In an analysis of online mentions of over 2.5 million medical and health sciences-related scholarly documents, Altmetric found that the share of scholarly papers that are mentioned through social media, online news media, social bookmarking, online video, scientific blogs, and more (the full breakdown is below) has risen from one in 20 in 2009 to nearly one in four in 2014.

Overall, the most online mentions of scholarly documents is happening on Twitter where 4 million tweets pointed to nearly 1 million scholarly articles between August 2013 and August 2014. The complete count of research document mentions that were found and analyzed as part of the Altmetric Mentions and the Communication of Media Research: Disseminating Research Outcomes Outside Academia report is shown in the source breakdown below:

  1. Twitter = 4,405,086
  2. Facebook = 253,992
  3. News media = 240,684
  4. Scientific blogs = 132,875
  5. Google+ = 86,964
  6. Reddit = 15,053
  7. Faculty of 1000 = 11,304
  8. Sina Weibo = 9,847
  9. Video = 8,126
  10. Peer review = 8,063
  11. Policy documents = 3,067

For the purposes of this study, a mention is defined as the identification of a scholarly publication with or without additional commentary in a non-academic medium. Mentions were aggregated from mainstream sources like newspapers and social media sources like Twitter and blog posts.

The goal of the study was to determine whether or not mentions provide “innovative value in communicating impact beyond the academic world.” The study results show that mentions do make a difference.

Here are three key findings from the study that scholarly bloggers and publishers need to know:

1. Frequency of Mentions

As you would expect, papers that are mentioned from “higher impact journals where there is strong competition among contributors” are mentioned more frequently than papers published in lower impact journals. However, the most frequently mentioned papers are not always the most frequently cited papers in these higher impact journals.

The study authors explain that a paper which appears in a well-recognized journal and receives a lot of mentions but few citations in other well-recognized journals won’t get the same level of merit from editors. Nor will it get the same level of merit from readers in the future. As the study authors explain, “[Merit] could come from content that goes beyond academic impact.” In other words, it’s the reach and merit that comes from mentions which can have significant economic impact, social impact, and so on in the future.

2. Speed of Attention

The Altmetric research shows that mentions are important and effective in drawing fast, informal attention to innovative research. The study authors write, “[Mentions] are complementary to  publication and citation links, working in parallel but avoiding the hurdles and delays of conventional academic routes.”

3. Level of Access to Key People

The study found that mentions can have a variety of positive effects on the reach and impact of innovative research, which can lead to “non-academic social and professional stakeholder benefits” for the authors. However, to be successful, authors need to maintain relationships with key people (i.e., online influencers and advocates) who can help them spread the word about their papers, increase mentions, and generate engagement with wider audiences.

Given the large number and frequency of mentions for scholarly papers, it’s clear that many researchers and professionals in the medical and health sciences sector are already using online mentions to get attention for their research and findings. You can expect to see that ‘one in four scholarly papers mentioned online in 2014’ statistic found in this study to continue climbing quickly in the coming years.

Image: Dave Herholz licensed CC BY-SA 2.0