Welcome to the Altmetric Agony Aunt special! In each of these posts I’ll be tackling some of the frequently asked questions we receive from different audiences on how they can get started with altmetrics and make best use of our data. Our first installment provides some handy tips for anyone in a research communications role within an institution:
I’m a Research Communications Officer at my institution and my boss has told me that I’m in charge of finding and reporting on the altmetrics for our research – help! I’m not sure why he wants me to do this, where I could find the data I need, or what to do with it once I’ve got it. Can you offer any advice?
Hi Hannah! Thanks for getting in touch. There’s definitely loads of ways you could be making use of altmetrics, and there are some simple steps you can take to begin with to figure out which approach would work best for you and your team. I’ll try to address your questions below:
Why should I track the altmetrics for publications from my institution?
It’s really difficult to keep track of everything that’s published by your institution, and even harder to get to grips with how it’s being received. Something that wasn’t expected to generate much attention might take you by surprise, or the researcher may not have alerted you to its imminent availability.
Altmetrics can help. Using tools like the Altmetric Explorer for Institutions and Altmetric Bookmarklet can help you identify which research outputs are receiving attention online as soon as they’re published, providing you with the opportunity to:
- Track and analyse the attention: Altmetrics are tracked and recorded in real time, meaning you no longer have to wait months or weeks for feedback that might never appear. Instead, altmetrics enable you to see what people are saying about the research straight away – good, bad or otherwise!
- Promote your faculty’s work: Are you working to increase the visibility of your institution within a specific discipline or audience? Altmetrics can help you find interesting pieces of research to share, provide an indicator of which channels are likely to provide the best engagement, and finally provide a measure of the results of your efforts.
- Manage the discourse: Being able to stay ahead of the conversation means that you can ensure that your faculties work isn’t being misrepresented or misinterpreted – crucial for effectively managing the reputation of both your institution and faculty.
I track Altmetric data but how can I possibly stay on top of mentions of research from my institution?
If you thought your faculty were publishing a lot, wait until you see how many people were talking about it! Here at Altmetric we pick up an average of over 40,000 new mentions of research a day – that works out to roughly 1 every 2 seconds!
All of this amounts to a huge amount of data (just ask our developers!) but tools like the Altmetric Explorer for Institutions and free Altmetric Bookmarklet can help you explore it in a manageable way.
You can use the Bookmarklet to quickly check in on the online activity relating to individual articles; by clicking through to the associated details page you can see all of the original mentions and shares of the work. Whilst you’re there you can sign up to be alerted when new mentions of the article are made – a notification of any new activity will be delivered straight to your inbox!
If you want to look at the data for lots of articles at once then tools like the Explorer for Institutions are really helpful. You can filter by faculty member, department or subject area, and even create and save custom searches if there’s a more specific group of outputs you’d like to keep track of the attention for. Opting to receive a daily or weekly email report of the attention relating to specific outputs can often be useful too, and is a great tool to use in discussions with faculty department heads.
What have other Comms Officers actually done with this data?
Loads of things!
The University of South Australia, for example, are an excellent example of using altmetrics to uncover rising stars amongst their faculty. They were looking to find a diverse set of researchers to feature in their ‘Talking Heads’ videos, to help promote the expertise within the institution.
As part of this they used the Altmetric Explorer platform to identify the papers that had received the most online engagement and the researchers who were doing a great job of sharing their work. Doing so enabled them to showcase early-career researchers, across a variety of disciplines, who were attracting engagement from beyond the scholarly sphere.
You can find the ‘Talking Papers’ videos that were produced by the University of South Australia on their website here.
Many other institutions have taken the opportunity to use altmetrics as a way of identifying popular content to feature in newsletters, alumni reports and in their recruitment prospectuses. Take a look at how King’s College London have shared the news of their popular articles that featured in the Altmetric 2015 top 100 list.
How can altmetrics help us develop our outreach strategy?
Because tools like the Altmetric Explorer capture attention for research from any institution, not just your own, it’s possible to see how the attention research published by your faculty compares. This might involve creating a custom group to explore the coverage received by a similar department from another institution, or taking a look at which research in a particular subject area seems to be getting a lot of traction, and why.
If you don’t have Explorer access you could also use the Bookmarklet to take a look at the attention for other research in the field – taking a good look through the details page will help you to determine who the big social influencers are, and also see which news outlets or blogs might be most interested to cover future publications.
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff – where do I start?!
Don’t panic! A quick and easy first step is to install the Altmetric Bookmarklet, and use it as a way of getting familiar with some of the data available. From there you’ll be able to see how it might fit into existing reporting or activities that you’re already doing, and think of fun new ways to use it too!
If you want to know more about the Explorer for Institutions there are details available here, and you might also like to take a look at this case study, where the Duke University Comms Office discuss how they plan to use the data.
That’s it from me for now, Hannah! I hope this has been useful and that it has given you some helpful advice that you can use to stay up-to-date with the attention surrounding your institution’s research.