Content is Queen: How to Leverage Your Subject-Matter Experts to Effectively Promote Your Journal on Social Media

By Brook Simpson Contractor, Origin Editorial LinkedIn: Brook Simpson

Take Home Points

  1. Draw upon the expertise of your authors and editors to hone the language of posts promoting your journal articles.
  2. Ask your authors to submit draft social media posts that could be used by the journal’s accounts to promote their articles.
  3. Consider a social media editor position to strengthen engagement with journal content.
  4. Engage with your board of editors by tagging them in select posts so they can amplify your reach.

As editorial office professionals, many of us may spend our time completing “front-end” work for our journal(s); e.g., providing authors with excellent customer service, helping our various stakeholders shepherd manuscripts through the peer review process, or reviewing manuscript proofs and finalizing issue line-ups with our editors. But what happens after the articles are online and the issues are finalized? How do we ensure that our community of researchers know about the science we publish?

There are myriad ways to answer that question, but one that can have incredible impact is the use of social media to promote our research. At my previous managing editor position, I was involved in the association’s social media marketing for our journals from when we first launched our Facebook pages in 2009 until I left that position at the end of 2022. The strategies we followed for launching and maintaining our social media program are featured in this 2019 resource video we created for The International Society of Managing and Technical Editors. In this ORIGINal Thoughts post, I’ll share how leveraging a journal’s subject-matter experts (authors and editors) is key to creating an engaging and powerful social media program. While our focus was predominantly on X (formally known as Twitter) due to its popularity among our association’s members and their medical specialty, these ideas could also translate to other social media platforms.

Working with Your Authors and Editors

If you’re currently in the driver’s seat of your journals’ social media program, you may find it daunting in a variety of ways. With every post I crafted for our journal social media accounts, I’d find myself questioning if what I wrote captured the most compelling takeaway for that particular research article. I’d read titles and abstracts in the hopes of piecing together what would catch the most clicks, but as someone with a humanities degree, I often feelt like I was looking at another language when reading a basic science-focused study. I started breathing easier when I realized that we are all surrounded by content experts–our authors, reviewers, editorial board members, and readers. We need to draw upon their expertise when and where we can. With their help, we can craft posts that capture the most salient takeaways from the study, which not only assists staff, but hopefully will increase engagement and ultimately lead to improved article usage and even a higher citation potential.

Working with your Authors

In my previous role, we included a submission question on original research articles that asked authors to include their and/or their institution’s X handles so we could tag them if we decided to tweet out their manuscript (Fig. 1). We also gave authors the opportunity to submit a draft tweet that we could potentially use in promoting their article. Authors know what their colleagues will find compelling about their studies, and they want to see their research shared, and so many would avail themselves of this opportunity. When manuscripts were accepted and added to an upcoming issue, we had a column in the line-up file to include the author X handles and draft posts. The Editors-in-Chief (EICs) reviewed this line-up each month and could read the draft tweets to ensure the study results weren’t being sensationalized. When it came time to promote the latest issue’s content, the manager of that journal’s social media accounts could use the line-up as a quick reference to easily obtain these details. We would also track which articles we promoted on social media, as well as which would be promoted by our social media editors, in these master line-up files. This helped us look for trends among citations and usage compared to articles that did not receive that same level of promotion.

Figure 1. Flowchart outlining a process for engaging with authors to help promote their articles on social media.

Working with your Editors

Social Media Editors: Version 1.0

In addition to leveraging the expertise of our authors, several years ago we decided to formalize a new role in our portfolio and created two Social Media Editor (SME) positions. These roles were created with the hopes that the selected SMEs would use their medical and/or scientific expertise to provide insights into the content they promote and spark further discussion online, which in turn would increase our altmetrics. These positions are increasingly common and are being researched in articles like this Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes study on the roles and impact of Journals’ Social Media Editors.

When we launched the SME role, we limited the position to two editors that were intended to promote our entire portfolio–one was a physician in our field with clinical expertise, and the other was a physician-scientist that focused on basic science. Between the two, we hoped to broadly capture the interest of our readers, as our publications spanned the gamut of both realms of scientific research. We issued a call for applications for the positions, and a small selection committee reviewed the candidates. We wanted candidates with a strong, established social media presence (specifically on X, which was our primary platform) and a history of tweeting about scientific content.

The hope was that having our articles regularly shared by content experts would mitigate posts from our journal-branded handles coming across as promotional and increase the engagement and interest of the SMEs’ colleagues and broader social network. Our process included sharing upcoming issue line-ups with the SMEs so they could flag the articles that they thought would receive the most engagement on X. We’d then use this to help staff curate posts for our journal feeds. We also asked them to post or share content about our publications at least three times a week on their own X accounts, which were monitored by staff to ensure they were meeting the intended goal.

The SMEs’ terms were for three years, and during that time we encountered several hurdles. We began hearing feedback from our journal EICs and/or board of editors that they were interested in having one dedicated SME position specific to their publication. We also found that the SMEs were often less engaged than we’d hoped. They weren’t tweeting about our content as often as we’d like and would need reminders from staff, and each SME tended to focus on one or two of our publications instead of sharing content more broadly across the entire portfolio. We decided to re-examine the program and make several changes to make it more effective. 

Social Media Editors: Version 2.0

  1. Journal-specific positions

In the revised version of the SME position, we wanted to try the idea of each publication having its own dedicated editor. While it’s true that broadly our journals were either clinically-focused or basic science-focused, some had unique appeal to certain subspecialities that would benefit from a thought leader in that specific arena.

  1. Selection by EICs

We also wanted to allow our EICs to propose an editor to fill the role for their respective journal. The EICs had the opportunity to compose their entire board when they submitted their applications for the position, and we wanted to afford them the same opportunity here. Even if our EICs weren’t active on social media, it was a near certainty that some members of their board were, and we suspected they would be more than happy to suggest potential candidates for vetting. We also suspected that candidates would likely be more interested in the position when invited by a prestigious colleague compared to deciding to apply to a broad call for applications. Once the EICs had a candidate to recommend, the candidacy would be handled as any other addition to the Board would be processed: A justification memo would be sent to the association’s publications committee for approval, before being shared with the association’s governing board for final sign-off.

  1. Revised position description

I prepared an updated position description for the SME that specified that they would review line-ups, post at least two times a week on X (additional SM platforms were encouraged but not required), create a monthly tweetorial that provided a detailed overview of one of the current issue’s articles, and submit quarterly reports on metrics of their posts. Our hope was that this would help ensure their continued engagement. Each editor would have a small honorarium, and they would serve in that position for as long as the current board of editors was in place. When the board transitioned, the incoming EIC would include their proposed SME along with the rest of their proposed board members.

Non-Social Media Editors

Even if you don’t have a formal SME position, you can work with the current members of your board. Consider the following:

  1. Compile a list of X handles for your active editors and share it with the board so they can follow and amplify each other’s posts.
  2. Tag editors in posts from your journal accounts to remind them to share. If your line-up files include the handling editor of each submission, you could easily tag the editor that handled the peer review process of the paper and is intimately familiar with the study.
  3. Create a resource for editors who are interested in joining the foray but don’t know where to start. Simple guidance on how to create an account and where to begin with posts goes a long way to building up their confidence!

Conclusion

As daunting as social media may be to some, it can also be an exciting opportunity to be creative and try new things to help accomplish the goals of your journal(s) social media program. Engaging with the subject matter experts that are already invested in the studies you publish – whether as an author or an editor – can be a helpful method to improve the quality of your posts and increase the chances that the research you publish is reaching its audience.

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Erin Landis for her editing assistance.

Conflicts of Interest:

None to disclose

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