In a challenging market environment, some of the leading
publishers of professional and scholarly information are stepping up their use
of social media to gain competitive advantage and address the needs of audiences in the R&D community.
From at least 2005, when Nature Publishing Group launched its Connotea social bookmarking service, through Elsevier’s recent integration of its 2Collab collaboration tools with its flagship ScienceDirect and Scopus databases, publishers have been bringing researchers more broadly and openly into the science publishing conversation.
Two recent announcements show that social networking in this marketplace now is evolving toward more formal and ambitious efforts. Elsevier, with the help of private online communities-builder Communispace, last week officially launched Innovation Explorers, an online community of 300 researchers from 69 countries. The stated goal is to gain better insight into issues, challenges and unmet needs within the research community; Elsevier is also inviting its direct customers in libraries to join the community and interact with the expert “Explorers.”
The use of online communities of researchers to generate and test new ideas is in itself not new. For example, BioInformatics LLC has operated its Science Advisory Board for over 10 years, a community now numbering over 40,000 life science researchers and physicians who participate in syndicated and customized market research studies provided by BioInformatics. The Innovation Explorers initiative signals that publishers are recognizing both (a) the potential competitive advantages to be gained by nurturing their own branded communities, and (b) the value of the kind of specialized expertise and experience that a dedicated community builder like Communispace (which has built other branded communities for companies such Kraft, HP, Charles Schwab, and Hilton Hotels) can provide.
A potentially more far-reaching intersection of science publishing and online communities was the announcement this month of a new partnership between Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and InnoCentive, Inc. The latter company, founded in 2001, has built a successful open marketplace for innovation that enables companies, government agencies and other organizations (e.g., Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, SAP and the Rockefeller Foundation) to post “challenges.” These “Seekers” offer over 170,000 engineers, scientists, inventors, business people and research organizations (“Solvers”) financial rewards ranging up to $1 million for their solution. Examples of past challenges have ranged from a food company offering $40,000 for a “Reduced Fat Chocolate-Flavored Compound Coating” to a research foundation offering $1 million for a “Biomarker for measuring disease progression in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.”
As "How We Decide" author Jonah Lehrer has noted, a study of
InnoCentive led by researchers at
The agreement by NPG and InnoCentive to launch a new, joint platform exemplifies the power that publishers still wield in concentrating high quality audiences whose value can be further enhanced within online community frameworks. And it will be interesting to see if, how, and when the latest developments in social bookmarking, such as Twine, and the approaches to monetization being more fully developed in consumer and "horizontal" b2b markets, will also be fine-tuned by publishers in more focused domains.