Amplify! Why should you share links to your published work online, and how can you encourage others to do it?

According to Dr Melissa Terras from the University College London
Centre for Digital Humanities, “If you tell people about your research,
they look at it. Your research will get looked at more than papers which
are not promoted via social media” (2012).
Terras observed that there had been an almost immediate “huge leap of
interest” on her research papers of after she mentioned and linked to
them on social media:

“before I blogged and tweeted them, had one to two
downloads, even if they had been in the repository for months (or years,
in some cases). Upon blogging and tweeting, within 24 hours, there were
on average seventy downloads of my papers.”
Nevertheless, as most experienced social media users will know, simply sharing a link is not enough.

Make It Frictionless

Apart from questions of discipline, theme, methodology, format, type
of journal, etc., there are other factors that need to be taken into
account if successful sharing is the objective. Successful sharing is,
indeed, frictionless sharing: the idea is that as authors and publishers we can make things easier for our readers to share.

Frictionless sharing in academic publishing can be achieved though various techniques:

  • Ask your publisher and institutional repository to include a
    customised social media share widget, so readers can share your paper
    with a single click (customised share widgets will produce not only your
    paper’s URL, but an identifying title and other relevant metadata).
  • Write about your new publications on your blog(s) and share them on
    social networks. Add a social media share widget to your own blog; as
    above, make sure you customise the text so your readers do not have to
    add extra information and can simply share the complete information with
    a single click. For personal blogs, services like Shareaholic are easy to install and customise.
  • As implied above, especially on Twitter, do not merely share a link
    to your article, add a text that explains what it is about, and add any
    general metadata with a hashtag (#) so it appears on different streams
    around the same subject. If your paper’s title is very long, share a
    shorter version. Do not hashtag every keyword, one or two are good
  • What works on print does not necessarily work well online. When
    tweeting about research, including interesting quotes from the paper you
    are linking to, or creating new ‘headlines’ for them can provide good
    results, particularly for articles with complex, long titles. Some advice from journalists can come handy.
  • Trying to reduce the friction between your papers and your readers’
    social networks is a recognition that it is not your readers’s job to
    share your work, and that therefore you are happy to take a bit of time to make it easier for them to do so.
  • Observing common sense and without incurring in spam-like behaviour,
    do let your colleagues and networks know of your published research
    (share them the link!).  On Twitter, always observe their best practices.
  • If you are attending or presenting in an academic conference that
    has a hashtag, use the Twitter backchannel to link to your related
    published research.
  • It helps to “dig out” your previous research and share again time
    after it was first published and shared on social networks. This gives
    research a new lease of online attention life. Not everybody is online
    at the same time. You’ll be surprised at how far and wide your research
    can go.
Increasingly, for better or worse, online platforms are also turning
authors into the publishers of their own work. Academia in general has
not traditionally been terribly concerned with enabling widening
participation and increasing access to published research. In academia,
most of the times a captive, specialised audience is taken for granted,
and once a paper has been published or deposited it is left to its own
devices as it were, without anything being made to amplify its

Moreover, as social media platforms become densely populated and the
attention economy gets more more competitive and sophisticated, it is no
longer enough to share a link: an adequate framework for online social
engagement needs to be developed. Some might dislike it, but academic
research does not exist outside the context of the attention economy,
and like other sectors a ‘poverty of attention’ is leading Higher
Education institutions to rethink how they promote what they do in the
most efficient manner.

This means that academic authors are not only embracing the
responsibilities of publishers, but those of journalists and PR
agencies, with which academic publishing shares a place in the digital
mediasphere. In fact, this can be easier than it sounds, but it requires
a will to engage in different scholarly communications paradigms which
are specific to the digital age.

Open Up and Make Links

When it comes to sharing a link to your published research, “the real
issue is how [to] make content that’s compelling to a reader that
doesn’t feel like an ad,” as Paul Rossi
pointed out recently in the context of journalism. This can cause
cognitive dissonance in those authors who fiercely resist the danger of
dumbing research down to ensure wider readerships. A message to take
home is that helping your paper get more online attention does not
require academic authors to sacrifice scientific rigour and intellectual
depth. What it does require is the will to harness technologies and
strategies that might be new or even scary at first.

Sharing links to your published research online is an important
aspect of open scholarship. In a keynote lecture for the Association of
Learning Technologies [slides here],
Dr Terry Anderson  suggested a list of the strategies that open
scholars engage in. According to Anderson, open scholars do not only
“create” (conduct research, write it up, publish it) but also, amongst

  • self-archive
  • filter and share with others
  • publish in open access journals
  • comment openly on the works of others
  • build networks.
Furthermore, in The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice (2011), Dr Martin Weller from The Open University recommends open scholars to adopt the following characteristics (among others):

  • Have a distributed online identity – using a variety of services an
    identity is distributed depending on the means by which the individual
    is encountered.
  • Have a central place for their identity – although their identity is
    distributed, there is usually one central hub, such as a blog, wiki or
    aggregation service page.
  • Have cultivated an online network of peers – the open scholar
    usually engages in social networks through a preferred service (e.g.
    Twitter, Facebook) and regularly contributes to that network.
  • Engage with open publishing – when formal publications are produced
    open scholars will seek an open publishing route for their
  • Create a range of informal output – as well as producing traditional
    outputs, the open scholar produces and explores different forms of
    output such as video, podcast, slidecast and so on.
  • Automatically create and share outputs – the default position of an
    open scholar is to share outputs, be they presentations, ideas,
    suggestions or publications, using whatever route is appropriate.
Indeed, the first step to increase the chances of getting your
research mentioned online is by being a participant in online networks;
the second one is to ensure that research is actually accessible. (Do
not assume that those interested in your research will always have
institutional access; most journalists today look first
at social media sites to find sources and stories). Each network or
platform will have different rules of engagement, and it is possible
these rules change over time as well. Experience, trial and error,
learning from others, observing and following suit remain key elements
for achieving an effective online presence.

The last 20 years
of published research on open access publishing have shown that papers
on open access journals have a higher citation impact (as reported by
Hajjem, Harnad and Gingras, 2005,
often as high as 172%), and audiences might be more willing to openly
share research which is openly available. Since most scientific research
is still published in subscription-only journals, self-archiving, when
legally possible, offers an excellent alternative and an academic author
should not be shy about promoting any work openly available on
repositories or other sites.

Whereas “publish or perish” used to be the dominant dictum of
academic or scientific research, “promote what you publish or perish” is
becoming the norm. General practices of open scholarship might help
ensuring papers do not remain forever dormant, unread and uncited, not
shared by anyone on the online social networks that increasingly define
much of contemporary social interaction. Under the current technical
frameworks, authorial awareness that only research that has a stable
identifier such as a Digital Object Identifier or other stable reference such as an arXiv or PubMED ID will be basic to ensuring that any attention paid to your work online gets tracked and potentially measured.

Share Alike

Perhaps the most important strategy is to remember that nothing will
come of nothing (or of very little). As Dr Martin Weller points out,

“You are only likely to get a response from your network
if you have in turn been open. […] Reciprocity is essential in
maintaining an effective network of peers. Using blogs and Twitter as
examples, the relationship between a blogger and a reader is maintained
if the blogger provides interesting and regular updates. This notion of
reciprocal, but not identical, activity can be used for more subtle
interactions, what might be termed ‘shifted reciprocity’.”
Through the Altmetric Explorer we
have seen that papers with a high Altmetric score in context had often
been shared by their own authors. These authors, who took the time to
share their papers themselves, often belong to scholarly fields that
collectively make an effort to engage in reciprocal, but not identical,
online activity. (For some examples, see our previous Fieldwork
posts). We would argue that a condition for quality engagement is,
indeed, ‘shifted reciprocity’. Through the article-level details pages
the Explorer provides (like this one),
authors can find who is mentioning research in your discipline on
Twitter, and therefore it works as a tool to detect like-minded
individuals who could potentially be interested in your own research.

Detail of Twitter mentions from Altmetric Details Page
Detail of Twitter mentions from an article-level Altmetric Details Page (Click on image for full details)

Alt-metrics and online attention to scholarly papers are the
expressions of socialised subjectivity. According to Martin Thayne (2012),
“online social media services enable and promote forms of individual
expression within a networked environment, facilitating an ongoing
process of becoming through the interpersonal, socialised interactions
which users engage in.” Socialised subjectivity implies a collective
effort of communication; expression, transmission and reception. Whether
it is  a lonely voice in an uninhabited desert or many individual
voices in an overcrowded space where everyone is talking at the same
time, being heard, listened to and corresponded will be hard.

Joining social networks for the first time at the current stage of
their development might seem daunting for many, which is why many still
feel that social media adoption is a generational thing that excludes
many scholars. (If the ‘Researchers of Tomorrow
British Library/JISC report proved something is that younger scholars
are not necessarily the only ones using social media for research).
Engaging in online scholarly communications, even for newcomers, should
not be daunting, particularly in developed nations where access to ITCs
is not a problem.

The real obstacle is cultural. From the 400,000,000 tweets a day
Altmetric gets, 10,000 contain links to academic papers. Academics of
some disciplines will have to work harder at not only sharing their
papers online, but at developing a stronger community of academics
sharing papers online. Some research suggests,
for example, that highly-tweeted papers have a higher number of
citations (so that’s some encouragement for you). Promote other people’s
research as you would like your own work to be promoted (again, do not
forget to link!).

Ultimately, alt-metrics will only achieve its maximum potential as a
result of a collective cultural effort in which research papers are
mentioned (linked to) on social media as an act of collegiality.

You can download this post as a PDF from Figshare.

Strategies to Get Your Research Mentioned Online. Ernesto Priego. figshare.