The Importance of Altmetrics: A Primer

June 1, 2016 Roger Watson

smartphone.pngEver wondered about the 'AM Score' symbol with a number next to it that increasingly appears on the landing page for online articles these days? Ever hovered over it or clicked on it? You should.

The "AM Score" symbol is the Altmetric symbol and "altmetrics" meaning alternative metrics is a recent addition to the range of ways we can measure the influence of published work. As opposed to measuring the influence of published work using citations in other published work, Altmetrics is a measure of the influence of published work online and via social media platforms. It is hard to pinpoint the origins of altmetrics, but they have probably been around since the inception of blogs, microblogs, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (a list that has seen sites appear and disappear and which is continually being added to by, for example, and ResearchGate). Altmetric the service, as evidenced by the "AM score," is a systematic way of gathering altmetrics and making them available to publishers and, thereby, to the academic community.

Altmetrics, therefore, are relatively new but the importance of social media in spreading the influence of your work is well-recognized by many academics and is being deliberately exploited by publishers and editors to increase the influence of their publications. Witness the number of leading journals that have blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages. In addition, many use podcasts and YouTube and ensure that they are visible on sites such as LinkedIn and Wikipedia. Most publishers and journals have a social media strategy and some journals the Journal of Advanced Nursing, for example have appointed editors specifically to deal with their social media strategy and outputs.

With publishers and editors taking such an interest in social media, should you? I have hinted above that you should inspect the "AM score" symbol on article landing pages, and I urge you to take an interest in using social media to promote your work. I cannot say, for sure, that Altmetrics will replace or even equal traditional publication metrics, but they are already being used to augment them and I predict that before too long, promotion committees and appointments committees in universities will begin to pay attention to people who in addition to building favorable traditional citation metrics are able to promote their work (and thereby their employment) using social media. Witness again the rise in university Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and YouTube sites to reach out to potential students and impress potential research funders. In the UK 2014 Research Excellence Framework, where research impact was formally assessed for the first time, the use of social media by universities was copiously evident in the institutional statements and case studies submitted for assessment.

So, you should pay attention to Altmetrics and you should learn how to make the best use of social media. Develop a strategy to promote your work and influence your own Altmetrics. If you don't "get" social media, don't worry: It's not as hard as it seems and there is plenty of advice available. People who use social media are often enthusiasts and are only too happy to help you. Currently, the minimum requirement is to have a Twitter account and to learn how best to use it. Some benefits of Twitter are that you can easily tweet links to your own publications and also draw attention to your work in particular forums using the hashtag (#) facility. Beyond that, you can use it to tweet other links to your work, such as blog posts. Consequently, your reaction should be "yes!" to any invitations to provide a blog entry, a podcast or a YouTube presentation in relation to your work published in a journal. You can then tweet out the link to the blog.

Finally, a note about the Altmetric value of different social media sites, all of which are not equal. Blog mentions score the highest at six Altmetric points, with Twitter mentions scoring one point and LinkedIn scoring 0.5. It is clear, therefore, where you should focus your efforts, but do not ignore any opportunity, by whatever means, to promote your work on any social media site; it should be a priority and your only other responsibility in this regard is to make the content legal, decent, honest, and truthful.

Image credit: D. Hammonds/Shutterstock


About the Author

Roger Watson

Editor, Nursing Open and Journal of Advanced Nursing // Roger Watson is Professor of Nursing in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of Hull, UK. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Nursing Open and the Journal of Advanced Nursing, and has a strong interest in encouraging and coaching nurses in publishing, editing and reviewing.

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