Sharing a passion for science

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How Cell Press’s CrossTalk connects people to the publisher

For people who want to ask the Editor-in-Chief of Cell a question, geek out about octopuses and other sciencey things, or get a behind-the-scenes look at how one of the world’s biggest science journals runs, Cell Press’s official blog CrossTalk is the place to go.

Written by Cell Press employees, the blog connects researchers with the people behind the publishing giant on a more personal level. Contributors write about things that interest them – everything from punctuation tips and the best way to hire new colleagues to reading lists and gift ideas.

CrossTalk is a great way for the people at Cell Press to connect with the audience in a friendly and engaging way about their shared passions. When Cell’s Vice President of Publishing and Marketing, Joanne Sheppard, asked colleagues to contribute, she wasn’t short of volunteers.

So how did it start, and why has it been such a great success? Here we talk to Jerry Fagerberg, Managing Editor of CrossTalk, about the story behind the blog, what makes it so engaging and where it’s going next.

How did CrossTalk come about?

The idea for a Cell Press blog has actually been bounced around for five or six years now, but 2015 was the year that we decided we’d waited too long to move on it. Part of how CrossTalk came to be was serendipity. Joanne and the Senior Management Team had been having conversations about how to give Cell Press a stronger voice in the community. Simultaneously, [CrossTalk Editor] Stephen Matheson and I were having conversations about how to expand the Cell Reports blog, which had been running on a WordPress since 2012. Once we joined forces, we decided that what Cell Press needed was a sincere, informal way to talk with our community. Like the way editors chat with scientists at conferences. CrossTalk was designed more or less as an internet water cooler.

What was the aim of the blog, and how has it changed?

We wanted to capture the really broad spectrum of perspectives and expertise at Cell Press. We’re not just scientists at Cell Press. We’re marketers, industrial salespeople, former liberal arts majors, Shakespeare junkies, mixed martial artists, etc. The range of topics we’ve been able to cover is staggering, and we’ve simultaneously been able to demystify the publishing process, which our audience has really appreciated. As we go forward, we’ll continue to be a resource that serves scientists looking to publish, but we’ll also continue to work up the characters who inhabit our office space.

How do you measure success?

Quantitatively, I’m examining analytics every day. Trying to drive up page views and sessions, encouraging social shares. And that’s a big part – I have benchmarks we’re constantly hitting and missing. But qualitatively, I’m looking to create a reaction. Start a conversation. When we post something and the comments light up, I know we’re succeeding. When PubPeer and Reddit are spiraling with discussion and we’re able address questions people weren’t asking yet, then we’ve done our job.

What are the next steps for the blog?

Our redesign went live on February 29, and we couldn’t be more proud of the work that went in to turning it into a veritable design leader for Cell Press. The new design also comes with a new blogging platform that’s going to help us get many deeper insights into audience behavior so we can better cater to the people who are finding their way to us.

What’s the most memorable article you’ve posted so far?

I’m incredibly proud of this piece our Assistant Editor Karen Helgeson did on Cell Press’s color-in comic book. Cell Press’s first coloring book has been a rave success for eight years now, so when we decided to do another, I really wanted to document the process. We got some concept sketches from our illustrator Kip and talked to everyone who put the story together. Not only was it wonderfully and effectively written, but I think we really added something to the experience of the comic book – and that’s what it’s really all about: adding to the experience.

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CrossTalk is a great example of how a publisher can have a friendly, interesting and engaging conversation with readers. The genuine passion the Cell Press employees share, combined with their valuable opinions and advice, means readers can really connect to the publisher through the blog, getting to know the people who work there on a more informal level. The blog shows how cooperation between employees can showcase their innovative spirit – something that’s supported and facilitated by the whole organization. The result is a fascinating blog that is interesting to read.