Social media: Insights from an academic department

It’s taken a while to write up this session from June! Many thanks to Dr Tom Webb for sharing his insights from managing the Law School blog and social media presence of the Law School at Lancaster University.

The staff blog is currently used as a vehicle for writing up short articles (500-1500 words) following conferences, reflections on current topics, and writing articles which can be understood by wider audiences.

Why blog?

  • Raise the profile of the research
  • Speak to a different audience
  • ‘open up pathways to impact’
  • ‘claim an idea’ early on

Twitter broadens the network to other scholars, students, other institutions and beyond to reach a more mixed audience.


Tom has found using Twitter and blog Analytics a useful way to provide feedback to colleagues on how many people are interacting with their social media posts/tweets. Unfortunately,  blog posts aren’t eligible to be included in the REF, though they can/do contribute towards generating broader impact.


  • Quick publication
  • Attention from the media
  • Raise profile
  • Student recruitment


You can now view the slides and listen to Tom’s presentation.


Do author’s have to choose between writing for the Law School blog and writing for The ConversationYes and no. The Conversation uses Creative Commons licences which allows you to reblog their content. The Law School blog offers more editorial freedom than the Conversation (e.g. posts can be in ‘Legalese’).

Is there any editorial control? Authors send copy, and Tom will edit formatting (e.g. inserting paragraph breaks) to make the content more readable online. Otherwise not.

Do you get credit within the department for the work you do with social media? Yes to an extent. This will probably grow as Departments recognise the potential benefits and engagement that can result from taking part. 

Maximising your digital impact


Many thanks to Russell Reader, Head of Media Engagement in the Press Office here at Lancaster University. Russ gave a well informed talk full of good reasons and practical tips on how to make the most of online services to raise your academic profile and reach out to audiences inside and outside academia.

The session focussed mainly on:

  • Twitter
  • Blogs especially The Conversation
  • News and current affairs e.g. BBC Radio 4

Russ has kindly supplied his presentation slides for anyone who wasn’t able to get to the session.

He included a video of PhDs and researchers who had found publishing with The Conversation beneficial.


What amount of time should I commit to Twitter? Initially spend an hour a week building your network, following other accounts and re-tweeting interesting tweets. Over time allow 10 minutes a day to look at it, then gradually when you’re more confident start to engage with others, chip in your thoughts and ideas.

Are there any apps I can use to help me manage Twitter? Yes, there are many apps. A good one to use is Tweetdeck which allows you to create different ‘stacks’ or columns to filter your Twitter stream, conduct and save searches and schedule posts in advance.

Top Twitter Tips


Thanks to everyone who came to the Top Twitter Tips session! I hope it was useful. There have been some follow-up tweets of things I forgot to say, so please check out my Twitter account @TanyaLibrarian and feel free to follow!

The recording is now available to view, and you can see the slides below and on SlideShare.

If there are any further follow-up questions, please leave a comment here.


If a conference has a Twitter account (e.g. @BrilliantConference2015) and an associated hashtag (e.g. #BrilliantConference2015) what’s the best way to tweet about the conference? It’s probably best to use the hashtag so that the organisers and other delegates can easily pull together all tweets related to the conference by searching the hashtag. It will make your tweets more visible. If you mention the account using the @ username your tweets will also be visible, and would show up in a keyword search. If you use the @ username at the start of your tweet (as you would in reply to that account) the tweet will only appear in the conference account’s mentions timeline, so other delegates would miss it, unless the conference account retweeted it.

Is there a quick way of finding someone’s username? Search in Twitter and check profile and picture if there is more than one person. However people may not use their name, or may tweet from multiple accounts, or have a common name, so you might need to do Google search for them.

Can you have private lists for a group of people? Yes you can! When you set up the list, you can choose Private. I believe that people are not notified when you add them to a private list (I couldn’t see the definitive answer to this on Twitter’s own page, but I believe Wired), so technically you could create a list of rivals, or job prospects, and no-one else would know!


Twitter’s Help centre is a really useful place to learn more about how Twitter works, and the advanced features. There are also tons of apps which can enhance how you use Twitter, but perhaps that’s for another time…

Beyond the Impact Factor: Altmetrics

Many thanks to Hardy Schwamm for today’s Research Bite introducing altmetrics, and also to those of you who came along and contributed your questions and thoughts to the discussion.


In the context of huge increases in publication output, the Altmetrics manifesto claims that we need new ways to filter for quality. The development of altmetrics is also an attempt to catch up with the changes in scholarly communication. Altmetrics are a reaction to the fact that the impact factor is often incorrectly used to assess the impact of individual articles, when in fact it just evaluates the impact of the journal. Altmetrics also acknowledge that research outputs are broader than just journal articles, and encompass datasets, software, blog posts, presentations and so on.

Altmetrics are:

Metrics based on the social web

Among the most promising and influential Altmetrics services are:

  • Altmetric – UK based, not affiliated to a publisher, focusing on article-centric or article level metrics
  • PlumX – gather metrics on different ‘artifacts’, but also on individuals, groups and institutions
  • ImpactStory  – focusing on individuals

The key audiences are:

  • Individuals can use altmetrics to understand their own impact, or influence.
  • Publishers can use it to inform readers, marketing and identify strengths
  • Institutions can use it to gauge impact, inform REF and funding bids and recruitment?

Not everyone is happy with incorporating the Almetric score. Can you really compare across disciplines? Is an article with a score of 2000 really that much ‘better’ than one scoring 25? Altmetric does include percentile information when you click through to the detail. This ability to click through to the detail, and actually delve into those ‘mentions’ is a useful feature.


How do they track your output (e.g. article)? Altmetric use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier), PubMed ID and ArXiv ID to track mentions.

Does it count mentions of your name? Altmetric just looks at articles, not the identity of the researcher. ImpactStory and PlumX do focus more on the individual, but it would be in association with a particular work, as far as we understand. So an appearance on TV wouldn’t be counted (unless the broadcaster had a link on their website too).

Does it only measure positive mentions? No. There’s no discrimination, so like traditional citation counts, others could be denouncing your research, but you’d still benefit from the stats!

Is there going to be an institutional licence to the product? The Library and RSO are aware of altmetrics and inviting providers to visit and tell us more.

Hardy: Would this kind of product be useful? Is the score useful? Participants: It’s all ‘grist to the mill’. If you can provide your line manager with some data like this it could contribute to them understanding your performance. The score seems pretty meaningless though. It’s good to have a service which aggregates all this data in such a timely way. Citations can take a long time to accrue. It bridges the gap between informal discussions and citations in journal articles. Though it can never be a complete measure. Altmetrics could inform the REF in terms of impact of research in the community or public engagement outside of the academy.

Is it just a snapshot in time (i.e. does it only provide data from Twitter for 30 days?) It appears that it is not just a snapshot in time, but a record of mentions, though data collection would presumably have to start somewhere, so may not be accurate for older papers (by older, I mean pre-2011!).

Do altmetrics cover patents? Plum covers citation in US patents.

What’s our definition of impact? Is it just getting your research out there and generating a buzz? Some disciplines view this kind of attention as public engagement. Impact is making a change to the world, e.g. through policy change or a technological advance. Altmetrics contribute to a multi-faceted view of impact, including non-academic engagement.

Can you track the geographic element? Yes, with Altmetric. When you click through to the detailed data. e.g.


Is it performing as a filter? Ranking efforts and scores like in Altmetric are difficult to interpret and shouldn’t be compared across disciplines. However, if you see that an article was discussed in the (social) media it might be worth seeing why it got mentioned so often.

Won’t it be open to scholars artificially inflating scores? Yes, just like traditional citation practices! It also favours researchers who are active on the social web.

The Altmetrics manifesto disagrees:
Some have suggested altmetrics would be too easy to game; we argue the opposite. The JIF is appallingly open to manipulation; mature altmetrics systems could be more robust, leveraging the diversity of of altmetrics and statistical power of big data to algorithmically detect and correct for fraudulent activity.

This post was amended on 24/09/2014 following feedback from Hardy.

Social media for researchers: ResearchGate and recording available

Thank you to everyone who came to last week’s session Social media for researchers: ResearchGate and There was a lot of discussion in the session, so if you missed it, take a look at the recording. If you have any experience of using these social networks, please add your comments.

Twitter questions

During today’s ‘Social media for researchers – Twitter’ session we had a number of Twitter-specific questions. Thanks to Louise for summarising:

Is @ a way of sending a direct message and does this appear on the receiver’s timeline? It’s a message targeted at them, and will only appear on the receiver’s timeline if they decide to retweet it. Otherwise they’ll just receive a notification. However, if you click ‘reply’ then your tweet will appear under theirs as a ‘conversation’.

If you unfollow someone do they receive a notification? No, they don’t, but they can see if their follower numbers are down and look through them!

You mentioned the necessity to stay connected, how often should you tweet? Build what you think is appropriate into your week, maybe once or twice a week to start with. Too many tweets may make people unfollow you, and perhaps make what you say more trivial. Think of the time of day that you tweet – if it’s first thing in the morning then America won’t have woken up! It depends on the audience you attract.

How would it measure impact? Altmetrics look at what’s being viewed, discussed, saved and cited rather, and include social media such as Twitter. We’re planning a Research Bites session in September on Altmetrics.

Does Twitter suggest people you can follow? Yes on your profile page, and it may also do this by email.

Can I set up my Android phone to be alerted when you’re tweeted? You can download an app for Twitter and can then choose to receive notifications when someone interacts with you.

How can I add a picture? When writing a tweet you have the option to add a picture, but this does count as part of your 140 characters. Pictures tend to enhance your tweet’s ‘click-rate’.

What does ‘favouriting’ do? It sends the tweeter a notification to say that someone likes their tweet, and may open up channels of communication – you can choose to follow them. Also you can view all of the tweets you have ‘favourited’ (from your profile), so you could use favourites like bookmarks.