Online platforms are still making inroads in scientific communities

In previous posts about our State of Scientific Community Management survey, we’ve explored what types of scientific organizations have communities and we’ve described features of scientific community managers’ training and skill sets and their funding.

Today, we’re looking at some properties of the actual communities: their communication channels and platforms. Read on to find out about online versus offline communication channels and the adoption of online community platforms.

All scientific communities use in-person communication

We asked our survey respondents to estimate the percentage of communications with or about their communities that happen through various online and offline channels. In-person channels made up 25% of communications (Figure 1), which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most scientific associations convene at least once a year at annual conferences, and higher education and research communities often meet face-to-face on at least a monthly or weekly basis.

Figure 1. Amount of communication that takes place via various channels.
Figure 1. Amount of communication that takes place via various channels.

When we break down the results by organization type, we see that higher education and research organizations report almost 1.5 times as much face-to-face communication than do associations (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Amount of communication that takes place via various channels, by umbrella organization type.
Figure 2. Amount of communication that takes place via various channels, by umbrella organization type.

Why might this be? Higher education administration generally helps to manage the research going on at a single institution, which is by nature geographically localized and therefore allows for in-person meetings. The activities of research collaborations, even if geographically distributed, often center around several localized clusters of people. Members of these localized research groups often work face-to-face daily and have a weekly group meeting.

And what about online communication channels? Figure 2 shows that research communities also rely heavily on email. Our survey additionally revealed common use of cloud services such as SharePoint, Dropbox, and Google Drive, plus teleconferencing software.

Low adoption and integration of online platforms shows that online scientific communities are just getting started

Associations have higher adoption of online platforms, such as Salesforce, Personify, and Socious, and online non-email tools, such as social media, than communities that perform research, with online platforms making up 25% of their communication channels. These channels may take up the slack left by reduced in-person interactions.

So why the low adoption rates of online platforms? Are organized online communities in the sciences simply too new to make inroads into established communities? To answer this question, we compared our results to The Community Roundtable’s findings about communities in other industries.

First, we took a look at how respondents to our survey described their communities’ use of tools (Figure 3):

Figure 3. How a community’s platform is best described by the community manager.
Figure 3. How a community’s platform is best described by the community manager.

72% of respondents describe their organizations’ community platforms as either a distributed set of online tools without a primary platform, or as a dedicated online space that’s not integrated with other channels or business systems. These communities are missing out on connections between systems like social media channels and the association’s online forum, technical support ticketing systems, or a membership analytics system.

The Community Roundtable found that integration between a community platform and other communications channels or business systems was a mark of a mature community: 80% of mature communities had such integration (Figure 4).

In light of these results, it seems that online communities for scientific associations and research organizations are indeed just getting started.

Figure 4. Percentage of communities described as having a community platform integrated with other channels or business systems, color coded by community maturity level. Adapted from The Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management 2016 report.
Figure 4. Percentage of communities described as having a community platform integrated with other channels or business systems, color coded by community maturity level. Adapted from The Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management 2016 report.

If you have experience with online platforms that are integrated with other tools, especially in a research environment, feel free to share using the comment section below or have a conversation with us on Twitter.