An extended comment on ‘Social networking – tips, tricks and talent’ (Scholarly Kitchen)

skI commented this morning that I had liked Kent Anderson’s account of a luncheon roundtable on the subject of social media and publishing  at #SSP09, but felt that it had omitted some core precepts. David Smith politely called me out on this bomb-throwing in a most genteel manner. As he points out, this was a luncheon roundtable during the middle of conference, not the formal prolegomenon to establishing a set of universally endorsed standard practices regarding the use of social media, a policy document which could never (or certainly, should never) exist. Nevertheless, I feel that there are other observations to make around this topic, and rather than add a preposterously long comment to the thread in question on the Scholarly Kitchen blog, I thought I’d offer up a blog post as a reply in order to clarify what I meant.

Maybe it is the closet hermeneutic phenomenologist in me, but I have a personal obsession with returning to first principles in order to test their enduring currency. Unfortunately, when I do so I frequently find that I had not endowed them with anything that could charitably be described as clarity, and that the cogent, transparent, and clearly-structured body of guidelines I believed myself to have been in firm possession of were in fact a poorly-defined, amorphous, and loosely-connected clutch of aphorisms.

Similarly, I feel that whilst many scholarly publishing concerns are busy imagining how the applause will sound as they thunder down the home straight of the Social Media Steeplechase, they have yet to get over the first hurdle.

I came across a blog post earlier this year by @ScottHepburn which I found very useful, and which I make myself re-read from time to time as a spur to ensuring that the foundations of my ideas still bear weight. In a novel and entirely appropriate reorientation of the dynamics of authority (of which, more below), the article considers questions that candidates may wish to ask prospective employers in order to interrogate the authenticity of what Scott Hepburn calls their ‘visions of social media grandeur’.

If you cannot answer them, then it is time to return to first principles.

I’d encourage you to read the article in its original context, but in the spirit of the mashup I would also like to reorder, rephrase and augment some of Scott Hepburn’s concepts here in order to foreground the manner of inquiry I would exhort all scholarly publishers to undertake:


  • Why do you want to use social media?
  • Do you view social media as a marketing tool? A driver of revenue? A customer outreach tool? All of the above?
  • Upon what basis have you elected to use some platforms, and disregard others?
  • What do you hope to accomplish through the use of social media?
  • How did you choose these goals?
  • How do they align with your customers’ expectations of the way in which you will deport yourself within your social media presences?
  • How do you plan to measure progress?
  • What are your benchmarks?
  • How did you determine these benchmarks?
  • How will your use of social media inform your future strategic planning?


  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to social media projects?
  • Are you expecting existing employees to incorporate that activity into their day-to-day work, or are you planning to make new hires in order to drive these programs?
  • If the former, how? If the latter, why?
  • How much money are you intending to invest in supporting your social media channels?
  • How did you arrive at these resource allocations?
  • Does that investment include hiring a dedicated SEO specialist?
  • Have you considered redeploying marketing spend from less successful channels in order to support your social media work?
  • Will other divisions in your company invest a similar amount of their time inaugurating social media initiatives?
  • If not, what impact will this have on your activities?


  • Does your company have any existing social media voices?
  • If so, are you happy with the activity they currently undertake?
  • Are you planning on incorporating these presences into the mix of social media channels you will roll out?
  • If not, what are you intending to do with them?
  • Are you prepared to let others become the voices of your company? Are you willing to promote those voices?
  • Are there stakeholders you actively do not want to represent the company?
  • How much freedom are you prepared to give employees to participate in your company’s social media projects?


  • Who is currently monitoring conversations about your company?
  • Where have you set up listening posts?
  • Are you listening to customer conversations that aren’t about your brand per se, but which are pertinent to your activity in general?
  • Are you constantly trying to find new channels to listen to?
  • Are you listening to conversations about your competitors?
  • What tools and technologies are you using to monitor conversations?
  • Do you act upon the intelligence they afford you?
  • What contingencies do you have in place to engage with critical opinions?


  • Can you demonstrate that your customers use the platforms you are targetting?
  • Are you willing to give customers the tools to tell others about their experience with your company?
  • Are you willing to let your customers influence (‘own’) your brand?
  • Do you know who your brand enthusiasts are?
  • Do you know who your brand critics are?
  • In what ways will your new social media presences augment your existing interactions with your customers?

I would also like to comment upon some of the specific observations made in the Scholarly Kitchen piece:

  • Identity management is an issue because there’s no common standard. This inhibits publishers because we can’t assign rights to an individual and know that it’s them, from publisher to publisher, or across time. [AS: There will never be a common standard, for whilst there are many ‘wrong’ ways to manage identities within social media channels, there is no ‘right’ way to aspire to. This should be a spur to activity, not inhibit it. It is not a reason to forbear to participate.]
  • Creating an identity is difficult for users and forces publishers to reinvent the wheel. Does Facebook Connect offer a path toward ease of adoption? [AS: If this is perceived to be an issue within the communities you serve, acknowledge it and offer ‘how-to guides’ branded or badged around a journal or colophon in order to help your customers create professional social media identities. Lead by example: begin by tailoring your own.]
  • Balancing community and quality might be a false tradeoff. A “crowd” threatens quality, but a “community” doesn’t. [AS: This is for readers, not publishers, to decide. ‘Wherever people trust each other, the information will flow‘. Give your communities a reason to trust you.]
  • Forrester’s “Five Eras of the Social Web” is a picture worth contemplating (click on the image to see it full-size). [AS: Yes, it’s a very nice picture, but how do you believe it maps on to what you need to do?]
  • Enabling mavens and connectors (things Malcolm Gladwell outlined in “The Tipping Point“) scares publishers. We’re used to being the mavens and the connectors. [AS: Publishers are not enabling the ‘mavens and connectors’; they are enabling themselves. Remember that more often than not, the catalyst for their activity is their interest in publishers’ content. Be grateful for their interest. Rather than view the drivers of change as a threat, publishers would do better to talk to them, understand them, and incorporate their activites, their passions, and their networks in the revivification of their own core values. Publishers must give the agents of change a reason to want to work with them that is diverting enough to distract them temporarily from busily disintermediating them altogether.]
  • Marketing social media is terra incognita for publishers. We’re going to have to learn. This may mean dropping commercial expectations from the picture while we do so. [AS: There is a concurrent need to acknowedge that ‘commercial expectations’ are also in flux. These are not turbulent times simply to be endured until calmer waters are reached once again. From this point forward, scholarly publishers must learn not only to survive, but also to thrive in a perpetual gale.]
  • Our businesses have legacy expectations, especially around metrics. So, if a social media experiment doesn’t automatically generate the kind of numbers in 2 weeks that our publishing enterprise has generated in 50 years, it’s held up through a false comparison and labeled a failure. [AS: Rephrased, saying ‘we have got used to making money, we like it, and we want to carry on doing it’ is not going to safeguard your colophon’s future. The dynamics of authority are changing. Effective use of SEO and the semantic web threaten to overturn the expectation of authority the colophon on your business card formerly afforded you. If you enjoy being scholarly publishers as well as enjoying being paid, it is time to restate the unique values and benefits you believe you bring to the scholarly publication process, and make sure that they get heard by the people you want to hear them.]
  • Recruiting talent is acceptable through known channels (i.e., acquisitions editors), but makes people nervous if the talent is sourced through social media (i.e., the natural emergence of expert users and mavens). [AS: This position bespeaks an unwillingness to relinquish the ‘command and control’ mindset. It is not compatible with the expectations your customers are bringing with them to the social media communities they elect to participate in. If you want to be represented credibly within the STM social media space, do not rely on the rhetoric of others: find your own authentic voice.]
  • Linkages of social media to legacy brands is making people nervous. [AS: See above, but there is a whole other dialogue to embark upon concerning the issue of STM publishers moving away from protecting content and restricting usage and towards promoting content and facilitating access whilst delivering revenues.]
  • Ultimately, it has to be financially sustainable. How that will happen isn’t clear yet. [AS: See above. If you do not participate in this process, you deny yourself the opportunity of making this discovery. Consider the fact that existing scholarly publishing models may break before new ones have fully emerged. See the Digital Campus podcast linked to below.]

In conclusion, I’d encourage you to subscribe to the excellent, podcast-driven Digital Campus blog. In particular, spend some time listening to and reflecting on Episode 40: Super models, wherein Messrs. @dancohen, Mills Kelly, and Tom Scheinfeldt (@foundhistory) have some provocative and prescient (IMO) things to say about possible futures for scholarly journals.

2 thoughts on “An extended comment on ‘Social networking – tips, tricks and talent’ (Scholarly Kitchen)

  1. Thanks for the great post and the Twitter follow. I’m just starting to put together some thoughts on open access scholarly publishing and Canadian history. Your writing and links will be very helpful.

  2. Pingback: Social Media for Publishers | Paul Coyne

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