Every Friday numerous social media feeds encourage us to follow certain people. This reciprocal weekly event has evolved into a way to find new people with interesting things to say, but it is also beginning to feel a little bit mechanical. “It’s Friday!” the social media universe shouts at us; “Follow this person and this person and this person.” But why?
Many of us in the university press world join this Friday free-for-all. We exchange our views on who is worth following and, because we’re all in the same part of publishing, for the most part the recommendations are sound and useful. Our expertise meets our interest in communication, and we have an opportunity to shift the discussion so that we’re not simply telling others who to follow but why they should be followed. This information, the why of it, doesn’t need to be spelled out; if we have done things right, we have positioned ourselves as curators and content developers on social media and people trust what we say. Then, when we point to someone who is worth following, our opinions and recommendations are actually acted upon.
As publishers we are connected in myriad ways within our respective fields. Scholarly presses are replete with acquiring editors who know and are known by scholars around the globe. Marketers interact with cutting-edge thinkers from both academia and the marketing industry, and our production teams are engaged with vendors and service providers that are consistently pushing the boundaries of the print and digital environments. With such connectivity and breadth of knowledge, university presses are perfectly positioned to be leaders in social media. We’re at the hub of the important conversations, drawing people towards us at the nexus of scholarly publishing. When we find people and businesses or organizations that are useful or interesting, then our very position at the center of this global wheel allows us to dictate and determine what is good social media content. This discovery process is also manifested through our personal social media, because a wider variety of voices are heard. For instance, the official UNP presences might suggest a certain professor or department or new journal worth following, while our publicity manager might highlight an influential person in the media and our marketing manager focuses on a content-marketing service or thought leader.
This centrality to the conversation means we can push thought and conversation in certain directions. Essentially, we do this already through the books we publish. But our role as content developers for social media is not fully developed. We have the opportunity to seek out certain types of content through our connectivity and to disseminate it through our own social media feeds and those of the people and organizations we recognize as important to what we’re all doing. For example, Columbia University Press posts its regular roundup of AAUP blog activity. The roundup draws attention to what the AAUP community is doing in terms of online content development and provides a great way of sharing each other’s content and ideas. At UNP we cultivate content development as widely as possible. Our authors are all encouraged to write about their areas of expertise; our staff provides the view from “behind the book,” pulling away the curtain that often shrouds what we do and how we do it; and we often reach out to other experts in order to flesh out a story or emerging idea.
Our role in driving content development in conjunction with a curatorial role on our social media platforms will grow in importance to university presses as our authors and audiences increasingly congregate in the social media world. We must be where our authors are and we must know what our readers desire. Focusing the social media conversation from both ends in ways that suit the university press community is both logical and necessary. By “acquiring” social media content and curating what exists, our proclamations of “this person is worth listening to” will have far more resonance. Reading the “follow this person” suggestions of university presses each Friday will become increasingly important to our constituencies and provide another way to influence the scholarly discourse from our position in the middle of it all.