Professional Digital Marketing for Academic Self-publishing? Strategies, Tactics, and Questions

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black and white image of mark shealyby Mark W. Shealy

Academic publishing is quickly evolving beyond traditional double-blind peer review conventions toward more open-review and open-access publishing sensitive to institutional changes in higher education (Abeles, 2012). New forms of peer review and mass authorship form part of a changing publishing environment (Laquintano, 2010) and encourage new technological forms such as Networked Participatory Scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). This current producing of texts through nonhierarchical means presages radically different definitions of academic books and articles (Perakakis, 2013). Hands-on practice such as academic search engine optimization (ASEO) to prepare scholarly articles for academic search engines and Google Scholar is a step in the direction of academic self-marketing (Beel, Gipp, & Wilde, 2010). However, given these new academic formats and sources, a rethinking of the full range of strategies and tactics by which scholarship may be marketed seems reasonable.

In Michel de Certeau’s influential The Practice of Everyday Life, “strategies” are defined as controlling institutional materialized structures, such as cities or universities or corporations, produced as diverse consumables that place ordinary persons into the position of “consumers.” “Tactics,” on the other hand, are described as actions taken by consumers to transform themselves into “users” who modify strategies, forcing strategic structures to black and white image of lower body of person walkingconform to individual daily use. In de Certeau’s famous analogy, a person walking through New York City overcomes limitations placed by urban planners upon his perambulations by making the details of his daily movements unpredicted. Power relations are problematized when consumers tactically consume strategizing material products created by producer institutions; individuals who are “dominated” consumers then become “poachers” by making use of such tactics. This summation cannot exhaust the sociological ramifications of these concepts, but it may indicate how they apply to our brief discussion of professional marketing strategies.

In articulating his “procedures of everyday creativity” for a “tactics of practice,” de Certeau refers to everyday activities as a possible means for consumers to become users. For instance, consumers who read information might become users who engage information. When marketing to a consumer, especially through micro-targeting now common among digital advertising, a for-profit goal generally precludes allowing a consumer-user to creatively make use of the information product if doing so is at the expense of consuming the product as marketed. In other words, to use de Certeau’s language, the strategic use of information to alter consumer purchasing behaviors is made less effective if consumers can creatively engage with such information to transform themselves into users. Academics, perhaps unique among professional information creators, are not limited to selling ideas to a reading consumer primarily for economic exchange, but generally expect ideas to enter an intellectual marketplace, generating scholarly dialogues and conversations. Thus, the academic self-publisher may benefit by codifying her intellectual product in such a way that the consumer is encouraged to take an active, creative, co-productive user role.

white cowboy hatI’ll briefly suggest ways that academic self-publishers and self-marketers might make tactical use of strategies employed by professional digital marketing experts. Scholars, ideally, should use such commercial strategies tactically so consumers of academic information, in turn, can make tactical use of these academic strategies to become users. Making use of hacker terms, a hypothetical “white-hat” approach would include digital strategies such as

  • using search engine optimization (or SEO, the maximizing of visitors to a website) for keyword information highly personal to the scholar or scholarship (per suggested guidelines),
  • coordinating social media across competing platforms so that logistically unlikely relations and networks may be generated by reader-users,
  • encouraging open scholarly collaboration and informal peer review rankings to destabilize strategic ownership characteristic of private-to-public information, and
  • innovatively using “influencer” social media for research or creative works that disrupt original marketing purposes ascribed by commercial producers.

black cowboy hatA “black-hat” approach would include strategies – rarely used by scholars – such as spamdexing (search engine indexes spamming), trolling (special interest online harassment), the use of malware (malicious software), and the use of hacking tools for illegal data manipulation. Such strategies would certainly lessen productive scholarly tactical dialogues between digital producers and users, but would most likely– though not necessarily – result in increased market share for self-publishing scholars within those online communities that support academic competition. I do not preclude the use of black-hat strategies here since a discussion of ethics is beyond the scope of this blog. I detail elsewhere how such strategies may be used in a tactical productive sense, for both readers and writers, and how ethical considerations arise when scholars make use of commercial marketing practices.

Whether such tactical usage of digital marketing strategies is prescribed will depend on which framework for production a self-marketing scholar chooses: one aimed primarily at strategic market manipulation at the possible expense of open intellectual dialogue or one that encourages freedom of intellectual expression for both parties at the possible expense of market share. Also, whether the tactics recommended here are strategically worthwhile in a rapidly shifting publishing environment will depend on how scholars calculate their market audiences.

Admittedly, provocative questions remain:

  • What conditions determine whether for-profit marketing strategies can be simultaneously valuable and ethical for solitary academic use?
  • What career risks arise for scholars (who work within increasingly corporate, territorial, and litigation-sensitive university systems) when individually self-marketing?
  • What role might third-party, for-profit digital marketing experts play for the self-marketing self-publishing scholar?
  • How might authors self-publish and self-market as networked scholarly groups independent of the formal university systems that employ the authors?
  • How might swift changes within academic publishing (and consequent marketing) reflect broader epistemological shifts within the Humanities and Social Sciences, especially given quickly evolving technical systems and material conditions for knowledge dissemination?

Abeles, T. (2014). The fate of academic publishing and
        academia in a semantic environment. On the Horizon,
        21 (4), 221-228.

Beel, J., Gipp, B., & Wilde, E. (2010). Academic Search
        Engine Optimization (ASEO): Optimizing scholarly
        literature for Google Scholar and Co. Journal of
        Scholarly Publishing, 41(2), 176–190.

De Certeau, M. General Introduction to The Practice of
        Everyday Life. Retrieved from

De Certeau, M., & Rendall, S. (2011). The Practice of
        Everyday Life. University of California Press.

Laquintano, T. (2010). Sustained authorship: Digital writing,
        self-publishing, and the Ebook. Written\
        Communication, 4, 469-493.

Perakakis, P., & Taylor, M. (2013). Academic self-publishing:
        A not-so-distant future. Prometheus. 31(3), 257-263.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012). Networked participatory
        scholarship: Emergent techno-cultural pressures toward
        open and digital scholarship in online networks. Computers
        & Education, 58, 766-774.

About Author(s)

Mark is a PhD student in Technical Communication & Rhetoric at Texas Tech University. He teaches online and traditional classes in composition and literature for Gulf Coast State College. His research and scholarly interests include online education, writing program administration, sexual harassment, digital embodiment, material rhetoric, and Fourth-Wave Feminism. Mark also works in SEO and social media for an internet marketing firm.

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