Image Credit: Mapbox
Image Credit: Mapbox

Are you and your team unsure of the best promotion strategies and tactics to prioritize for your scholarly journal program?

From posting about new articles on social media to blogging to starting an email newsletter and everything in between — there are countless possible promotion options to explore, which can make figuring out where to focus one’s efforts challenging to say the least.

In the face of uncertainty, your team may be implementing multiple promotion approaches without knowing what is working and where to put your time. Or you may be avoiding promotion altogether because it feels like grasping in the dark. Either way, you’re likely missing out on opportunities to attract more readers and submissions.

If your journal program has limited resources (which most do!), it’s vital to focus your promotion efforts on the channels with the most potential. So how can you do that?

There’s no better way to make informed promotion decisions than basing them off of publishing analytics data. In the past, we covered why every journal should track publishing analytics such as website referrals and article pageviews to learn how readers are finding and engaging with their content. In this post, we overview specific ways you can use publishing analytics to guide promotion plans. Let’s get to it!

Quick Tip: Journals subscribed to Scholastica’s Open Access Publishing Platform get a built-in suite of real-time publishing analytics, including pageviews, unique visitors, referrers, and more. And all journal websites hosted via Scholastica now feature public-facing metrics pages for articles, including the option to integrate Altmetric Badges. We cover everything you need to know about Scholastica’s OA publishing analytics in this blog post.

1. Identify your most promising promotion channels

Before you begin taking steps to optimize your journal promotion efforts, you’ll want to get a baseline of where you stand. If you’re just starting out, that’s easy — you have a blank drawing board. In this case, we recommend meeting with stakeholders to discuss your available bandwidth for journal promotion and possible options to explore, then pick one to two ideas to start. We overview tips to help small teams develop effective journal promotion strategies in this blog post and highlight examples of great digital journal promotion from IWA Publishing, Oxford Academic, and others here.

On the other hand, if you’ve been trying different promotion tacks, now’s the time to take stock of those efforts. Create a high-level outline of everything you’ve done to promote your content over the last 6-12 months and the frequency. For example, have you been sharing new articles on Twitter? If so, how often do you post? Have you run any one-off campaigns to market new content, like emailing readers to alert them to special issues? If so, when did those emails go out? Then meet with your team to assess the outcomes.

If you have access to past publishing analytics data, now’s the time to dig into it! The main areas to focus on are:

  • Unique visitors: A “unique visitor” is anyone coming to your website for the first time during a browsing session (these views only count once). Tracking changes in unique visitors is a great way to see if your readership is growing and spot any spikes in new readers that could correlate with your promotion efforts. For example, did you start to see an uptick in unique visitors after starting a journal blog? Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but if you spot changes in unique traffic that coincide with your promotion activities, that could be a good sign.
  • Referrers: Referrers are links to your journal from external websites, social media platforms, or other channels. For example, if someone writes a blog post that links to one of your articles, that blog is a possible referrer for your journal. You can use referrer reports to see how readers are finding your content and whether your current promotion efforts are paying off. For example, if you decided to prioritize Twitter promotion for all articles a few months back, you can check whether you’ve been getting referrals from Twitter since. Referrer reports can also help you generate ideas for new promotion strategies and tactics (e.g., new social media channels to try).
  • Article pageviews/downloads: Just as it sounds, article pageview and download counts are stats on the number of times readers come to your article webpages and download your PDFs. Tracking these numbers can help you spot your most popular articles (more on how to leverage this below) and determine if any targeted promotion pushes you’ve been doing are resulting in more readers.
  • Social media analytics: If you’re using one or more social media platforms to promote your journal, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, be sure to review any analytics available from those platforms to see if/how people are engaging with your posts.
  • Readers by country: Finally, you can track readers by country to see if you’re reaching scholars in target locations and get a general sense of the scope of your readership. As you test out different promotion efforts, you can see if it’s helping you reach more readers globally.

If you don’t currently have publishing analytics for your website, you’ll want to put tracking in place to gather the above insights. You can do this by installing analytics tracking, such as Google Analytics, or seeking a hosting solution that includes analytics like Scholastica’s fully-OA publishing platform.

In the meantime, you can seek qualitative insights around the effectiveness of your current promotion efforts, such as doing an informal poll of scholars in your field asking where they first heard about your journal and how they keep track of newly published content.

Once you identify your most viable existing promotion channels (or select one or two to test) and set up new analytics tracking as needed, you can begin to use the data at your disposal to make more informed promotion decisions.

One of the most effective data-driven strategies you can use to raise awareness of your journal is seeing which of your articles are attracting the most readers and focusing on promoting them to a broader audience. Raising the profile of popular articles can help draw more readers to your website, where they’re likely to keep exploring content. The main metrics to focus on here are unique visitors to articles, article pageviews, and download counts — these will tell you which articles to boost.

Sharing articles on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook is among the most effective and low-cost ways to highlight top-performing content, so we recommend starting there. Establish one or more social media accounts for your journal and commit to posting new content at least once a week. If that means choosing one social media platform initially, that’s OK. Journal promotion, like so many endeavors, is really about quality over quantity. So you’re better off picking one platform you know scholars in your field are active on and focusing on it rather than trying to be everywhere at once.

You can also use popular articles as fodder for new forms of content, such as blog posts, podcast episodes, or videos, depending on what internal promotion channels you have or may want to start for your journal.

Launching any new content outlet can be a big undertaking, particularly if you’re venturing into multi-media for the first time. But if you can get all your journal editors on board and potentially enlist the help of graduate students in your field, you’ll likely be able to spread out the workload. Coming up with replicable ideas for new blogs/videos/podcasts can also help, such as publishing author interviews on a regular basis (e.g., once or twice a month). You can also crowdsource content by inviting authors to submit entries around their latest work, such as guest blog posts or brief video abstracts, which is something Gastrointestinal Endoscopy does for its YouTube channel.

Of course, journal promotion should not stop with top-performing articles. You’ll also want to take steps to raise awareness of your other content. To help scholars follow all your latest articles, you can add an RSS feed to your journal website and/or start an email newsletter. Email tools like MailChimp make it easy to embed newsletter signup forms in journal websites via auto-generated code snippets. And many have RSS feed integration options that journals with RSS feeds can use to have emails automatically populate and send whenever they publish, thereby eliminating manual work. Journals can then use any analytics their email software provider offers, like open and click rates, to assess how well their campaigns are performing.

Quick Tip: If you use Scholastica’s OA Publishing Platform, you should know that it includes a built-in RSS feed and the option to link your journal website to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn social media accounts. We can also help you add embed code for an email signup form to your website (e.g., from MailChimp).

Once you’ve done initial promotion for articles, don’t just stow them away. Find creative ways to resurface popular content, such as compiling related articles into eBooks or using them as inspiration for future special issue themes.

3. Determine the best times for journal promotion initiatives

As you track journal analytics, you may also begin noticing seasonality in your website traffic or that promotion initiatives (e.g., new podcasts or blog posts) tend to perform better at different points in the year. For example, you may find that you regularly see a decrease in new and returning website visitors during the winter holiday season. In that case, you can adjust your promotion efforts accordingly to maximize the potential of peak traffic times and what are likely to be naturally slower periods.

For example, you might want to increase the number of social media posts you publish during your website’s “off-season” to gain more awareness via external platforms where people may still be more active. At the same time, you might want to hold off on publishing supplementary content or new special issues until people are likely to be more engaged. Seasonally lower-traffic periods can instead be great times to queue up promotion pushes. For example, you might want to prep for a special issue on a trending topic and start planning creative ways to promote it via social media and your own channels (e.g., blog or email list). You can invite notable scholars to serve as guest editors to help you attract top submissions for the issue and put out an initial call for papers. If you tend to get fewer submissions during slow-traffic periods, you can also invite your guest editors and other experts in the field to contribute articles or commentaries. That way, you can get a head start on gathering quality content.

4. Pitch timely articles to relevant industry and news outlets and track the results

Another way to showcase timely articles to reach new readers in your journal’s field, and even the general public, is pitching ideas for related stories/author interviews to news outlets. Look for opportunities in relevant industry publications, such as podcasts or blogs run by scholarly societies that cover news in your disciplinary area(s) and even mainstream media publications. If you just published an article on a promising way to prevent a particular illness or curb some aspect of climate change, that could be a front-page story. You can have your journal’s editorial team prepare pitches as opportunities arise or suggest the option to authors.

Be sure to check your referral reports for any industry publications or news outlets already covering your content that you may be able to pitch new ideas to. For example, if you find that a blog in your journal’s field has linked to one of your articles, you can reach out to its writers about related new research they might be interested in covering. If you haven’t gotten coverage in industry or news outlets yet, it’s worth a shot. And if you end up landing coverage, referral reports will be your window into whether it results in readers.

If your journal publishes content on topics likely to be of interest to mainstream media outlets (e.g., medical or environmental findings), an easy way for editors or authors to spot possible opportunities to have research featured in the news is by signing up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Many journalists use HARO to solicit story ideas and experts to interview.

You can also encourage authors to join media expert listings like Profnet and reach out to the public relations division at their institution to request to be part of any media listings it maintains. For example, Northwestern University maintains a list of resident experts by department that reporters can use when seeking interviewees. Authors can share their latest research with reporters or offer to contribute guest articles to relevant disciplinary/trade outlets.

5. Strengthen your social media presence

If you opt to use one or more social media channels as part of your journal promotion mix, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, you can also use available data to strengthen your presence on those platforms. As noted, referral reports can help you determine whether the social media channels you’re on are leading readers back to your website or others you may want to try. For example, if you see traffic from LinkedIn and don’t have a profile there, it may be beneficial to create one.

Journals that publish via Scholastica’s OA hosting platform can drill down even further to see which of their articles are getting the most visits from social media using our reports on top article visits from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We also provide reports on total referrals from those social media channels, including direct links to referrer tweets where possible. So you can see the specific posts leading readers to your content. Journals can use these stats to determine which social media platforms are helping to grow their readership and, if using Twitter, which types of posts resonate the most with viewers.

Many social media platforms also provide free analytics that you can use to gauge how well your account is performing. For example, if you use Twitter, it features analytics dashboards for all users that you can access by clicking the “More” button on the left sidebar of your account. The analytics page includes a summary of the number of tweets sent, tweet impressions, profile visits, mentions, and followers with monthly comparisons so users can quickly see if stats are going up or down. Additionally, it includes top-performing tweets and profile mentions.

6. Consider adding altmetrics data to your website

As you implement new journal promotion strategies, you’ll be expanding the potential impact of your articles. To gain greater insight into your articles’ impact and gather even more in-depth readership analytics, you can track altmetrics data. Altmetrics are alternative research impact indicators that journals can look to in addition to traditional bibliometrics (e.g., citation-based Impact Factor) to identify and demonstrate broader research impact. Examples of altmetrics include mentions of research in news outlets, social media, and public policy documents.

Publishers or individual journals can explore different ways to track alternative article-level impact indicators and make data available to authors and readers, such as by subscribing to Altmetric, one of the leading altmetrics providers. Altmetrics features badges that journals can add to their article pages to showcase how content is being found, shared, and cited. Journal teams can use altmetrics to get even more in-depth insight into their top-performing articles and best promotion channels, as well as the scholarly outlets and communities taking an interest in their content to identify future promotion and engagement opportunities.

Including altmetrics data on article pages is also a way to showcase to current and prospective authors that you’re serious about monitoring and expanding the reach and impacts of the articles you publish, which can help you attract more future journal submissions.

Finally, as you’re testing out and iterating on different journal promotion approaches, regularly review your publishing analytics to see if those efforts are paying off. As noted, unique visitor reports can help you gauge how your journal’s readership is growing over time at the aggregate and article level and whether there are any spikes in new reader activity that correlate with your latest promotion efforts. You can also look at pageviews (i.e., counts of total visits from new and returning readers) to see if your website and articles are getting more traction overall. Keep tabs on readers by country to see if you’re successfully expanding your reach, and use those referral reports to dig into which promotion outlets have the most potential.

Do you use publishing analytics to inform your academic journal’s promotion strategy? How has it helped? Share your experiences in the comments section or on Twitter at @scholasticahq!

OA Publishing Guide