Political Analysis and social media: A case study for journals
By R. Michael Alvarez
After my co-editor, Jonathan N. Katz, and I took over editorship of Political Analysis in January 2010, one of our primary goals was to extend the readership and intellectual reach of our journal. We wished to grow our readership internationally, and to also deepen our reach outside of political science, into other social sciences.
This has required a multi-faceted approach, using traditional advertising, email marketing, and continued evolution of our primary website. One of the approaches that we have been experimenting with in the past year has been using social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter.
Our experience with Facebook and Twitter has been largely positive. As of this article’s publication, we have 348 Twitter followers and 463 Facebook followers who have “liked” our page. While this obviously pales in comparison to celebrities like Ashton Kutcher (one of the celebrities that officials in Los Angeles recently appealed to for help getting the word out about “Carmageddon”, who has approximately 7.3 million Twitter followers and 10.4 million Facebook “likes”), we are pleased by our social media efforts so far, and we are looking for new ways to use both social media approaches to continue to get the word out about the great research appearing in Political Analysis.
It’s taken us about a year to get to this point with our social media initiative, and during that time we have learned a few important lessons.
1. As we already have an established website and a long-standing listserv, there are many pre-existing ways in which people get information about our journal. Early on, our social media outreach focused on passing along updates about papers hitting our Advance Access, or new issues being published. We found that we got little traction from those efforts. Instead, we have been much more successful using social media to pass along information that is related to the journal. For example, calls for papers to upcoming meetings, papers of interest that are published in other journals, and other professional news. We have seen much stronger growth in our social media following after changing our strategy in this way.
2. You have to promote your social media presence. It is not necessarily the case that “if you build it they will come.” Instead, we have found that aggressive outreach, in particular using other approaches like email, helps to build our social media presence. (e.g. Working closely with the Press, we provided a discount code for anyone who visited our Facebook page.)
3. You have to keep in mind that social media is interactive and dynamic. That means that when someone posts to your journal’s Facebook wall, you should respond. Even a simple “Thanks” keeps the conversation going and makes the Facebook dialogue more interesting. On Twitter, that means retweeting interesting material from your followers, and acknowledging when someone promotes your material. Social media is not static.
4. You have to stick with it. Ideally, someone needs to actively add material to the social media sites on a routine basis. We typically have only one or two postings a week–what the ideal rate of posting would necessarily be for any journal will be a function of both the journal’s editors and the interest of those following the social media site. But the editors, or those who are running the social media sites, need to be proactive and keep posting material to keep people focused on the site and interested.
The big questions for many editors are how will I ever find the time to set up a social media presence, and how will I stay on top of it. Setting up a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed, is not difficult–and I suspect that most of us have a student, colleague or friend who would be happy to help get things started. How you then maintain it is a different question, whether you want to do it yourself, or have someone else maintain it. The costs are not great, and the potential benefits are important (just keep in mind that at this time each time we post to Twitter and Facebook hundreds of people see our brand and the information in our post).
Of course, many challenges for our social media presence remain. We would like to build the following of both of our Facebook and Twitter sites in the coming year. We are also going to experiment with ways to get more of our followers to interact using our social media, in particular on Facebook. And there are other social media tools that we are thinking about, including blogging and Google+. Each represents new possibilities to expand our journal’s readership and presence.