Why should a bibliometrician engage with altmetrics? Guest Post by Natalia Madjarevic

Last month, Barack Obama published an article in the journal JAMA discussing progress to date with The Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – and outlining recommendations for future policy makers. Obama’s article was picked up in the press and across social media immediately. We can see in the Altmetric Details Page that it was shared across a broad range of online attentAM1ion sources such as mainstream media, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and commented on by several research blogs. We can also see from the stats provided by JAMA that the article, at time of writing, has been viewed over 1 million times and has an Altmetric Attention Score of 7539, but hasn’t yet received a single citation.

Providing instant feedback

Many altmetrics providers track attention to a research output as soon as it’s available online. This means institutions can then use altmetrics data to monitor research engagement right away, without the delay we often see in the citation feedback loop.

If President Obama was checking his Altmetric Details Page (which I hope he did!) he’d have known almost in real-time exactly who was saying what about his article. In the same way, academic research from your institution is generating online activity  – probably right now – and can provide extra insights to help enhance your bibliometric reporting.


Altmetric, which has tracked mentions and shares of over 5.4m individual research outputs to date, sees 360 mentions per minute – a huge amount of online activity that can be monitored and reported on to help evidence additional signals of institutional research impact. That said, altmetrics are not designed to replace traditional measures such as citations and peer-review and it’s valuable report on a broad range of indicators. Altmetrics are complementary rather than a replacement for traditional bibliometrics.

Altmetrics reporting: context is key

Using a single number, “This output received 100 citations” or “This output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 100” doesn’t really say that much. That’s why altmetrics tools often focus on pulling out the qualitative data, i.e. the underlying mentions an output has received. Saying, “This output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 100, was referenced in a policy document, tweeted by a medical practitioner and shared on Facebook by a think tank” is much more meaningful than a single number. It also tells a much more compelling story about the influence and societal reach of your research. So when using altmetrics data, zoom in and take a look at the mentions. That’s where you’ll find the interesting stories about your research attention to include in your reporting.

How can you use altmetrics to extend your bibliometrics service?

Here are some ideas:

  • Include altmetrics data in your monthly bibliometric reports to demonstrate societal research engagement – pull out some qualitative highlights
  • Embed altmetrics in your bibliometrics training sessions and welcome emails to new faculty – we have lots of slides you can re-use here
  • Provide advice to researchers on how to promote themselves online and embed altmetrics data in their CV
  • Encourage responsible use of metrics as discussed in the Leiden Manifesto and The Metric Tide
  • Don’t use altmetrics as a predictor for citations! Use them instead to gain a more well-rounded, coherent insight into engagement and dissemination of your research

Altmetrics offer an opportunity for bibliometricians to extend existing services and provide researchers with a more granular and informative data about engagement with their research. The first step is to start exploring the data – from there you can determine how it will fit best into your current workflow and activities.

Further reading

Natalia Madjarevic



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