Researchers – it’s time to start talking about social media and altmetrics!

Do you have trouble telling your left from your right?  Queen’s University lecturer, Dr Gerry Gormley (@DrGerryG), got thousands of people talking about this topic on social media earlier this year!


Do you ever confuse right from left? Gerry Gormley, CC BY-NC-SA

When Dr Gormley published his article “Why some people have trouble telling left from right (and why it’s so important)” on the academic media website, The Conversation, he didn’t anticipate the level of interest it would attain so quickly.  With the help of social media platforms, the article attracted 1.25 million views within two days and one week later had reached 1.37 million views.

The high level of interest in the article may be due to relatable nature of the topic which engaged social media users across the globe.  Thousands of comments were posted online by people who admitted having difficulty distinguishing left from right, or who recognised the trait in someone they know.  As well as being the subject of hundreds of Tweets, the article was discussed and shared via several online news outlets including The Independent (3000 shares) and the Daily Mail (400 shares; 135 comments).  It was also picked up by the popular IFL Science website (72000 shares; 360 Tweets) and its related Facebook page, where a post linking to the article has generated over 41000 likes, 17000 comments and 28000 shares!

So, how can online engagement influence academic research?

The dissemination of research findings online allows academics to share and discuss their work with a global audience and to respond immediately to comments and questions.  Furthermore, the movement of academic discussion onto blogs and social media has created an opportunity to look at new article-level metrics and not just citations when evaluating impact and engagement.  These diverse ‘altmetrics’ (alternative metrics), such as Tweets, shares and downloads, can allow researchers to gauge quickly how their work has been received.   In addition, the response from sources outside academia can be tracked in real-time and could be seen as an indicator of interest beyond the academic community and of a work’s relevance to the public.


Image: Tumisu Pixabay  CC0 Public Domain

Dr Gormley’s piece in The Conversation is based on the findings of research conducted with his colleagues, Dr John McKinley (Department of Neurology, Royal Victoria Hospital) and Dr Martin Dempster (School of Psychology, Queen’s University), published in Medical Education.  Their report, entitled ‘Sorry, I meant the patient’s left side’: impact of distraction on left–right discrimination, has already benefited significantly from the attention initiated on social media.  Within two weeks of being published online, references to the article on Twitter and blogs have contributed to its Altmetric score of 108, the 2nd highest score for an article in Medical Education and placing it within the top 5% of articles tracked by Altmetric.  Furthermore, this attention has reflected onto an earlier article Dr Gormley and Dr Dempster co-authored (along with Rachel Best), reviving interest and generating almost 2000 downloads in March 2015 – twice as many as December 2008, when the article was first published.

Of course, it is too early to discern what long-term relationship will emerge between altmetrics and traditional metrics, or if this attention will ultimately translate into citations.  However, the potential for increased awareness of research activities and the opportunity for findings to reach new audiences certainly make social media tools worth considering as propagators of research impact.  Furthermore, the benefits for researchers in terms of networking opportunities and the enhancement of their profile by engaging in online discussions of their research are becoming increasingly evident.

So, are you ready to start talking about social media and altmetrics?

To find out how social media could help you as a researcher, check out our slides

You can find more information about altmetrics in the Measuring Research Impact section of the Library’s Libguides pages or, for examples of how researchers are using altmetrics, check out the Altmetric blog.  In addition to Altmetric, other organisations that are currently collecting altmetrics and are worth exploring include Impactstory and PLOS.

This video clip will give you an idea of how contributing to sites like The Conversation can help your academic career.

The Conversation – Queen’s University, Belfast. from Video Services at Queen’s on Vimeo.

Are you using altmetrics to gauge the impact of your research?  Please share your experiences or suggestions in the comments!

Further reading

Galligan, F and Dyas-Correia, S (2013) Altmetrics: Rethinking the Way We Measure, Serials Review, 39:1, 56-61

Thelwall M, Haustein S, Larivière V and Sugimoto CR (2013) Do Altmetrics Work? Twitter and Ten Other Social Web Services. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064841


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