Marketing an online encyclopedia may not seem as glamorous as promoting a Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook. But who’s to say the goals of commercial marketers and academic marketers aren’t the same—to innovate, to spark interest and delight audiences, to surprise, to inspire.
I’ve been on the online reference marketing team at Oxford for two years, and I’ve come to realize that reference is only dry if we’re not doing our jobs right. I’m seeing academic marketers with the guts and guile to jazz up scholarly resources and captivate readers while maintaining the key tenets of Oxford University Press—authority, trust and quality.
Leaders in academic publishing are driving teams to innovate, spurring marketing tactics that scholars, librarians and researchers have never before witnessed. Infographics with modern, striking designs are popping up in place of print catalogs and brochures. Digital walk-throughs and guides are inspired by user experience, with the look and feel of an online fashion magazine. Marketing-driven interactive elements on reference sites have exploded, from dynamic author maps that illustrate a global network of scholars to guided tours of site features.
This push toward digital strategies speaks to an aim shared by authors, editors and marketers—to make scholarly works accessible and discoverable. For this reason, our team has seen authors and editors excited about new marketing concepts rather than skeptical of moving away from traditional methods that have proved successful in the past. If a student is more likely to learn about an online reference site from a Facebook deal or advertisement, rather than from a library flyer, great! If unlocking free articles, with the appropriate precautions against piracy, can drive new users from all around the world toward expert information faster, let’s go for it.
What I’ve found inspiring is the handful of authors willing to go to great lengths to delve into the digital sphere with us, even if their experience is limited. There are plenty of routes for authors to take—write blog posts, create a personal Twitter feed, email digital promotional material to their network in hopes of pushing it viral, etc. And there are opportunities on the technical side to increase visibility, too, like tailoring an article title with search engine optimization in mind or linking to an article from multiple sites to boost its popularity on Google. Our digital analysts may step in with advice on these tech-savvy tricks, but the actions on an authors’ side are relatively straightforward and simple.
I look forward to seeing even more of this—all authors, across academic disciplines and time zones, becoming comfortable with a higher level of engagement with digital tools. It was thrilling for us, for example, to see that the community of librarians on Tumblr—or Tumblarians—is such an active, influential force in spreading the latest industry news through an online channel.
It’s also encouraging to see that, in the reference world at least, everyone is generally on the same page about the online-versus-print debate: Digitizing scholarly, vetted content makes research faster and easier for students and scholars. That’s a message any marketer can take and run with.
A graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course, Georgia is marketing coordinator, online products, at Oxford University Press.