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In today’s age of knowledge abundance, the scholarly community is turning its attention to the use of social media channels and other online platforms. Scholars have been increasingly integrating these tools into their everyday work, creating enormous potential to capture the digital traces of their research.
Not surprisingly, then, in recent years academics have shown a growing interest in non-traditional ways of evaluating their scholarly ‘impact’. These altmetrics, short for alternative metrics, allow researchers to gauge the impact and reach of their research in the social web beyond traditional citation counting.
While much of the conversation around altmetrics has become about alternative measures for research ‘impact’, researchers (especially those from developing countries) would do well to focus on using altmetrics to take advantage of what social media and online platforms have to offer: the opportunity to reach, analyse and engage with the social and public dimensions of scholarly work.
Here we offer practical advice on how to make the most of the opportunities provided by altmetrics. Much of this advice overlaps with other tips on how to measure your research impact — but only because, to track and connect with your audience, it must be able to find you, and you must be able to find it.
|Make your research as widely and openly accessible as possible by humans and machines.|
|Publish in open access journals||Publish your research in open access (OA) journals, thus making it immediately available to anyone with an internet connection, and removing financial barriers. For example, in Latin America as much as 25 per cent of OA journal downloads come from outside of universities.|
|Self-archive your work||
Put as many articles as possible in institutional or subject-specific repositories. This ensures that your work is openly accessible, even if a journal charges for access.
Most publishers allow self-archiving by default. Check the SHERPA/RoMEO database of journal policies if you are unsure.
|Make use of preprints||Post preprints in places such as arXiv, bioRxiv, peerJ PrePrints, Figshare, Zenodo, The Winnower or in any institutional or subject-specific repositories. This will enable you to circulate your ideas more quickly, give you more visibility, and perhaps translate into more citations.|
|Publish all your outputs||Put all your research outputs in places like Slideshare, for slides; Data Dryad, for data; GitHub, for code; The Winnower, for blogs and proposals; or multi-purpose services, such as Figshare or Zenodo, for a range of outputs.|
|Curate your metadata||Fill in as much information as possible when submitting or uploading your data, including a descriptive title, abstract, and keywords of interest to your target audience. This makes your work discoverable to machines as well as humans.|
|Identify who your work is reaching, and the places where it is being shared, discussed and cited. This gives you a clearer sense of your audience, enabling you to tell richer stories to engage them.|
|Make use of (persistent) identifiers||
All online content is assigned at least one digital identifier that allows it to be easily located. This type of metadata is especially important for tracking the performance and reach of scholarly output. Prominent examples of such digital identifiers include DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers), PubMed IDs, arXiv IDs and URLs.
Persistent identifiers such as DOIs are particularly useful for measuring online activity because they are designed to remain pointing to a research object even if it “moves” to another place on the web (say, if a journal changes publishers or switches online platform).
|Keep a record of all your outputs||Keep track of all the identifiers where your work can be found. Not everything you publish will have a persistent identifier and your work may end up in multiple locations, so tracking only permanent identifiers will miss some metrics. Keep a private record of everything (e.g. in a spreadsheet) that you can refer back to in the future.|
|Set up profiles that track your reach for you||Set up profiles to nurture your online identity and track your work. Both ImpactStory and Google Scholar are handy. Google Scholar will help you find citations to your work on the scholarly web, and ImpactStory will uncover mentions of your work on the social web.|
|Revisit your work regularly||
Use your profiles, and list of identifiers and URLs, to revisit your work periodically. Many publishers now display article-level metrics (including downloads, citations and altmetrics) on a published article’s page. If not, you can often use the Altmetric Bookmarklet to see metrics.
Regularly check comments sections for conversations about your work.
|Set up alerts to notify you of mentions||
Automate the process of checking for updates. Altmetric.com, for example, will allow you to set up alerts so you receive an email whenever articles of interest are mentioned in the places they track.
For those URLs not tracked by altmetrics providers, you can set up Google Alerts (make your name, article title and URL the search terms). Google Scholar Alerts inform you whenever your articles are cited.
|Search Twitter following publication||
Search for the URLs associated with your work on Twitter. It’s the social media platform with the most scholarly activity.
Concentrate your searches in the first few weeks after publication (at least once a week, since Twitter searches only the past few days).
|Note who mentions your work and where||This will give you a glimpse of how your work is being interpreted and used by both academics and the public.|
|Your audience will grow naturally once you begin to engage with individuals from within and beyond academia, and also within and beyond national boundaries.|
|Be active on social media||
Rather than just promoting yourself, become a member of a community with shared interests. Get familiar with its needs, lexicon and practices.
Do this by opening a Twitter account, joining Facebook groups, commenting on blogs, or contributing to a group on the social reference manager, Mendeley — wherever your audience spends most of its time online.
|Reach out to readers||Start a conversation with your readers. If those interested in your work are not active on social media, then an email conversation, a Google Hangout, or a Skype call may be an alternative. Even a brief exchange can be sufficient to trigger a meaningful conversation.|
|Engage with new audiences||Identify other academics, practitioners, citizen scientists, funders and patient groups who might be interested in your work, or who might be affected by its implications.|
|Speak at conferences and colloquia||Find new audiences by speaking publicly. Social media and online channels offer the opportunity to engage with those far away, while academic and public speaking engagements expose your work in person.|
|Make your research as widely and openly accessible as possible by humans and machines.|
|Use a consistent online identity||
Aim for consistency when registering online, posting work or engaging in conversations. It has to be obvious to an outsider that all the work belongs to the same person.
This means always using the same variant of your name, the same username/handle and similar photos.
|Set up an ORCiD||
Claim your Open Researcher and Contributor ID (better known simply as ORCiD). It is designed to combat the challenge of distinguishing between author names.
You will be assigned a permanent identifier (like a DOI for yourself) and be given control of an ORCiD profile that can serve as an online CV including all your research outputs, past and present affiliations, and education history. This can be the “glue for all your research services.”
|Set up other online profiles||
Go beyond Google Scholar and ImpactStory profiles. Academic social networking sites like Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Mendeley may be useful for connecting with other researchers.
Use your institution’s faculty page as these usually appear high on search results, and consider setting up a personal webpage too.
|Write a blog||One of the best ways to have a strong online presence and develop an audience is to write regularly. Academic blogs are a place to sound out ideas, share thoughts about your field, and promote your work. Blogging platforms like WordPress.com make it quick and easy to get up and running with a blog.|
|Set up a personal domain name||If you are setting up your personal website or blog, you may want to consider buying and registering a domain name that includes your name (e.g. yourlastname.com). Domain names can be bought for as little as US$10 a year.|
|Share your identity||Indicate where you can be found online at every reasonable opportunity. For example, be sure to include your Twitter handle in presentations, and add links to some of your profiles to your email signature and business card.|
The ability to connect with your existing, potential and desired audiences is by far the biggest opportunity that social media and online platforms offer researchers in developing countries. You can benefit from demonstrating the reach of your work, and by telling rich stories about how your work has impacted others.
However, go one step further and truly take advantage of the social and public affordances of online platforms. By engaging with audiences, you many enter into conversations that lead to the co-creation of knowledge.
This means not just a larger audience and higher metrics for the researchers themselves, but better and more relevant research for developing regions.
Juan Pablo Alperin: Assistant professor in the Publishing Program and Research Associate with the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University. @juancommander
Alessandra Bordini: Research assistant and graduate student in the Master of Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University. @agbordini