The Altmetric Score: How to Effectively Track Media Attention to Your Research

Co-authored by Indrani Das

The field of research has made considerable headway in the past few years, with many stories of science generating buzz globally. The increasing public attention to the latest scientific developments has a lot to do with the media attention given to them. For instance, when the world first glimpsed the silhouette of the black hole M87, more than 1,000,000,000 people had been estimated to see the picture, as reported by data records from Caltech.

Most members of academia are now well aware about the importance of dissemination of their research through mainstream media. In fact, funding agencies and universities are now asking researchers for evidence of their research impact in the real world. But, traditional ways of measuring attention to research (such as the H-index and number of citations) can gauge attention received from the science community only.

So, what is the best way to measure media attention to research? How can we gather and then analyze these data?

These gaps can be filled by using “Altmetrics” (short for alternative metrics), which provide quantitative as well as qualitative data on how often journal articles and other scholarly outputs like datasets are discussed globally. In this article, we talk about the various uses of Altmetrics and its relevance.

What Are Altmetric Scores?

Altmetric scores are measures used to gauge online consumption and perception of research papers within the non-scientific community. With these sourced data, public reactions can be efficiently captured and analyzed by experts within a short period.

Tools that analyze Altmetrics use the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) of the research paper to monitor and aggregate its coverage across the Internet. These metrics consider citations of the research across media, like science news sites (such as Phys.org), daily news portals (such as New York Post, The Guardian), social media (such as Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook), digital magazines (such as The Asian Scientist and Quanta Magazine), and policy documents. They work much faster than traditional metrics do, which is beneficial across disciplines in which regular citations often get delayed, such as the humanities.

How You Can Keep Track of Altmetrics

There are various products available to make altmetric analysis easier, called “Altmetrics aggregation services.” These include Altmetric.com, Our Research (formerly Impact Story), and Plum Analytics, each service using different methods to analyze media coverage (mainly depending on the quality or “domain authority” and quantity or “web traffic” of the audience).

For example, Altmetric.com pulls data from Twitter and publicly available pages on Facebook and YouTube (ACS Reactions), traditional media outlets covering both mainstream and specific content in various languages, blogs by organizations and individual researchers, and online reference managers like Mendeley and CiteULike.

Impact Story normalizes data by publication year and uses percentiles for interpretation. For example, it might indicate that a research paper has been read by more users on the online reference manager Mendeley than 97% of papers indexed by Impact Story that year.

Plum Analytics, best known as PlumX, mines data sources such as articles, datasets, figures, patents, and clinical trials from relevant media portals. It then analyzes them and visually represents data outputs and their interpretations. For instance, for a particular article, it captures the number of downloads, page views, mentions in news portals, social media, and citations.

These aggregator services normalize the data for use by individuals, institutions, and publishers, allowing researchers to understand where they stand.

Who Can Benefit from Altmetrics

Public relations and research communication managers at research institutes can use Altmetrics to monitor the societal impact of their organization’s research outputs. William Nixon, Assistant Director of Academic Engagement and Digital Library at the University of Glasgow, in his presentation, Altmetrics in practice: How are institutional repositories using altmetrics today?, described how he uses aggregated Altmetric data, download statistics and data about funders to empower his academic colleagues.

Research administrators and departmental heads involved in research strategies can assess research performance and analyze research excellence metrics (which depend on societal and environmental impact). Evidently, there have been a few instances where the Altmetrics data has provided accountability for public investment in research, functioning as a “reputational yardstick” to achieve an efficient allocation of resources. For example, Prof Terrie Edith Moffitt, a renowned clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, used Altmetrics to learn that her work had been referenced in policy documents published by two major organizations. She not only avoided the tedious task of manually chasing these data but could also expand her network by reaching out to audiences through various channels.

Young researchers can use Altmetrics to provide qualitative support for their work by discovering and tracking engagement received by their publications on social media. Dr Penny van Bergen, an education scholar at Macquarie University, built her own audience for her research work by interacting with the public through her social media profiles on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and The Conversation to promote her research.

Librarians now consider Altmetrics to be part of the research life cycle, to showcase the societal impact of research, such as for use in research assessment systems by funding councils or grant programs. Kristi Holmes of Washington University has helped many of her peers to understand the full impact of the research papers by helping them evaluate the collaboration, dissemination patterns, grants, research trends, and new techniques.

Universities can use Altmetrics to increase author reputation. For example, Tokyo University of Science (TUS) in Japan, a leading private research university, not only conducts cutting-edge research but also effectively communicates its achievements to the science community as well as the lay public. For this, the university uses various platforms, such as news portals, social media, and other science marketing channels on the self-publishing platform Medium. Faculty members at TUS, such as Prof Sachihiro Matsunaga, Prof Hiroshi Takemura, and Prof Akiyoshi Saitoh, have steadily built a niche readership over the past year (identified using Altmetrics tools) and have even been contacted by various journalists to talk about their research. Another good example is Dongguk University, Korea, which publicizes its research achievements through regular updates on their social networking pages. Its social media pages have developed considerable readership over time, especially including science enthusiasts. These steps have led to the university seeing a steady rise in its research impact, including views, downloads, and media mentions, as shown by Altmetrics tools.

Conclusion

While researchers globally have taken to disseminating their research in attractive formats—news stories, documentaries, video summaries, and infographics—research promotion does not end here. Tracking media attention through Altmetrics data and analyzing them can play an important role in not only understanding research impact but also developing strategies for effective communication.

Get in touch with experts at request@impact.science for more tips on research communication and global media distribution!

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