Altmetric Blog

Using Altmetric for reporting and strategizing for journal publishers

Guest Author, 17th May 2018

The following guest blog post was written by Elizabeth Brophy, Journals Publishing Manager at John Wiley & Sons:

Questions are what drive academic publishing. As a journal publisher, I am driven by the questions of the authors and editors I work with, and, in the ever-evolving publishing landscape, questions surrounding the presence, use, and impact of research articles online are becoming more prominent.

These are the questions Altmetric can help us answer; many publishers, as well as libraries and institutions, now use Altmetric to track research outputs online, and whilst the way Altmetric presents its data has changed over the past few years, the basic uses for this data have not. The data Altmetric provides pose a range of questions, but when it comes to journal publishing, and the questions of editors and authors, these can be essentially be condensed down to three main areas:

  1. How am I doing?
  2. How are they doing?
  3. What should I be doing?

The answers to these questions can be complicated, and the three are intertwined, but these are the basics questions that drive my use of Altmetric data for reporting and strategizing.


1. Informing, or How am I doing?

The key question that publishers are asked, in relation to any aspect of a journal or article, is how is it doing? How many citations, downloads, mentions is it receiving? Typically, this is framed in terms of providing measurable statistics that can be understood and shared with colleagues, departments, and funding bodies.

And this is where Altmetric comes in, by providing basic information about how an article is performing in the online world; in both an immediate and long-term context.

For an immediate context, there are the constantly updating scores on the article pages as an easy way for authors to track their online attention. For editors and publishers, there are the regular alerts, designed to flag when an article is experiencing a lot of attention, and allowing publishers, editors, and authors to react to what is being said about an article; whether that is positive, or negative.

In providing more long-term context, the team I work with used to put together reports for editors, providing a list of the top five mentioned articles (based on the Altmetric score) and using the breakdown of their mentions to explain the attention the articles received, and how the tracking system works. This gave an idea of which articles were attracting attention, and where the attention came from, in terms of both type of mention and geographical location.

Reporting has been made much easier now the new reporting tool exists as partof the Altmetric system; we create monthly reports for journal editors so they can keep track of article performance, and incorporate this into online promotion. For many, it adds another dimension to understanding how their social media promotion fits into the wider picture. The new visualisations also make it much easier to show the way attention is gathered, and to pull out patterns in mentions.

Most importantly, this allows publishers to easily produce more in-depth reports exploring the data over a period of time, and then contextualise these developments, such as increases in readership, especially for older articles.


2. Comparing, or How are they doing?

The next question after ‘How am I doing?’ is invariably ‘How is everyone else doing?’; important not just for vanity, but for the all-important context.

Altmetric doesn’t have a clear ranking system like the Impact Factor, but we can use the data it collects to create an idea of how a group of journals are performing, and situate one within that. The issue here is that even with the new Altmetric reporting systems, it can be tricky to really separate out and provide comparisons between journals. At Wiley, a macro was created to process the data from the downloadable Altmetric spreadsheets so this could be shown quickly and clearly; two versions were created, one with twitter and one without, to remind everyone that twitter is not the only form of online attention, and to show how interaction changes across different media.

We took this a step further; we wanted to be able to situate our articles and journals amongst their peers and within their subjects. So we created what we called ‘extended data sets’ (and if you like large, unwieldy, intimidating excel spreadsheets, then this is the thing for you!) Basically, we created fixed subject parameters (based on the ISI categories and any journal that included the subject keyword) and used these to pull all the data relating to those from Altmetric.

This gave us a breakdown of all articles, all journals, their Altmetric scores at the time the data was pulled, and where they were mentioned. It allowed us to filter the information in a much more easily digestible manner (breaking it down by type of mention, where/who that mention was coming from, what was being mentioned), and allowed us to clearly see how specific journals and articles were performing, in relation to their peers and across the subject; who and what was being tweeted, blogged, posted and reported on from the subject in question.

This data was never perfect – it was large, out of date immediately, had self-determined parameters, and produced errors. But it helped us to get an idea of what is happening on a larger scale, to contextualise our journals and their articles within a bigger picture of the online world.


3. Strategizing, or What should I be doing?

Using Altmetric for reporting is easy; it has developed the tools to support this, and the information is easily presentable requiring only context. But data for data’s sake is pointless – it needs to be driven towards providing not only information, but answers and ideas.

And this is where using this data for strategy comes in. There are some obvious ways we can use this information for thinking strategically about journal or article promotion; around observing what content gains attention, how, and from whom; having measurable figures and examples rather than anecdotal evidence, or the so-called (and admittedly much smaller) social media bubble, is vital to creating a workable strategy. As a publisher, the key question when thinking about strategy, goes beyond the core concept of ‘what should I be doing?’ to ‘what do you want to achieve?’; and we have been able to use Altmetric data to think strategically about what our journals want to achieve, what they can achieve, and what they should do in response to this.

For the majority, what they want to achieve is a high number of mentions online, preferably leading to increases in readership, a way to promote their research, and to be able to show a certain amount of impact. This data provides ways we can do that; firstly, by existing, and providing guidelines to ensure authors research is being picked up. Then, we can identify what types of research attract attention, and see how this is messaged; a short tweet with relevant hashtags and an eye-grabbing image can be the difference between gaining attention or not. We can identify which blogs might be open to an author’s post on their research, and can identify the individuals or groups that are interacting with content via social media, the blogs that are linking to articles and promoting research, and the policy documents that research is mentioned in. These are practical features of promoting research, and a journal, via the online world that can be implemented straight away.

Thinking of the data in this way, has also allowed us to incorporate insights into our own social media strategy; obviously via tracking articles, but also by better understanding our social media communities. This is again relevant in relation to understanding influencers, patterns in attention, identifying legitimate and interesting sites.

One of the key areas of strategy Altmetric data is supporting, from an author, editor, and publisher point of view, is in helping to create a sustainable digital presence. Social media and online accounts are difficult to maintain, and the measures are not static. With more emphasis being placed on researchers having an online output for their research (especially via blogs), using this data, analysing and reanalysing it, helps us to develop strategies that journals and researchers can use to create a sustainable digital presence.

Despite all this discussion around online presence, it is downloads and citations that remain two of the most important measures for research output. But with research beginning to demonstrate a link between the social media sphere and these metrics, it’s becoming increasingly important to consider the relationship between these three elements, as well as focusing on each individually. Of course, Altmetric is only one tool, we place it within our other range of data analysis, but it helps us to build a picture of multidimensional usage which answers, and leads to more, questions.

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