, genders, subject areas, and seniority. For your journal’s outreach strategy to be successful, your outreach strategy needs to be very targeted.  

  1. Know your audience: Worldwide, researchers as a group are incredibly diverse. Journals and publishers therefore need to identify specific segments of the researcher community to target, and develop content plans and engagement activities accordingly in order to enhance their brand. For example, journals seeking to widen their readership cannot afford to overlook China, which is home to nearly 2 million researchers (even more researchers than even the US). Even within a single country or geographic region, researchers’ information consumption needs and behaviors can differ by generation, seniority, and workplace.
  • Go where your audience is: A social media strategy needs to take into account what platforms researcher audiences actually use to search for or share information (versus just keeping in touch with family and friends or showcasing other interests). Is your audience in Korea present on Naver? Who shares their research on ResearchGate, WeChat, Facebook, or Twitter? Depending on who your audience is, you need to be present where they are.
  • Timing is everything! Posts on social media need to be timed to catch the attention of researchers from the targeted time zone. So, if you release your post in the EU time zone but you are trying to reach researchers in Japan, then your post will probably not perform the way you expect it to.
  • Choose topics of relevance: Choosing a theme for a special issue or commissioning a literature review requires knowledge of what topics researchers in a particular field are currently discussing. You may also want to have customized messaging based on what’s trending in your target geography and what are your audience’s most pressing information needs.
  • Experiment with new content formats: Journals should consider audience preferences when it comes to experimenting with new content formats. For example, should a journal opt to summarize articles into one-page textual synopses or image-heavy infographics and short videos? In our experience, both of these approaches are successful, but it depends on the journal, the objectives, and the readership.

To summarize, the key to making a journal stand out lies in understanding what the targeted group of researchers want to know and delivering this information in a format they can easily access, use, and share. To become more visible and gain domain authority, journals need to craft strategies customized to their readership. In other words, to be of value to their audience, they need to know what the audience wants.

Know. Customize. Optimize. Repeat

This is the secret to a successful outreach strategy.

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Marisha Rodrigues

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