As we have all experienced, 2020 was both a different and difficult year. Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been hard to maintain close connections with our communities, including a growing number of talented and increasingly influential researchers in China who are publishing some of the best research. As the world began locking down, the prospect of hosting our usual workshops and presentations at conferences and universities in China was suddenly swept away. So we were faced with an important question:
How can we continue to encourage Chinese academics to publish in our journals without actually visiting them in person?
Our answer: Go virtual and make our outreach as impactful and interesting as possible.
We did exactly this for the 2020 workshop of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) and Control Engineering Practice (CEP) — one of eight titles we publish on their behalf.
These are the lessons we learned.
Lesson 1: Select a proactive editor who knows their audience.
With the IFAC workshop aimed at those who consider themselves either authors or editors of the future, CEP Editor-in-Chief Prof Biao Huang used his networks to promote the webinar to his community.
Knowing your audience is, of course, a key component of this approach, so before making decisions on your webinar, it’s worth asking yourself:
- Which topics are they interested in?
- If you have the choice, which language do they prefer?
- How long can they concentrate on the presentation?
- When does your audience have time to listen to an online webinar?
Regarding the final point, the IFAC/CEP event started at 9 pm local time in China, which proved to be a popular timeslot. On the other hand, for many people in Europe and the US, a webinar at night would seem odd. So it’s important to keep local customs and preferences in mind.
Lesson 2: Promote your event extensively — and plan a rehearsal.
Once you have a webinar set up, it’s essential to promote it through appropriate channels, such as commonly-used Chinese social media channels WeChat and Weibo, society newsletters, journal homepages and targeted email campaigns. Elsevier’s marketing team will help with all of this. In addition, it’s important to ensure that editorial boards are asked to spread the word — the recommendation of a key opinion leader in the field will almost certainly be more powerful than a general marketing message. Finally, to ensure there are no technical glitches on the day, we also found it helpful to organize a rehearsal a week ahead of the big day to test the technology and make sure everyone is happy with the format and timing.
Lesson 3: Encourage interaction, and understand the cultural norms.
On the day of the IFAC/CEP event, the workshop ran very smoothly. Nearly 180 people joined the session, and interaction was strong, with comments and questions throughout via the chat function of the presentation and also in the spoken Q&A session at the end. It was a fantastic opportunity for the journal, IFAC and Elsevier to come together and “meet” a fully engaged Chinese audience keen to be involved in the journal and to know more about the society.
One interesting aspect of webinars to be aware of is the online interaction. Chinese people love to use emojis and internet buzzwords; those from outside of China may need new skills to interpret these. For example, if the audience is happy, you might receive a smiley face; if they like the speaker, a flower icon might appear; if a little bored, listeners might just type in three dots. Knowing how to interpret these is important to fully understanding how your presentation is being received and, perhaps more importantly, how it can be improved in the future.
Lesson 4: If it works, repeat it.
The IFAC/CEP webinar was just one of many online sessions carried out by various Elsevier Publishers since the pandemic, and I am pleased to say they have proved to be a highly effective format for engaging a large and growing community of scholars in China – potential authors, reviewers and editors of the future.
The event format is now a template for us to use. And as we continue to evolve the new norm, we will continue to repeat and, where appropriate, adapt these events in the future. If you would like to run a webinar, please get in touch with your Elsevier Publisher.
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