Guest Post, the fourth in a four-part series, by KC Lynch:

Part 4: Social Networking the TWC

Earlier this year, UW’s Anthropology Librarian received three faculty requests for a magazine called Anthropology NOW within a two-week time period. In academia, that’s like Surprised Kitty popularity.

I asked Anthropology Now’s managing editor what her strategy was. Did she advertise at a local Anthropology conference? Sponsor a symposium? No, she said, it was social marketing, pure and simple.

Social marketing includes mainstays like Facebook, LinkedIn, and for academia, Academia.edu. But it’s not enough to just log on or create a page. That’s what professional business strategist Phil Simon refers to as the “set it and forget it” mistake. To be truly successful, you have to cultivate an online presence through frequent posting, provide applications that reflect changing technologies, and most importantly, find your audience.

Finding your audience isn’t about making a website and asking them to come to you. You have to find out where they are and go to them.

Andrew Gossen, now Director of Social Media Strategy at Cornell, focused on exactly that when he launched a multimedia effort to reach Princeton Alumni in 2007. He found that while Princeton Alums were routinely bypassing traditional web content, they were gathering in extraordinary numbers to play an online game open to current and former students, as well as faculty. And they were engaged in deep, authentic, intelligent conversation.

The key, as Gossen sees it, is to participate in conversations without trying to control the message. This may be a revolutionary concept for nonprofits, but for social media users it goes without saying. In a 2010 interview with EZRA, Gossen explained:

“Many institutions think of social media as simply another channel for distributing the same content that is disseminated through more traditional means, but that misses the unique nature of the evolving social Web space. Social media gives us the chance to communicate with alumni with a frequency and level of informality that makes it possible for Cornell to be a daily presence in their lives.”

Is it the same for the readership of a scholarly journal? Maybe. The process of working with social media in academia is experimental and incremental, says Gossen.

We know that academics participate in social media, well, socially—but thanks to a recent report from the College of London’s Centre for Information Behavior and the Evaluation of Research (hilariously acronymed CIBER), we now know that academics also use social media for research: 84% in social sciences, and 79.2% in the arts and humanities.

For TWC, we know the readership, including possible contributors, visits three types of online communities regularly: those where transformative works are made, those which produce useable research, and their own social networks. These may include anything from Livejournals and Tumbler to Blogs on the Paley Center for Media website.

To engage these communities, first you have to have available staff, familiar with the interests and needs of the readership, to tend the growth of new social networks. Then you develop a strategy for engaging your audience on their own terms, in ways that keep them coming back for more.

Websites like TED, Historypin, and OpenIDEO have all been successful at attracting dedicated users and giving new ways to communicate and collaborate beyond Facebook and Twitter.

Most social networks grow organically, and they die organically too, but there’s always a new crop for a new season. If we can grow the social network, we’ll grow TWC’s readership, making it more appealing to contributors.

This is how it starts: I’m an acafan and an avid fanfic reader. A few years ago I started reading a particular author, and the work was so good that I bookmarked her Livejournal. I check for updates all the time, thrilled when she posts stories in a new fandom—like a whole new world has opened up. Then she started posting about Archive of Our Own, which led me to TWC, and now I’m hooked.

Why? Because I go where the work is. And anything that strikes the fancy of the authors and artists I follow is worth a look. Hey, it got me to watch the Fast and Furious movies, and subsequently, all of the transformative works they spawned.

[META] Attracting Contributors to the TWC: Part Four
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