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Official accounts of scholarly journals build bridges between public, academia

LIU JINBO | 2018-01-18 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

WeChat, China’s most popular social media app, is fast approaching 1 billion users, and many academic journals are using it as a means to expand their audience.


Tencent’s instant messaging application WeChat is beloved by users for its multiple functions, and it has become China’s top smart app. Its official account platform was launched in 2012 and a closed mobile smart platform loop formed in 2014, bringing dramatic changes to people’s lives.

According to Tencent’s financial results published in August 2017, the number of monthly active users of WeChat and its international version reached 963 million by the end of June 2017, and official accounts and third-party developers numbered almost 20 million. However, there is not a lot of data about official accounts operated by academic journals, such as the number of registered accounts, the frequency of posts, quality, impact, operation model, or adequate examples of academic journal accounts that disseminate and operate successfully. However, it is certain that a considerable number of academic journals, especially influential ones, have registered official accounts.

Nearly 500 accounts were found when the author searched for journals published by colleges and universities. Because official accounts of scholarly journals play an indispensible role in media convergence, details about their operations should be studied in depth.


From platform to content
According to a paper presented at the 80th annual meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology, tweeted papers received around 30 percent more citations than those published in print journals only. 

Considering the high cost-effectiveness of social impact and operational investment, WeChat official accounts of academic journals are experiencing a rapid expansion. However, the majority of activity on official accounts involves releasing tables of contents, abstracts, full papers and updates on the journal, showing that most editorial departments are not well prepared for the arrival of the new media era. The relative scarcity of professionals trained to operate across all media might pose problems for editing and releasing messages. So, it is vital for the official accounts of academic journals to know what to say and how to say it.

Based on its academic influence and related evaluation index system, journals are mainly divided into authoritative journals, core journals and general non-core journals, so the existing evaluation system has a tendency toward the view that “platform is king.” However, there is a transition from “platform is king” to “content is king” as academic journal accounts take advantage of convenient navigation, active interaction and instant messaging on WeChat official accounts to reach a wider audience.

There are two popular approaches to content on the official accounts of academic journals: transplanting and forwarding. The former means that official accounts release the same content as print journals while the latter forwards policies, news, notices and papers closely related to its journal. These two types are not wrong in terms of content, but they need to be further refined and popularized while taking into account the reader’s knowledge structure as well as their fragmented reading habits and the mobile phone interface.

In general, the main content of updates should include cutting-edge research, authoritative interpretations, experts’ voice and hot topic reviews based on the content of print journals. They should also feature policy interpretations of industry information, updates on industry and announcements as well as feedback from users and thesis retrieval. Other diverse content should also be included that is tailored for shallow reading.

To improve the recognition of official journal accounts, the following five suggestions are offered: strengthening character traits in speaking as a whole; updating more frequently for the quarterly, bi-monthly and monthly academic journals to increase stickness; promoting a convergence of homogenous groups as well as media; tailoring information and communications to a narrow audience, not to the broader public at large; combining authority and professionalism with popularization and personalization in the aspect of content, and emphasizing information auditing and re-editing. 


Personalized forwarding
Even though the official accounts of academic journals utilize media to communicate more efficiently relative to print media, there are some drawbacks, such as a single-service mode, indistinctive trait attributes, weak communication skills, insufficiently optimized content, simple and rough processing, less obvious innovation and passive interactions. In the aspect of communication, the accounts cannot match Toutiao, China’s largest news aggregator, which generates a tailored feed of content for each user by analyzing their reading habits.

Some accounts of scholarly journals have attracted hundreds or thousands of subscribers, unexpectedly, without increasing in the geometric progression commonly seen in internet communication. Despite these subscribers, editors-in-chief and academic editors tend to focus on the table of contents, authors are concerned with the review process, and readers only pay attention to papers in their research fields, so that a large amount of subscribers are following too many official accounts to actually read the messages.

Subscribers cannot take the initiative to obtain the relevant content of the academic journals and it’s hard for them to interact online with editors. Therefore, the autonomy and interactivity of online communication platform is far from adequate. Effective communication skills for academic journal accounts could be developed in the following ways.

The first is to improve the service of the accounts and make unique selling points both regularly and irregularly to attract its users to participate. Then precise recommendations can be made through data analysis of different subscribers to release academic content to targeted audiences. Media resources of academic journals also need to be integrated by linking their official accounts, websites, paper submission and review systems, databases and related forums.

The fourth is to improve the validity of dissemination by utilizing all available communication resources. The digital business card, name card and QR code of the official accounts as well as the name of its website should co-distributed by all types of media. In addition, priority publication needs to be conducted because readers are unable to read the latest papers in time due to the median lag from editing, proofreading and publishing. So based on the final pre-publication version of papers, official accounts of academic journals may use multiple media platforms to show major findings of papers through titles, pictures, abstracts to realize the effective dissemination of priority publications.


Professional operation
As by-products of academic journals, managing and operating its official accounts is often a part-time job for academic editors. There is generally no overall plan for operation and implementation in the editorial departments and press or a management system, dedicated team and effective measures. Given these conditions, the high added value of new media is hard to be truly reflected.

Although the idea of “content is king” should be insisted upon, it cannot be ignored that the inborn trait of new media, including official accounts, remains “platform is  king.” For some official accounts of academic journals, low barriers to entry and poor management coexist with a scarcity of high-quality content that is both readable and popular, and many resort to posting multiple messages on the same piece of content. It is necessary to innovate the operation of these official accounts and win more users though a variety of new media measures.

High-level operation teams across all types of media should be built to carry out vertical management and professional operation. The editing work of the journal official accounts requires a large amount of manpower. Moreover, data mining and precise recommendation require excellent service ideas, professional standards, innovative sprit, scientific regulations and better communication skills, as well as other high qualifications and requirements.

Online and offline interactive communities of academic journals also need to be established. The official accounts can use one-to-one and one-to-many new media communication modes to give users an increased sense of control and involvement, which can not only ensure privacy and keep accounts active but also help to achieve interactive and instant communication. This kind of interaction and interconnection existing in the journal official accounts will form a relatively stable academic community to some degree, thereby effectively promoting the link and communication among scholars and boosting the development and prosperity of academic research.

Constructing digital alliances among official academic journal accounts is vital to achieve the Matthew Effect of digital publication of journals. Different types of digital alliances might be classified by organization, like journals affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They could also be grouped by industry, such as science, technology, agriculture and medicine journals. Another basis for classification could be disciplines, such as law, economics, philosophy and other fields. These diversified digital alliances have the potential to boost the operation, management and development of official journal accounts via precise recommendation to targeted users.

In sum, the advantages of official accounts of academic journals include convenience and rapid dissemination of academic news. The accounts can offer research resources, guide research interest, and popularize knowledge, but editing teams need to work to transform the decent, abstract and esoteric academic content targeting niche groups of people to make it vivid, interesting, pleasant and popular among a wider audience.


Liu Jinbo is from the College of Chinese Language and Literature at Wuhan University.