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Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Systematically improving the visibility of your research on social media - what would this look like?


If you are a academic librarian with any contact with researchers, you may have encountered researchers (typical early career) asking you if librarians conduct classes to teach researchers how to promote themselves and their research.

This is I suspect one aspect of inside-out jobs that is growing in importance for academic librarians.

The typical librarian answer to this would be something around the lines of, get a ORCID, consider creating other research profiles like Google Scholar, ResearchGate, deposit legal versions of your paper into the institutional/subject repositories (hopefully the repository is properly configured for maximum discovery)  etc.

But what more can we do to advise researchers for helping them attract eyeballs? What about tips on promoting yourself and your work on social networks like Twitter?

Is this something librarians will take up as well? What would such advice look like and what skills would librarians need in this area?

What follows are two example I have recently encountered of techniques employed by researchers for promoting research which seem reasonably promising to try.

Systematically promoting your research - Toby Green's case study

One of the difficulties of librarians (or any person for that matter) thinking of giving advice on marketing on social media is that they may not be that familiar with the social media channels needed in question. e.g. if one isn't active on Twitter, it is hard to properly provide guidance.

In my particular case, as a 10+ year veteran using Twitter professionally with a decent following, this in theory isn't a problem.

But while I have used Twitter haphazardly to share things that interest me, or even occasionally my work,  I have never systematically used Twitter to market.

By systematically I mean methodically try out things on Twitter and tracking their impacts to work out a successful marketing strategy. In fact, I'm not aware of anyone who has done so except Toby Green who lays out his method in Maximizing dissemination and engaging readers: The other 50% of an author's day: A case study

If you haven't read it yet you really should!

The key point is when marketing your research, you should treat it like any online marketing campaign , track the different actions you took , measure click-through etc.

Interestingly for most of the marketing, he did not use a link to the article landing page but to a platform known as Kudos .

For example, In the case mentioned, he pointed to this Kudo page  which has a short summary of what the article is about , which then links the actual article landing page.

In fact, I had played around  years ago with Kudos , years ago.  I even have a account with 3 papers added with varying amount of work done on it. 

When I first encountered Kudos years ago, I didn't get it. What was the point of linking to a intermediate third party page? Why not link directly to the article? Doesn't that create an extra step for the user?

There are many reasons but the chief one seems to be as an author you typically don't have much control over the landing page of an article, using Kudos allows you to customize the page (making it more enticing and likely the user will click in) that users first see.

You can also have better statistics on the performance of the Kudos page, as not all platforms will give you good usage statistics on the view of your article landing page.

Once you have your Kudos page set up for each article, it can then generate links for you to monitor.

Sharing links via Kudos

Besides labeling the links you share by type, it can also post directly to Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook if you have connected it.

For ResearchGate it provides an interesting option - to create a PDF version of your Publication Profile Page to share on ResearchGate.

Generate PDF for sharing on ResearchGate

Generated PDF by Kudos for uploading on ResearchGate
And of course it provides you with statistics such as views, clicks on shares, clicks through to read the actual publication and Crossref citations
I'll share with you statistics for my oldest paper, but because I rarely use the Kudo share function except for testing, it shows very few clicks on shares.
Publication metrics for one of my Kudos pages for one of  my publication
Toby also differentiates between "owned media" - that is marketing channels under his direct control which include Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, his Medium blog etc vs earned media which includes sharing by colleagues or influencers. For example, he gives an example of someone who discovered his research and posted it on reddit that draw a lot of views. 
I suppose my blog about his work, is also an example of earned media and to track the impact of this, altmetrics is what you use and Kudos happens to partner with , so you can see shares as well done by other people.

Altmetrics for one of  my publication

What Toby did was to try different marketing strategies (which I will talk about later) and see their click through rates as well as impact on the data above.

I think this table above was tracked by Toby himself.

You may notice on the graph prior to this, Kudo seems to have the potential to track abstracts views and full text downloads but according to Toby, not many publishers actually integrate with Kudos, including Wiley , which happens to be the papers in his case study (and incidentally also for my paper).

Instead he requested for them directly from Wiley and got download data for his paper but as he notes the data was minimal.

"All I could get was the totals; I was unable to get any data on which institutions or even which countries were reading my article, and I had to wait until the middle of the next month to get last month's data – hardly real time and no help when it came to planning future promotion efforts."

Still because of all the tracking he did, he could say something like this

" as I write this, Kudos has logged 3,694 clicks from the 64 tagged promotion efforts I have made via owned media channels, 6,299 views of the summary page hosted by Kudos, and 878 clicks on the button that leads from that page to the article's landing page on the publisher website. That latter step from summary page to article landing page is a 14% click‐through rate – or to put it another way, only 14% of summary page viewers were sufficiently interested to have the desire to click through to the article."

As he notes, this is when the chain of data breaks as while he managed to get the number of downloads of his article from his publisher, he can't tell how much of it came through Kudos. He notes through that the Kudos page itself generates more views than what it got via shares so people are coming to Kudos via search engines and/or earned media.

Given I have not shared any link to Kudos until recently nor have I marketed my kudo pages much and yet have some views, search engines do seem to bring visitors.

Overall Kudos is a interesting platform, but there is still a bottle neck in data on the publisher side.

That said some publishers such as BMJ, AIPHindawi . APA and even Datacite (for project dois) have announced some partnerships, but more needs to be done.

In terms of usage, Kudos claimed 250,000 users in Oct 2018 though looking at the Top 10 leaderboard, it seems the top users are mostly from developing countries like Nigeria and Indonesia

I also wonders if publishers will start offering "value added services" to authors if they want to access/ integrate such data e.g. real-time tracking of downloads, views etc.

Market strategies tried by Toby  

In the case study, Toby did quite a few things on 3 different papers. Again I urge you to read the various things he tried but this is my brief summary of what I found interesting.

For context the papers in his case study was about proposals to achieve Open access

  • Besides using Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, he also posted to appropriate mailing lists which seem to have the best click-through rates
  • He got the most "earned media" via Twitter - not surprising to me because he is fairly well known in Twitter and a lot of people who might be interested in his topic is on Twitter
  • He was surprised to see one influencer post one of his papers on Reddit that led to a spike in interest. I can confirm that Reddit is a rising force , it appeared on my radar about 5 years ago, when I noticed referrals to my blog post coming from there. Today I am a regular reader of Reddit because regardless of topic or interest, you can find a subreddit with a sizable community devoted to it. For example subreddits like /r/askacademia, /r/datasets /r/libraries are always interesting to watch.
  • His post got responses on the mailing list and he then responded using a blog post on Medium (which itself led to a 22% click-through to the Kudos page), which I think is a great idea because this allows you to slant your research in a slightly different angle to increase the chance of drawing more eyeballs
  • His use of Twitter was particularly deft - using a strategy to "attract the attention of conference delegates by using conference hashtags or join conversations by replying to suitable tweets" he managed to get quite a lot of interest. 
The problem with this of course is that a lot of these strategies are specific to the research community you are embedded in and if you haven't done much on social media professionally, you will need time to learn to become savvy in seeking out where your peers are likely to be.

But at least Kudos gives you a way of tracking whether your efforts are paying off. 

Can we as librarians help figure out some of this? - A preliminary attempt by University of Manchester

Toby is clearly a experienced social media user , particularly in Twitter. But what if you wanted to do something similar on say Twitter and had not much experience in Twitter?

There doesn't seem to be any shortcut except to just buckle down and learn to use Twitter, but there might be some partial solutions. In particular, can libraries help?

I've been always impressed by the work of University of Manchester Libraries but I was really impressed by their Open Access+ service that "aims to help researchers remove other barriers that might stop their audience from understanding, using and citing their work".

It starts off, with the researcher depositing an author manuscript into the repository and they can choose to either consider it for publicity by the Media relations team, or "receive customized guidance to help raise visibility of my paper once published and for library to promote the paper via its social media channel"

If you choose the second option, it will start to help your promote your work. How does it do so?

One of the problems of using Twitter for engagement is it's unclear who would be interested in your research unless you are already in the right circles.

The brilliance of Open access+ is they try to determine who might be interested by the following algorithm.

1. Take the last 1,000 dois of the journal your just published in
2. Use Almetrics API, to find the most frequent tweeter
3. "Generate a communities of attention" report

This neatly solves the problem of having no idea who to tweet at by giving you an idea who might potentially be interested.

But it can go beyond that.

It can also auto-generate a series of tweets from their UoM Open Access+ account that includes
  • Link to Open access version
  • Link to available research data (via Scholix)
  • Summary of finding (via Scholarcy)
  • Almetric mentions of note
  • Tag potentially interested account (see algorithm above)

Though currently this account has a modest of 711 followers it tries to tag users it thinks would be interested.

My impression is a lot of this is an experiment/pilot and most of this isn't automated, but this is truly an intriguing blend of tools used to help improve visibility of research. One could imagine adding more tools like scite to add tweets about new papers that support your research etc.

 Combine such tools and more together with the use of Kudos (which UoM does sign post) for tracking such marketing campaigns, we could be seeing the beginning of something interesting.


Compared to other forms of online marketing where there is a huge body of work on marketing (e.g. best time to share, how to handle multi-channels, SEO etc). We are still in the early stages of figuring how how to promote your research to increase visibility in the academia world. 
Currently we instinctively look at publishers to help us with this, and this might indeed be reasonable , but not every publisher is ready for the task. After all their traditional area of strength was shepherding a manuscript thru submission and publication, though they of course have some experience marketing the journal which might translate. 
Will librarians do this job as well?

To go beyond the conventional advise about ORCIDs, repositories and actually provide expertise on marketing online either along the lines of what Toby Green has done, or something automated or semi-automated like University of Manchester.

Only time will tell.

Add a comment

When you have been in the library industry for a while, you start noticing patterns. For example, many new developments and announcements (e.g. mergers, launch of new products and services) that are intended to have a big splash are often announced at big events like ALA annual in June.

To a much smaller extent we are starting to see this as well during Open Access Week.

I've always been a big fan of Summon's Best bet feature and Primo's resource recommender. If you are unfamiliar with the idea, it allows the librarian to augment search results users get with additional custom messages or recommendations when they search in Summon or Primo.

So for instance, you could popup a recommendation to databases whose contents are not indexed in Summon/Primo or help workaround known relevancy issues of known item searches .

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