altmetrics: using social media to measure research impact


It is becoming increasingly important for academic researchers to demonstrate the impact of their research in order to secure funding and positions.

The humanities have been wary of traditional methods of measuring research impact such as the Journal Impact Factor and the H-index, (which measures the impact of an author’s citations).  These methods are better suited to disciplines in science and health than those in the humanities. They are ineffective when it comes to non-traditional scholarly output, such as exhibitions or creative works.   Moreover, many of the journals in which humanities authors publish are not indexed by those databases which are used for metric analysis, such as Scopus or Web of Science.

Humanities researchers are starting to turn to alternative methods of measuring the impact of their research by tracking their ‘digital footprint’ on online social media.

‘Altmetrics’ is the term  given to this alternative form of measuring impact.  It looks at such things as: how many people visit a researcher’s blog, download their slideshow presentations, or talk about their research on social media platforms.

Jennifer Howard has written a great overview of the issues involved in altmetrics in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Rise of ‘Altmetrics’ Revives Questions About How to Measure Impact of Research).  She points out that skeptics see it is as a slippery concept where online reach and ‘real impact’ in the real world are very different things.  Others are concerned that these measures can be easily manipulated, as well as co-opted and misused by assessors.

Despite the concerns, almetrics is a growing area and people are doing a lot of experimenting with it.  Publishers are working with services that collect data from social media sites and reference managers to pull the information together.  The different sources are weighted differently, and combined to create an altmetric score.

Pioneers and leaders in the field include Almetrics, Plum Analytics, ImpactStory and

Altmetrics is an interesting and important area of growth for humanities research, and definitely one to keep an eye on.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the thoughts! I recently started a job as the Info Lit. librarian at a small theological college and have found writing reports for the academics here, often does not provide them with a lot of information. I am definitely going to check out the tools you mention above and see what I can use them for.

    1. Hi Laurah, thanks so much for your comments – I’d love to hear about how you get on. I’m interested to find out how many of the researchers at my institution use social media to disseminate their research.

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