Altmetric Blog

19 time-saving tools for successful online engagement

Stacy Konkiel, 19th July 2016

In my last post, I shared some of the basics for becoming a science outreach superhero: identifying goals and devising an outreach strategy, creating good headshots and bios to introduce you to others, and a handful of approaches to writing for the web that can establish you as an expert in your field and help you find and build community.

But if not executed intelligently, the above outreach tactics can become a huge time sink. A supposedly “quick and dirty” approach to outreach can, without the proper tools and hacks, mean more work in the long run.

In today’s post, I’m going to share some time saving tools and strategies that can make your efforts a success with minimum effort. I’ll also share some must-know tools for measuring the efficacy of your strategies, so you can be sure to put your energies towards only the tasks that make a difference.

We’ll cover:

  • The components of a useful “open research” plan
  • Analytics tools to measure the reach of both you and your research
  • A class of tools that allow you to schedule and automate your posting across social media

I’ll also share some final strategies that will make the most of your time: batching and repurposing.

Openness == maximum reach for your research

Open access can have a sizeable, positive effect upon your online reputation. You should aim to flip as many of your research practices towards an open default as possible.

In talking about openness, most people stop at Open Access publishing. Being an “open researcher” does mean publishing open access, of course, but also being transparent about your entire research process, prior to publication: from the point of data collection and archiving to documenting your study on an ongoing basis, in the open, to responding to open peer review of your published research in a transparent and public manner.

Share your data, presentations & code openly

Before you get to the point where you’re ready to publish, you’ve already created lots of other research products that you can potentially share openly.

Sharing one’s data, conference presentations, and software code on sites like IRs or Figshare are a great way to get your research out into the world so you can a) stake a claim in your area of study and b) let other people “stand upon your shoulders” so to speak—that is, to build upon your awesome insights and (important for some) go on to cite you!

Here are some suggestions for places to share your research:

License your work for sharing and reuse

An important aspect of sharing your work successfully is licensing your work openly. Share your software code under as permissive a software license as possible; share everything else under a CC-BY license, at the very least.

You often have the option to claim a license during the publication process (when journals send you a contract to sign; here’s how to negotiate for an open license). On platforms like IRs or Slideshare, you can set your preferred license when you upload your work. It usually only takes seconds to set your license, so do it!

Practice “radical research transparency”

Finally, I encourage you to practice “radical transparency” in your research process. Share all that you can out in the open, whether using a blog or by keeping open lab notebook like Carl Boettiger does.

Be honest and open about where you’ve failed–it can save others a lot of time and effort. In the same vein, share generously your knowledge of tools, techniques, and hacks that have made your research process a bit easier. People love that stuff!

Analytics for you and your research

There are two types of tools you should be using regularly to track your success towards meeting your outreach goals: those that track attention to your research, and those that track your overall online engagement efforts.

Let’s say we want to see if attention to our research increases when we start blogging about our research. Two tools that track attention to research online are Impactstory profiles and the Altmetric bookmarklet. Both tools are free. Paired with metrics that your publisher often provides, you’re able to measure bumps in attention that occur after you blog.


Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.57.55 AM

Screenshot via Impactstory

With Impactstory, you sign up for a profile using your ORCID identifier, which is a free, unique ID that you can claim that is associated with many of your publications, automatically. (That’s thanks to behind-the-scenes magic fueled by connections between ORCID, publishers, and CrossRef.) Impactstory will import all of the articles, books, and and other items in ORCID to your Impactstory profile.

Impactstory tracks:

  • when people are discussing research on on social media,
  • when you’ve got influential R or Python software,
  • if you’ve been cited in Wikipedia, and
  • if you’ve been bookmarked on Mendeley, among other things

All of this information gives you a different dimension to your research impact–non-traditional scholarly impact in some cases, influence upon the public in others.

Altmetric bookmarklet

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.20.02 AM

Screenshot via Altmetric

The Altmetric bookmarklet will allow you to look up similar metrics for your own research articles and books, as well as metrics for other people’s research–so you can see how you’re doing compared to your peers.

Altmetric doesn’t track specialized software metrics like Impactstory does, but we do track all types of research outputs (including software) across a slightly wider variety of platforms than Impactstory–social media, policy documents, mainstream media, and so on.

You can install the Altmetric browser bookmarklet and, any time you find a piece of research online, you can look up discussions surrounding that research with the click of a button.

Publisher metrics: downloads and views

Another important tool is the metrics that your publisher likely tracks: how often have your papers been downloaded and viewed? You can often look those up on your publisher’s website.

Social media metrics via SumAll

All of the above tools track attention to your research. Metrics for you and your online engagement efforts are a completely different thing: social media metrics.

SumAll is my favorite tool for tracking social media metrics. It doesn’t track how often your research is being discussed; it tracks how often you are being discussed:

  • your blog posts,
  • your tweets,
  • your Facebook updates,
  • and so on.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 2.07.04 PMTracking these engagement metrics over time can help you map the overall effects your outreach efforts are having: are you in general becoming better known, to a wider audience?

All of the metrics described above are complementary and should be used side by side, and in some cases alongside citation metrics, too. Both sets give a sense of whether your outreach efforts are working. If you can map them over time, like Melissa Terras (right), you get a better picture of the effects of your outreach.

Now you’ve got a sense of the types of tools you can use to track your success in doing online outreach. Let’s talk next about tools that will save you time and energy: automators.

Automator tools

There are two types of automators that can save you loads of time when building and maintaining your online reputation: linkers (which post to multiple social media accounts at once, depending upon “rules” you set) and schedulers (which allow you to make a post across several accounts, now or in the future).

Popular linkers include IFTTT and Zapier. For each, you sign up for the service, connect the accounts you want to automate, then set “if-then” rules so you can post to a single place (say, your blog) and have the linkers do the work of posting automatically to social media for you. For example, you might connect your blog’s RSS feed with IFTTT, and also connect your Twitter account. The next time you publish a blog post (“IF I post to my blog…”), IFTTT will automatically tweet your blog’s title and a link (“…THEN share the post’s title and a link on Twitter”).

The other class of automators that I recommend are schedulers. Buffer and Hootsuite are two popular, free services that offer a dashboard where you can connect many different social media accounts and then schedule posts to be published at any time in the future. For a complete guide to both types of automators, check out this Impactstory post.

Schedulers in particular are useful for the next concepts I’d like to discuss: batching and repurposing.

Putting it all together: batching and repurposing

“Batching” is a concept that can save you a lot of time throughout your work week. The concept is simple: complete a lot of similar tasks all at once, to limit distractions and increase your focus. For example, Tim Ferriss recommends batching checking and responding to emails–no more than twice a day, at set times.

Applied to managing your online presence, you can batch your social media and writing time–reducing it to just one hour or so, once per week. Here’s a suggested schedule:

  • Check blogs and Twitter for interesting content to share – 15 minutes
  • Comment thoughtfully on others’ blog posts, respond to some relevant Twitter discussions – 15 minutes
  • Upload new articles, conference slides, datasets to Figshare,, etc – 10 minutes (optional)
  • Write a short blog post describing anything you’ve uploaded or something interesting you’ve read about (a new journal article, someone else’s blog post, a piece of news relevant to your field, etc) – 15 – 30 minutes
  • Schedule blog and social media posts to go live later in the week, using automators – 5 minutes
  • Check social media metrics and altmetrics for stuff shared in the previous week – 5 minutes

Batching may require around an hour per week at first, but you can easily get that down to thirty to forty minutes with some practice. So: on Sunday evening, grab a big glass of red wine, curl up with your computer, and start batching!

Another concept that will save you both time and energy in managing your online presence is that of “repurposing”.


Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.27.08 AM

Adapted from / Hyperbole and a Half

For example, presenting a poster at a conference is also an opportunity to:

  • Livetweet interesting conference sessions,
  • Share your conference poster on Figshare,
  • Write a blog post explaining your poster, and
  • Tweeting about that blog post

You could also write a guest blog on your conference experience overall, or comment upon others’ blogs with your experience.

Beyond recapping conferences, there’s a concept of “evergreen content” in the marketing world that you should borrow from: use analytics to determine which are your most popular blog posts, tweets, and so on, and don’t be afraid to repost or repurpose them into a new package (creating a blog post from a popular Twitter thread or blog comment, tweeting the same blog post out repeatedly over time so new people can see it, etc).

tl;dr: Six simple steps to successful online engagement

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post and the last, so let’s recap what we’ve learned.

1. Have a strategy

Don’t just promote yourself online because “you’re supposed to”. Decide what specific goals you want to achieve (eg “I want to be invited to speak at a national conference by this time next year”) and then choose tactics for achieving those goals. Test those tactics as you go along, too, to confirm that they’re moving the needle for you.

2. Always add value

Any time you add your voice to a discussion happening online, make sure you’re adding value and not just speaking up because you want to be heard. Be sure to remain civil and courteous, too.

3. Batch

Put aside a set amount of time each week to handle online engagement tasks. By handling them all at once, you save time and minimize opportunities for distraction.

4. Automate

A number of tools can help you post to multiple sites at once and schedule posts for the future (useful when batching).

5. Track

You don’t want to waste your time on outreach strategies that aren’t helping you achieve your goals, so be sure to track metrics for both engagement with your research (via Altmetric and Impactstory) and your social media presence (via SumAll).

6. Repurpose

There’s no need to constantly reinvent the wheel. If you’ve noticed that you’ve garnered a lot of engagement or attention for something you’ve shared on one channel (eg on your blog or in a conference presentation), repurpose that content across other channels (eg archiving conference slides on Slideshare and also blogging about those slides), so it can make the maximum impact.


What I’ve shared in this post and my last post are the essentials. If you want to dig deeper and “level up” in your engagement activities, I recommend the following resources:

I encourage you to go out and get started today. Set your strategy and get to work work work work work!

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