Connected publishing: The strategy behind the Nature Research communities

On Thursday 19th September, James Butcher, VP of Journals at Nature Research and BMC, spoke about how the publisher uses online communities and Zapnito to engage scientists, build trust with stakeholders, and set it apart. Here are the key takeaways from his speech.

Connected publishing: The strategy behind the Nature Research communities

The first scientific journal was published in 1665, changing the way scientific research and discoveries were shared forever. Nature was launched in 1869 and has come a long way since its inception 150 years ago. It has grown from one journal to over 50 publications, offering publication options to many different audiences within the research community. With this growth, several challenges have arisen. The publisher turned to Zapnito and online communities to address this.

Challenge 1: Launching new journals is risky

Launching new journals is risky. A new journal may not attract a high enough readership to be viable in the long-term. It may not receive enough submissions and its target audience could be too small.

Nature Research uses online communities to support new journal launches. It currently has eight communities that align with eight different journals, including bioengineering, astronomy and sustainability. Audiences within the sector are incredibly varied, with different interests and needs. Nature Research’s online communities must reflect the diversity of its readership, to help it pinpoint communication strategies, journal development and content planning.

Nature Research community

Challenge 2: The human story behind research isn’t publicised

Another challenge that Nature Research wished to address was the fact that the scientists behind a piece of research can’t tell their personal stories as part of the formal version of record. The publishing of academic research is strict and formal. However, academics love writing about the story behind the scenes. The online community feature known as ‘Behind the Paper’ started off as a trial for Nature Microbiology, but interest soon mounted and it’s now a popular fixture. Over 2500 ‘Behind the Paper’ articles have been published.

Behind the Paper

Challenge 3: Showcasing the value of publishing in Nature

The story doesn’t just end with a piece of published research. Recognising this, Nature Research launched ‘After the Paper’ – a follow-up piece that covers developments that occur after work is published in a Nature journal. Having a piece published by a Nature journal is a prestigious accolade – one that can lead to industry recognition, funding and more opportunities. This feature charts the ongoing success of published researchers. To celebrate their work and encourage others to submit their research.

After the Paper

Challenge 4: Building trust between editors and scientists

Nature journal editors are the gatekeepers to each publication and they need to be trusted by the scientific community. Online communities help to build relationships between scientists and editors. Giving scientists an insight into an editor’s day and their passion for cutting-edge research. It also helps them understand what content a particular editor is looking for.

From the Editors

Challenge 5: Reporting on the road

The editors also spend their time on the road, meeting influential scientists and attending leading conferences. The insights from this aren’t typically shared in a science publication (again, due to strict and formal content criteria). However, it’s still valuable to the community. So, Nature journals share up-to-date stories from its editors who are out and about. Telling the story of each editor and of science as a whole.

On the Road

The results so far



Online communities have differentiated Nature Research’s offering and created greater engagement with its readership. Features like ‘Behind the Paper’ have proved extremely popular. It enables scientists to share the informal insights that surround research, giving a wider view of what their work entails. To date, 95% of authors who wrote a ‘Behind the Paper’ post enjoyed the experience.

Nature Research’s reputation as a leading publisher has also benefited. 58% of authors said that they were more likely to publish in a Nature journal again, because of the opportunities offered by the community.