Publication strategies and altmetrics

Publication strategies and altmetrics

This post is contributed by Camilla Lindelöw from Södertörn University.

A researcher of today deals with a lot of evaluation. When they are not evaluated themselves, they evaluate student efforts and fellow researchers’ applications for grants and jobs. The last group commonly involves evaluating publications; quantity and prestige (where is it published?) and for some disciplines impact in the form of citations. It follows logically that they will use criteria like these to decide when they choose where to publish themselves.

They are probably also interested in being visible – that the research they produce is used and built upon. This may be the case with a prestigious channel, but it may also not happen. Times are also a-changing, visible today means globally visible. Researchers in humanities were happily publishing texts written in a local language. This practice has been more and more questioned as nations strive to place themselves on a global research map. Methods may always be universal, and as such published in international journals. It is not always easy to find out how to be visible in today’s global research community. The altmetrics manifesto proposed altmetrics as one way for researchers to sift through the abundant material available for researchers today (Priem et al, 2010). Could it also be used when researchers decide where to publish?

My role at the university involves helping researchers with their publication issues. What if altmetrics could be used to discuss publication strategies? I prepare summaries of altmetric data for a certain group, and we have a meeting where we have a look at the data and discuss publication strategies. Since data is not robust enough to be the only source for decision making, this could be one way to start the discussion. The group metrics approach reduces the anxiety in comparing single researcher’s achievements, far from everyone is comfortable with discussing their own stats in public.

For a discussion about target groups and social media for researchers, a diagram like the one below could be used. Here we see Facebook activity (counts) for articles published between 2012-2017 at our university. Publications from the department where the discussion is taking place are marked with green.

First let us just state that for 32% of the articles currently in our institutional repository, no facebook activity can be recorded due to technical reasons. Out of the ones that we may follow, we see that most of them have no, or very small activity: the common skewed pattern of bibliometric distributions. We certainly don’t know what the activity look like, is it positive or negative? Maybe it is the researchers themselves who are disseminating their research in assigned Facebook groups? These are questions to raise with the researchers. It could also include a general discussion about how researchers face Facebook: how do they feel about discussing research on a platform like Facebook? How do they feel about others discussing their research on Facebook?

If we drill deeper and look at the top ones that do attract attention; where have they been published? It turns out that the ones who receive the most attention are almost all in Swedish newspapers. For our department, one out of four major newspapers in Sweden is dominating their high-activity-papers. Does this surprise them? They have published in three of the four newspapers but this one is the most common (according to the data available). It might not yet be the time to advise them to continue publishing with this newspaper, more evidence is needed for that. But working like this, we discuss target audiences, outreaching strategies and publication outlets. My first impression trying this is that data helps the discussion.

Universities ask researchers to work on their publication strategies. It is not always clear what the strategy should look like: international journals for prestige in a global research community or reaching out to a wider audience outside academia? Or why not both?

Even though nothing is fixed, I believe we may have rewarding discussions using the data around us. Obvious caveats with altmetric data is the scarcity (how much activity do we capture?) and biasness (for a great new review, see Sugimoto et al, 2017). Solid conclusions must wait but the idea to use data to help the discussion looks like a possible way to twist and turn a discussion about publication strategies.


  1. Priem, D. Taraborelli, P. Groth, C. Neylon (2010), Altmetrics: A manifesto, 26 October 2010.

C.R. Sugimoto, S. Work, V. Larivière, S. Haustein (2017), Scholarly Use of Social Media and Altmetrics: A Review of the Literature. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68(9): 2037-2062. DOI: 10.1002/asi.23833

Data in the example come from our institutional repository and PlumX.

Camilla Lindelöw works at Södertörn University, a smaller university south of Stockholm. The university has three departments in humanities and social sciences, and one in science. Camilla works at the library research support unit, and frequently discusses publication issues with researchers.