richThis year’s Doody’s Digital Workshop featured a diverse and well-received array of talks from panelists and keynoters. Our attendees learned a lot, and so did I.

As a senior gray-haired dude (see evidence at left), I was tickled by a bullet point in a talk given by Julia Colpitts of EBSCO, ironically our youngest speaker — a millennial, at that.

I still need a senior gray-haired dude to help make sense of the evidence.

Now for some context: My ego aside, Julia presented a helpful talk. She described insights that EBSCO has developed over its years of intensive research into the users of its Dynamed Plus product, a digital reference for clinical physicians. EBSCO clearly pours significant resources into the research and analysis, and Julia enabled our attendees to learn a great deal of what EBSCO knows. I hope society publishers and education operations take advantage of these insights to make their offerings as compelling as they can be.

Let me focus on just two aspects that stuck with me.

First, the most heartening information was that users are eager for synthesis. Included in this are:

  • Answers in specific clinical situations
  • Tools to teach students
  • Confirmation and validation, such as a “quick refresher of clinical guidelines.”

In the end, isn’t this why society education and publishing divisions exist? You have unrivaled access to the thought leaders with the perspective to create syntheses that are both useful and authoritative. Moreover, your members trust you — you serve your specialty or profession, rather than stockholders. The sweat equity involved in developing these syntheses, by volunteers and staff, can be leveraged in the many ways you provide information to members — as clinical guidelines, CME/MOC courses, books, point-of-care apps, and whatever else your members are asking for. In other words, your missions are more important than ever.

And this brings me to the second compelling take-away from Julia’s talk — a rundown of user expectations for digital information products. She cited the following:

  • Currency
  • Rapid time-to-answer
  • Additional layers of synthesis and guidance
  • Improved mobile experience

None of these is a slam-dunk for a professional association.

Currency: With good reason, societies aim to ensure that any information that appears under their name is rock-solid — complete, accurate, balanced, etc. Conventionally, getting volunteer committees to develop and agree on new content, staff departments to organize and package it, and maybe getting buy-in from advocacy or legal — all of this takes time. But today’s professionals expect their societies to reflect what’s going on right now. So currency is a destination, and the journey involves questioning and probably modifying everything from content creation to production workflow to governance.

Rapid time-to-answer: What is the core function of your organization’s website? I bet it isn’t to provide information for your members at the point of need. It may be focused on optimizing your public image, optimizing membership, or something else. And, from what I’ve seen, the architecture of society websites is often constrained by the characteristics of your member database. So how can you minimize the clicks to get to the practical, authoritative answer that your member needs right now? Another destination, another journey.

Additional layers of synthesis and guidance: Under every answer should be an explanation. As a professional society, you probably have all the explanations you need. But how do you associate the in-depth content with the quick answers? This is still another IT journey.

Improved mobile experience: Most of us carry our smartphones with us at all times — or, using  the old-fashioned publishing term, it’s often “the portable brain.” So think about the how users access your just-in-time information on their smartphones: How many taps to the answer? How does it look on the screen? What can be downloaded for use when there isn’t a signal? What can you do with responsive Web design, and what needs a downloadable app? Still another journey.

Take it from a senior gray-haired dude: Society publishers and education specialists have never had more opportunities to be genuinely valuable to your professions. That’s a stimulating thought for the New Year, isn’t it?