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After many months of hard work, you finally publish your manuscript. Hooray! Give yourself a pat on the back, because you deserve it. Your findings are finally out there for the world to see, and you can now sit back and wait for the response… but what will that look like? It will take years to see citations add up, and citation rates won’t tell you what impact your work is having beyond the scientific community. What if you could track engagement in real time to find out who is discussing your research and what they think about it?
Altmetrics (or “alternative metrics”) are gaining attention as an important tool to track the impact of scientific works, yet there is a long way to go in raising awareness about their utility. Here, we will go over the basics of how altmetrics work, and how you can better harness this growing tool.
Altmetrics: revealing the power of social media.
Unlike traditional scholarly metrics that track citation rates, altmetrics track the spread of science through social media. This information complements traditional metrics, and provides a way to measure overall interest in a paper and public engagement online.
The biggest altmetric aggregator is Altmetric.com. To compile an altmetric score, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news articles, and Mendeley are scanned for mentions of academic papers. Many journals now automatically display the altmetrics breakdown with your paper (example). To be counted towards the altmetric score, a post or tweet needs to include the DOI link of the paper. More tweets and posts add up to a higher altmetric score for that paper. In this way, an altmetric score gives you a measure of how actively people are sharing your paper online compared to other articles.
Altmetric scores go hand-in-hand with citations
On their own, altmetrics produce an easy way to track interest around a paper, but they also serve as a predictor of future citation rates. For instance, a 2016 study found a strong positive relationship between Twitter activity and citation rates of ecological papers. In fact, twitter activity was a more important predictor than the journal impact factor. This may reflect the findings of some research that social media tends to foster informal discussions among researchers within disciplines.
Altmetrics can also be used to track public engagement by tracking media exposure. However, if reaching a public audience is your goal, it is important to check that your work is being retweeted and reposted outside of your immediate academic community. Using altmetrics, you can pull up the actual tweets and posts themselves, to find out who is sharing your work and what they are saying about it. This can help you find out whether your work is reaching its intended audience, and whether they are interpreting the results correctly. Fostering relationships with community organizations online may help your content reach a wider audience beyond your academic circle.
Making Altmetrics work for you
So you’re excited about these new tools and keen to boost interest in your work, but not sure how to improve your altmetric score? Here are some tips for increasing your online following and making your research more likely to be shared:
Building and maintaining a twitter account is a great way to network with other academics in your field. Tweeting during conferences is an effective way to build your online network.
When you tweet about your research, don’t forget to include the DOI link, or else it won’t be tracked by altmetric aggregators. Meta-analyses, reviews, clinical trials, and overall shorter articles tend to receive more tweets, so pay special attention to these.
One of the best ways to promote interest in your work is to include an infographic or visual abstract. A recent experiment found that including a visual abstract or infographic in a tweet resulted in an 8.4- fold increase in retweets and a 2.7- fold increase in article visits. Infographics may also help your intended lay audience digest your key findings. For example, check out our infographics on invasive Prussian carp and neonicotinoid effects on bees. There are some great guides online to help you get started.
Altmetrics: an exciting opportunity
Altmetrics are a rapidly evolving tool, and research into their use and impact is ongoing. By taking an interest in in how your work is shared online, you can more rapidly track the impact of your work and take initiative to improve engagement with your research. Try some of these tips when you publish your next paper, then watch your article gain new life on social media while waiting for the citations to roll in.
Written by Kate Broadley, an Ecologist and Science Communicator with Fuse Consulting Ltd. @FuseKnowledge in Edmonton. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @kate_sciart, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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