Social media = academic impact

I’m deviating from the DH23 Thing 3 task this week as bibliometrics is not really relevant to me as a communications person not researcher. I was though interested in the Guardian Higher Education chat on altmetrics so have chosen this as the starting point for my blog this week.

I take the probably unremarkable stance that you can use social media and blogging to increase the reach of academic impact but not yet as a measurable indicator of impact. For a start social media metrics are often poorly calculated and even more poorly understood. Moreover, in academia, quantity is rarely a marker of quality – so many retweets and web hits is not usually the goal. A humanities researcher would usually far rather have a few engaged readers than many who don’t give their work attention. And attention span is one of the trials of social media like Twitter. Like most, I retweet things that look interesting even if I haven’t always had time to read the full piece myself, in the hope that one of my followers will have the luxury of a coffee break (it’s almost term time in Cambridge so things are rather frenetic).

Another question that came through in the Guardian discussion and article on altmetrics was whether having a blog or using social media relates to societal impact (think, if you’re not already, REF). Surely it might indicate someone’s influence but you can’t judge the impact without having much more than statistics? You’d want to know who was reading and engaging with content, to know whether it was just the scholars’ family or independent researchers etc. There is a less assured link between research quality and blogs or social media activity which may change as moves continue to open access.

Not entirely unrelated: I often tweet from CRASSH events – as a means of note-taking, passing on nuggets of information to followers who aren’t at the lecture, creating an archive for future reference – and this week at Ludmilla Jordanova’s lecture on Talking about Things I joined Katy Barrett tweeting. If you look at the storify of the event you can see a marked different in our styles of tweeting. From @CRASSHpublicity you get tweets that report on the event whereas from @SpoonsonTrays you get that but also additional commentary and links to other areas of debate and other contexts. I think this difference in content is illuminating in highlighting the problems of using social media to judge impact. Altmetrics needs to move yet further away from measuring numbers of interaction to the content and agents of that interaction.

And to wrap up the reflective framework this week. I just tweeted about this post using #almetrics my tweet now shows up in a feed on the altmetrics manifesto website which makes me wish that this was a better informed and researched piece than it is! Of course the DH23Things programme is meant to move us out of our comfort zone of expertise. But one of the disadvantages of writing this post as a blog rather than say as a comment as part of the Guardian Higher Education chat is that it too comes to seem more of manifesto than it was meant to be. Blogging is a rather risky way to try out new ideas if it isn’t interrogated by comments and conversations with other bloggers. I hope some comments to this piece will be forthcoming.

5 thoughts on “Social media = academic impact

  1. Hi,
    First, I think it’s a perfectly well-informed piece; I think you raise some valid points. If I might summarize these, I hear you saying that quantity of conversation isn’t a great measure of research quality, for two reasons:
    1. You don’t know what kind of things are being said, and
    2. You don’t know who said ’em.

    I think in the examples you use, which are focused on Twitter, both these concerns are well-founded. I’m bullish about the potential of Twitter as a window into early scholarly and public impact, precisely because the author is right there on the tweet, and the content is structured enough to support useful text mining. The context clues we need are there.

    But we’re certainly not using them in altmetrics now, since we’re (1) we’re only just gaining the ability to merely count these things, and (2) the volume of tweets is small enough that it’s hard to make generalizations. There’s evidence both these things will change in the next few years (see here and here, for example), but we’re not there yet.

    However, there are places where we can already find enough context and volume to learn interesting things. Place like Mendeley, with a database of scholarly readership information on over 60 million articles, or Wikipedia, which lets us view a compelling public analogue to scholarly citation.

    Our goal at ImpactStory is to build an open-source tool that builds on these currently-useful altmetrics to help push the field and schlarship toward a place where we can realize their true potential: a chance to automatically mine and understand the conversations that scholars have in real time.

    Researchers are out there doing awesome work that goes beyond the Impact Factor and beyond the article: sharing datasets and software, blogging, tweeting, engaging with the public and one another. At the same time, funders are increasingly interested in rewarding this kind of scholarship. By bringing these two just a bit closer together, we think altmetrics–used cautiously and appropriately, as a way to surface compelling stories–can help move us toward a better kind of scholarship

    • Thanks Jason! Very helpful and useful links. I wonder how long it will be until we’re able to use altmetrics in a really meaningful way. Good that companies are working on open sources tools in this area.

  2. Is there a less risky platform to develop half-formed ideas on? I’m not sure – academic publishing certainly isn’t one! I think you do clearly position your blog as a learning space, in which your ideas are in the process of being thought through, rather than as the grandstand from which to sound off in an authoritative manner (I guess a lot of us imagined our blogs as this…). For me, it’s important to keep blogs as a space in which my ideas are in development, but where I can share them and get the feedback I need for them to be pushed further – I don’t have that luxury elsewhere! Seminars are supposed to be this, but often aren’t. I guess the difficulty is that the whole blog can be contextualised as a learning space, but if someone comes across an isolated post, they may not realise this.

    anyway – rather off the topic of your very interesting post on altmetrics! Your comparison of different tweeting styes was also really interesting, as the nature of the data we gather from social media will depend on what the original poster intended their social media presence to be about, and this is the great thing about web 2.0 -it’s open to users to adapt it to their needs. Hard to measure though…

  3. Pingback: Now it’s personal « another rambler

  4. Pingback: Communicating your research online? ImpactStory tells you how well you’re doing. | Connected Researchers

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