Altmetrics are a great way for authors to keep track of who is saying what about their work, but they also offer a huge number of opportunities for publishers and editors to get a better understanding of where their articles are being shared and discussed amongst broader audiences.
A big benefit of altmetrics is their immediacy; how many times have you sat in a board meeting discussing the Impact Factor of your journal, which actually reflects the activity of the previous year and outcome of decisions you made 3 years ago? Altmetrics can tell you what’s happening with your content today, and help you paint a much richer picture of the reach and influence of your journal.
With the widespread use of Altmetric badges on individual journal articles, and the recently released publicly shareable reports from the Altmetric Explorer, it’s easier than ever to gather the data you need and share it amongst your fellow Editors.
Here are just a few things you might want to consider when applying this data in practice:
Understand who your articles resonate with, and why
A common misconception with regards to altmetrics is that they only show numbers, and only show social media. This is not the case. Within Altmetric there are huge amounts of contextual attention data that can really help you identify who is engaging with your research; whether they are researchers, practitioners, the general public, advocacy groups, policy makers, or any other of the possible communities that could be defined.
A review of the numbers (either the counts of ‘mentions’ or the weighted Altmetric Attention Score) can help you see where there is a story to explore – you can use the Explorer or the individual badges to get the altmetrics for each article in an issue.
Clicking into the details page for each article or even exporting the mentions from the Explorer enables you to see who is talking about the work, on which channels, and what they are saying about it.
In the same way that you’ll be familiar with which journals or scholars in a particular field most often cite your journal, becoming more familiar with the audiences engaging with it enables you to reflect on who your content is reaching and where and why there might be interest beyond the academy.
Consider how it aligns with your strategy
You might think it’s all very well knowing this, but so what? Good question. The limitations of the Impact Factor, and the questionable practices that it has brought to some publishing programs, has long been recognised, and we must be careful not to fall into the same trap with altmetrics. The value in this data is not who has the highest score or the most shares on Twitter, but in the audiences it’s reached and their interest in it.
You might, for example, be keen to raise the profile of your journal with policy makers, or to attract new authors by demonstrating the influence that your articles achieve amongst practitioners on the front line.
Filtering the Altmetric data (and that of other titles in the same discipline) can help you see who you are most effectively reaching, and where there might be opportunities to expand on this. It might even become apparent that there is a specific group who have a previously unidentified interest in the journal, who have the potential to become both readers and advocates.
Identify influencers and key channels
Having given your strategy some thought, you can start to take action. Using altmetrics you can find the key influencers in a particular field, and also determine which channels are most effective for reaching the audiences you want to increase visibility of your content amongst.
Knowing who those influencers are (for example who has a large online following, or seems to really actively engage with a range of research of topics relevant to your journal) means that you can get familiar with the kind of thing they share, and reach out to build relationships where appropriate.
Inform content decisions
The role of expert opinion in content decisions is vital, and altmetrics, like citations, can in no way replace that. What they can do is add a new dimension to the story. Imagine you are looking to decide what special issues to publish over the next year, or want to gather a special collection of papers to tie to a conference or other milestone.
Alongside information like downloads and citations, altmetrics will enable you to easily identify which articles were more popular when originally published, and a dig into the details of those mentions can provide insights as to why. Maybe those articles are particularly accessible and therefore would be good to feature?
The immediacy of altmetrics is also very valuable here – you can see what’s trending now, not only in your journal but across your discipline in general, and combine this with the input of your board to create a special issue strategy that will really resonate with your readers.
Find potential new board members or authors
Ensuring you have the right mix of expertise on your Editorial board can be vital to ensuring the success of your journal, and sometimes it can be hard to know where to start looking for potential candidates.
Having used altmetrics to get a better understanding of who is engaging with your content and which topics are emerging in your fields, you can also use these insights to pick out researchers who might be a good addition to your group. Is there an early career researcher who seems to be great at engaging with broader audiences, or someone on the other side of the world who seems to really know their stuff?
The same approach can apply for finding potential new authors as well – which academics are sharing publications from other journals in your discipline – and have they considered publishing with you?
We hope these tips provide some useful points for getting started – don’t forget to also download our Altmetrics for Editors guide for a handy reference sheet!