Annual Meeting Reports

Optimizing the Internet for Your Journal

It is indisputable that the Internet has changed the face of scientific journals. Mary Beth Schaeffer, managing editor of Annals of Internal Medicine, observed that early online journals were simply attempts at replicating print versions. Things have changed, Schaeffer said. Social media and online audio and video give journals new opportunities to expand their readership.

Thanks to social-media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, a journal’s reputation is what people say it is. Therefore, one needs a strategy, according to Allison Ewing, director of communications and public relations for the American College of Physicians. New technology complements existing tools, and a successful strategy combines business, marketing, and public relations to shape perceptions of a journal, Ewing said.

The first steps in building a strategy, Ewing noted, are to set realistic goals and establish guidelines. It is important to determine who will do what, what should be posted, and when it should be posted. For example, posting embargoed material to Facebook is a bad idea. It is also important to be transparent because a lack of transparency can hurt a journal’s credibility. Ghostwriting is considered bad, and “ghost tweeting” is just as bad, Ewing stated. Deciding on when to remove comments, usually when a comment is abusive, is also crucial.

Ewing noted that it is important to start small, enlarge your efforts gradually, and monitor progress regularly, so that you know what you are doing right and wrong. Establishing alliances with other online communities and using multimedia to improve the perception of a journal are helpful. Facebook and Twitter are good for community building because “everyone is already there.”

The audiovisual side of social media is something that journals can use to their advantage, commented Richard Lane, Web editor for The Lancet. Larger journals—such as Science, Nature, and The Lancet—started producing audio podcasts about 5 years ago, but smaller journals have generally not been as active. “It’s not too late to join the party,” Lane stated. With online publication, journals are publishing on a more regular basis, offering the opportunity to podcast as often as articles are published, Lane said. The reality, though, is that there are rarely enough time or resources for that.

Lane observed that people’s main concern is how to fit podcasting into their journals’ budgets. The ability to produce audio in house is now within the reach of most journals, thanks to new technology. A good microphone, software that costs $50 to $300, and a computer are the only requirements to produce professional sounding audio, Lane advised.

Podcasts should drive listeners to the main content of a journal, according to Lane. The content should be news oriented and have a single focus; controversial issues are good subject matter. Regardless of topic, recordings should be short (10–15 minutes) and available without charge, Lane said. He noted that registering podcasts on iTunes and linking them to social-media sites can help to promote the content.

Technology consultant Bill Silberg commented that Webinars are another use of new technology. Interactive online seminars are good for brand extension and other aspects of marketing, Silberg said. In addition, Webinars can promote reader and audience interaction and help journals in their media outreach. They are also a way to provide content to science writers and journalists. In a Webinar, one can discuss issues that authors raised in a journal article but did not have space to explain.

According to Silberg, Webinars are easy to set up and pose low risk, and many vendors and inexpensive options are available for hosting and producing them. It is important to have clear goals, start early (6–10 weeks in advance), and pick speakers carefully, Silberg advised. Keep Webinars under an hour long, start on time, have support for users, and test your tools beforehand. Bad sound makes online audio and video useless.