The road to creating an expert STM community might be littered with pitfalls, wrong turns and long, meandering detours – but we all know the reward is worth it.
By turning readers into paid subscribers, STM publishers have an opportunity to connect with their readers, convert participation into commercial opportunities, and gather the data they need to survive in a post-cookie digital world.
However, when you’re chasing that carrot, it can start to feel that it is, indeed, attached to the end of a very short stick: the rewards are always just slightly out of reach, the journey just that bit longer than expected.
Yet it doesn’t have to. Whatever the challenge to making your community a success, there is a way to overcome it. Here, we look at the most common obstacles facing STM publishers and how you can get around them.
If any of these ring true to your experience, we recommend taking a look at A Publisher’s Guide to Expert Communities, which goes into the process in more detail.
You’re struggling to gain trust
It’s unsurprising that STM professionals and academics are sometimes wary of expert communities: many have been burned before by joining so-called ‘communities’ that failed to deliver what they needed. Open Access Publishing has been a positive and exciting step for STM overall, but it also gave rise to some questionable publishers whose sole motivation was to reap APCs (article processing charges), giving little value back to the contributor.
The only way you can build trust is with time, but there are steps you can take right at the beginning of your relationship with your subscribers to instil trust from the offset. Communicate clearly the purpose of the community, and what they can expect to get from it. Don’t make empty promises. Importantly, create value by creating a community where members feel heard, recognised and rewarded for their input.
People are joining, but not taking part
It’s one of the most infuriating challenges STM publishers face, and while you might consider resigning yourself to the old saying, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’, this doesn’t have to be the case for your expert community. If you’re struggling to turn community ‘lurkers’ or spectators into active members, there are things you can do to change it.
Publishing relevant, interesting and exciting content is at the core of a good community, but you need to think about whether you’re creating space for conversations and interactions to take place around it. Are you sending conversation prompts? Opinion polls? Targeting members (using data) with content that you know they will be interested in? You could create breakout spaces for members with shared niche interests, offer learning portals, host webinars or round tables, and even set up one-to-one conversations. Remember, what you’re offering is connections: make sure that you are creating space for your members to forge them. There’s a useful pyramid approach in our guide for publishers that will help you visualise this process.
You can’t get your key target audience to contribute
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this again comes down to illustrating your community’s value. Show, don’t tell, your audience what it means to be a part of it, by promoting the exciting conversations that are actually taking place, not just hinting at what they might be missing.
Create a buzz around your community as a must-have platform for your particular STM sector, and you will eventually start to see peer-to-peer word of mouth driving community growth. If you have a shortlist of contributors that you desperately want on your platform, don’t be afraid to reach out directly on LinkedIn, social media or – data permitting – email. People often like the opportunity to share their expertise: if you show that you’re giving value back for their expertise, it’s a win-win.
It’s also a good idea to identify key influencers in your STM area. If you can attract authors who already have a high profile, you’ll improve your visibility, and others will follow.
You’re finding it difficult to demonstrate your community’s ROI
It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that building an expert community is essential to the future of STM publishing – if it’s not delivering results to you, what’s the point?
There are a few rookie mistakes in this area that stop STM publishers from seeing the full value of their communities. Firstly, they don’t define what they expect a ‘successful community’ to look like: it’s impossible to live up to expectations if they haven’t been set to begin with. Secondly, they don’t decide how they are going to measure results: what are your KPIs and how do you plan to keep track of them? Thirdly, they expect results quickly, with the community taking off almost overnight: that just isn’t how a community works, in real life or online.
Last, but not least, they assess the commercial results of the community, without reviewing how the space is functioning and whether it is delivering the value it should to its users. You can’t just build a community and expect people to flock to it: you need to keep revising and tweaking it, instigating actions, and devising new and exciting ways to bring people together.
STM communities take time to flourish: if you want to assess your ROI, you need to set short- and long-term metrics, keep reviewing performance, think creatively about how you’re driving engagement, and importantly never lose sight of the value you’re offering your subscribers.
Your community feels disorganised and directionless
If this is your biggest challenge, it’s actually one of the simplest to fix, if you have the right framework in place. Having a centralised point where you can bring all aspects of community building – from strategy to success metrics – enables you to keep a 360-degree perspective on your community and its performance.
For a comprehensive guide to community building for publishers like you – including steps to boost engagement – download A Publisher’s Guide to Expert Communities.