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How should social be incorporated into primary research products?

20130727-221132.jpg John Barker (@contentbarker), Vice President of Strategy & Competitive Intelligence for Wolters Kluwer, asked last week how social media should be incorporated into professional research products.

Recent developments around social media highlight the need for Wolters Kluwer to incorporate social media into its research products targeted at end users. Why? Social media are behaving more and more like primary and secondary sources of law.

Barker cited six examples where social media is being used to create or share information that needs to be part of, or at least complement, primary research.

  1. The US Department of Treasury announced via blog post the delay in implementation of the Obamacare employer mandate;
  2. A report by the US Securities and Exchange Commission permits companies to announce key information via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter;
  3. Federal courts in the United States increasingly have frequently cited Wikipedia;
  4. Major federal agencies, such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have dedicated channels on YouTube;
  5. The Federal Register has a Twitter feed; and
  6. Real Lawyers Have Blogs” (a title of a blog by Kevin O’Keefe that discusses the value proposition of lawyers’ use of social media to promote thought leadership – thought leadership that might be integrated into professional research products).

No question, as Barker asserts, that publishers will need to integrate social media, ala law blogs, in a contextually relevant way.

Not every post, video, or tweet is relevant to professionals. Displaying social along side case law, regulations etc every time a social media references a particular case or regulation would be high noise and low signal.

Social needs to be curated by topics and the demographics and expertise of the creators. Machine learning techniques and algorithms need to be harnessed to garner greater context as social media is created, cited, and shared by professionals. That way we benefit from ‘social circles’ and influence in determining what social media content ought be displayed for an individual doing research.

I am not sure I agree with Barker that social media can be a channel for exposing a publisher’s customers to behind-the-firewall content. At least not in the fashion he depicts.

Barker labels this “reverse integration” in the sense that a lawyer or accountant might link from social media to a research product from Wolters Kluwer the professional found through a search engine. The idea being that excerpts or descriptions of the publisher’s content would be indexed for search.

Having excepts of your content shared socially when the content is not available to be viewed without a subscription can be a recipe for disaster for a publisher. Especially in the legal community where there is some animosity towards publishers and a movement towards free law.

A better approach would be to follow the New York Times winning formula. Enable subscribers to share your content socially in a fashion that allows those receiving socially the link to the content to view the content in entirety.

For now, start annotating primary research with social media. Start simple with curated blog content. Blogs by thought leaders are quickly becoming the reviews and journals of today. This makes the primary research product more valuable.

Worry about business models to further take advantage of social later on. There will plenty in a world where everyone can be a publisher.

Image courtesy of Flickr by j3net.