social-media-handIt seems as though the role, value, and impact of social media in scholarly communications is a continuous debate. Do researchers use social media? Does social media boost citations? Are citations really all that matter? Does social media impact the reputation of publishers, authors, or the particular discipline of study? Are some disciplines more likely than others to derive value from social media? The list of questions and the opinions and data supporting them vary greatly.

Recently Outsell wrote an Insight in which they discussed Kudos’ recent author promotion research. Jo McShae‘s conclusion:

These findings provide clear evidence that socializing research is beneficial to both authors and publishers: making the most of the available technology and tools to make this element of reputation management as streamlined and efficient as possible is genuinely time and investment well spent.

This month we asked the Chefs: What is The Role of Social Media in Scholarly Publishing?

Phill Jones: Do you mean ‘What is the role of social media in scholarly communication?’ I’m going to assume so and answer accordingly. Many people assume that when researchers engage with social media, they’re doing so as a form of public outreach. That’s not always true, particularly when it comes to twitter, which seems to be the most actively used social media platform for academics. Researchers use twitter for conference tweeting, finding collaborators, and exchanging content. They also commonly use it for a basic form of social reading where they tweet quotes from articles that they’re reading. Twitter is also a good place to get an insight into researchers’ often nerdy and sometimes dark sense of humor. There are spoof accounts like @shitmyreviewerssay, @IamOxfordComma, and the several accounts that spoof Elsevier, as well as hashtag games like #overlyhonestmethods and #scientistherdnames.

Facebook has a fair amount of academic content on it, but in a different way. The facebook group I F*****g Love Science used to be a place for researchers to swap links and ideas but has been co-opted by the website that, in common with most academic content on facebook, is aimed at interested non-academics. Then there’s Reddit, which has an active academic community, particularly among graduate students and postdocs. Because it’s reddit, the community is also majority male. That leaves LinkedIn, which researchers don’t really use although many have stub profiles. Speaking of stub profiles, that brings us to ResearchGate and According to Richard Van Noorden, ResearchGate has the largest number of registered academic users. While that may be true, it doesn’t seem to me to be operating as social media or networking sites. Essentially, they’re both content swapping sites. Think less facebook for scientists and more Napster. Does content sharing qualify as social media? That’s a matter of definition, but if it does, I can’t not mention Sci-Hub, but that’s all I’m going to do because too much has been said about that already.

Meanwhile, some journal editors and publishers are making use of social media, social media monitoring tools and altmetrics in conjunction with more traditional citation and usage metrics, to gain fast insight into how much attention there is for journals and specific articles. By understanding the demographics of who’s saying what, and where they’re saying it, it’s possible to inform editorial and even commercial strategy decisions, like which content to include in anthologies, or which markets to target. With more granularity, it’s even possible to understand which content is more relevant to specific countries, career stages, or institution type to help create a more targeted brand identity for each journal.

Kent Anderson: I think there are multiple roles social media has adapted to fill in academic and scholarly publishing over the past decade or so.

The most effective and obvious role has been to increase the scope of awareness around selected articles. Science and scholarship are best when they are social endeavors, and publication is a major form of social sharing — science has to be seen to be science, has to reach learners to be education.

But beyond the obvious, there are layers for professionals that occur outside the social platforms we typically think about. This is the so-called “dark social.” It consists mainly of email, and includes sharing of photocopies and notes. It remains powerful for serious sharing, and is often underrated in the dazzle of Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Email is also a main tool for scientific collaboration in multi-center trials, for instance, and has huge switching costs (abandoning a primary daily interface and file structure) that make it hard to disrupt. There are other forms of more serious social collaboration (Yahoo Groups, WebEx, webinars, and so forth) that let smaller groups work virtually, contrasted with the more general and loosely affiliated groups associated with the larger platforms.

“Big social” seems to be about promoting existing content, while “small social” seems to be about collaborating on new things.

Social media has created some new ways of marketing to subscribers, readers, and authors, but “social” tends to be low-yield compared to other channels. It’s a novel but not especially valuable source of new business.

To be more pessimistic, another role has been to keep the hype machine busy creating and destroying value. Millions have been spent pursuing the ghost orbs of “community platforms,” or running in fear of those community platforms that have apparently succeeded. The “success stories” seem to assume the guise of success via some form of content appropriation. Some hype cycles are longer than others, and this one seems particularly long, yet it has yet to truly show a revenue-positive future. Local hype bubbles can take a while to pop, as well.

All this suggests to me that social media is a long-term addition to the scholarly infrastructure as far as it creates awareness, and that professional, semi-private utilization of social sharing along the lines of “dark social” sharing is where the really serious change is happening.

Joe EspositoThe current state of social media in scholarly communications is in marketing: blogs, tweets, Pinterest and Facebook posts are used to call attention to items of importance to their publisher or producer, and those items range from important discoveries to scheduled events to published research. The altmetrics movement is trying to make more of social media, granting it a status that is equivalent to other, longer-established metrics. I am skeptical about this, as what altmetrics essentially measures is marketing activity, not the merits of discoveries and publications (yes, the two can be related).

A future state of social media will be more sophisticated and substantive than this. I wrote a piece on the Kitchen on this point two years ago: “Marketing In The Stream“. Increasingly ideas are developed in conversations, which social media is adept at. What’s necessary is to formalize these conversations, taking them from casual to-and-fro to directed group projects. I don’t think we are there yet, though. Social media is in its infancy and should be encouraged to develop, but its role for the foreseeable future is to make people aware of primary work that lies elsewhere.

Charlie Rapple: My first thought is to ponder what is meant by “social media”, and by “scholarly publishing”. By “social media”, do we include blogs, say, or multimedia sharing sites? And by “scholarly publishing”, are we talking specifically about “formal” publication (monograph, journal article, etc) or are we thinking broadly about the process of communicating academic insight, research results, etc?

Let’s start by interpreting both of those as widely as possible. Social media can help researchers to learn about each others’ work, build up relationships with others in their field (outside the immediate sphere of their lab or department), and thereby create a useful network with whom ideas and results can be shared, discussed and revised. All of this augments traditional ways of doing this, for example (1) by more readily facilitating the types of back-and-forth discussion that might once have taken place in publication channels (advantage: more timely; disadvantage: ephemeral) – or, example (2), going to conferences – you can meet and interact with a wider range of your fellow delegates if you embrace the social media options, and indeed if you don’t get funding for all the conferences you want to attend, social media helps you attend and interact virtually.

As an example of this, one researcher that I interviewed ahead of my UKSG talk this year talked about the role of social media in helping “democratize reputation.” She felt liberated by the ability to create her own networks, and share and discuss her work with other interested parties beyond the circle of her supervisor. At a more practical level, the precise role of social media varies by channel. For example, you might build up your connections via Twitter or LinkedIn  where it’s relatively quick and easy to skim and build up a picture of people’s interests and areas of expertise, and to interact with them in a light-touch way. Meanwhile, you might upload relevant code, images, or slides on GithubFigshare or Slideshare (respectively) and then write a blog post or create a Kudos page to connect them all together, explain the overall story of your research, and connect these materials to any related “formal” publications. When you’re ready to spread the word, you’ll probably go back to Twitter and LinkedIn, but if a discussion really gets active you can ask people to expand on their thoughts in blog comments, or even join you for a video discussion on Blab. All of these have a role in helping to increase awareness of and interest in those “formal” publications.

In a world where so much new research is being undertaken and published, it’s no longer guaranteed that a scholarly publication will be found by those most likely to be interested in it, or able to build on its ideas or results. So while there are many and varied ways in which social media (and digital networks / interactions) can support broader scholarly communication processes, if we boil it right down to their value in relation to publications, social media augments publishers’ other discoverability and engagement strategies, and helps authors play a more direct role in ensuring their scholarly publications are found and discussed by likely readers. (Bonus link to a recent HBR piece with some nice examples how academics have benefited from social media).

Jill O’Neill: There are two functions for social media in the current scholarly publishing environment. Its primary function is marketing, but that marketing function may not simply be a case of tweeting or posting to Facebook breathless product updates, fawning customer endorsements, or press releases about the latest merger & acquisition. The more polished marketing approach on social media platforms is positioning of scholarship as relevant to current events, allowing access to knowledge while public interest is high. In the wake of the Orlando shootings, I thought it was commendable of @Annual Reviews to provide access to an in-depth review article of psychological literature outlining the contemporary context for LGBT youth.

Meanwhile @JSTOR Daily pops up with all kinds of intriguing tidbits – everything from Yellow Fever to Langston Hughes to the historical connection between the lowly Brooklyn beverage, the chocolate Egg Cream, and the 1930’s Mafia. And it’s not just textual material; everyone is more savvy about incorporating images, recognizing the value-add of the visual. (According to Brandwatch, if the tweet contains a visual image, it engenders more click-throughs, more likes and more re-tweets.) Social media is great for current awareness and attracting attention to the newsworthy. The objective (after all) is to grab the attention. That’s why Digital Science renamed their Altmetric number earlier this month to the Altmetric Attention Score, measuring the reach that a particular output may have achieved.

Beyond the initial marketing element however, there is the second and more serious use of social media for communication between the scholars themselves. @SheffieldGothic introduces me to the work of specific scholars from within a particular field of study (#connectthegoths) interacting at their own networking event. There are also all the Open Access advocates – scientists, humanists, other researchers – who consistently present their case for eliminating paywalls or the balance to be archived between Green and Gold OA. Twitter isn’t the only social media platform around, but it’s worth noting that it is a favored channel for a wide-spectrum of those working with scholarly output. Which means that it offers an opportunity to present alternate views from stakeholders as to what is and isn’t viable, what’s been tried already and what hasn’t.

Is the Kitchen asking this question because we are wondering how best to reach the younger, early-career population? The population active on Twitter is about a third in size of that found on Facebook, but the percentage of Millennials (ages 25-34) active on Twitter is slightly higher (21.5%). Complicating matters, however, that same age demographic is even more interested in Instagram and Tumblr. 90% of Instagram users are under the age of 30, which may be why Oxford Dictionaries can be encountered on Instagram and why OUPAcademic has had that whole Tumblr thing covered for years.

Globally, social media is currently well-integrated in the modern mindset. The question we should perhaps be asking is whether other, possibly better, platforms for communication will be emerging.

Karin Wulf: In my experience social media is now a vital part of scholarly communications for history organizations, researchers and publishers. It hasn’t disrupted publishing, but instead plays an important parallel role in promoting and circulating research.

For the archives and special collections libraries that historians rely on, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are important means for engaging and enticing scholars and the general public about their holdings and programs. The Folger Library has been tweeting this week about their important early modern collections, for example; the most recent tweet referenced their collection of mourning materials with an image of a 1592 mourning ring.

For researchers, social media offers a key venue for amplifying early work in progress.  Conferences are routinely live-tweeted, and more expertly live-tweeted (but also tend to allow for no-tweet preferences). Short blog posts offer another means for highlighting research that’s underway.

For publishers, social media is primarily used to promote published work. Blog posts with teaser content and tweets advertising a journal TOC or a fresh book list are common. What’s less common but may become much more so in short order are podcasts. Right now history podcasts are primarily nondenominational, and promote topical history with only a few focused on specific works of scholarship. That may change as more authors and publishers see podcasting as an opportunity to share research with other scholars and the interested public alike.


Now it’s your turn!

What do you feel is the role of social media in scholarly publishing?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Transformation Officer at AIP Publishing, leading the Data & Analytics, Product Innovation, Strategic Alignment Office, and Product Development and Operations teams. She also serves as Board Chair of Delta Think, a consultancy focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Throughout her career she has gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. As an ardent believer in data informed decision-making, Ann was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Additionally, Ann has served as Chief Digital Officer at PLOS, charged with driving execution and operations as well as their overall digital and supporting data strategy.


14 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What is The Role of Social Media in Scholarly Publishing?"

This is an interesting discussion and something I have been thinking about recently. I am the Executive Editor of Classical and Quantum Gravity (CQG). One role for social described above is that it can broaden the audience of a piece of research. I’d say that, in the community CQG serves, the role of social media right now is to be an enormous opportunity for researchers to develop the conversation around their area of interest.

I’d like to share a relevant result from the journal.

This paper says some very interesting things about the recent first detection of gravitational waves. You can see that it has had ~1000 views.

We invited the authors to write a blog post to accompany the paper. Both were published on the same day. The blog post has had >9,000 views.

Compared to the paper, the blog post is better suited for social sharing and mobile usage. It is also written for a broader audience. I think of it as being a bridge between the paper and social media. The blog took the key points from the paper and communicated them more widely than the paper could have on its own.

The biggest referrers to the blog were Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. By contrast, these sites refer very little traffic to the journal itself.

This is obviously a big result for the blog, but it’s the same story for every other post. The blog works for social, but the paper doesn’t.

The opportunities for authors are many: from simply joining Twitter, to starting a Facebook group or (if they have the time!) launching their own blog, podcasts or YouTube channel.

Separately, I recently gave my perspective on social media and publishing for the journal’s authors here:

Thanks, Ann, for pulling this post together.

A couple of points to add to the good ones in this post:

1. The definition of “social media” is an important part of the discussion. I recall a meeting perhaps about two years ago in which Ithaka presented research that showed nearly everybody used social media to discuss their research; at that same time, HighWire had conducted researcher interviews — something we have done for years — that found almost no one doing it. The difference? The Ithaka study included email as a form of social media, and the HighWire interviews did not. Similarly, Karin includes podcasts (which we found a sort of bi-modal interest in during our interviews) and we did not (I think of podcasts as “new media” but more like narrowcasting); it is a matter of opinion, but important to be clear about especially in discussions where definitions stay in peoples’ heads.

2. One distinction that we found had some use in earlier interviews was open social vs. closed social. (Kent may have something similar in mind.) Basically the difference is whether you know and control the audience you are speaking to, or whether it is reasonably constrained. E.g., the people in the room at a scholarly meeting presentation is more or less closed. Email is usually closed. Blogs are not.

3. We are considering a new set of interviews around this topic, since two years have passed and we have the sense that things have changed! One distinction we will explore this time is social discovery (i.e., what and how I use social channels as a reader) vs. social dissemination (social for authors). You might expect these to be nicely balanced (if there are writers, there must be readers!), but we want to find out. It appears to be that the use cases for promotion are there. And it seems like the overall popularity of social channels just has to rub off somehow. Scholarly communication is not like some Galapagos I think, in terms of tech.

4. We are going to look carefully at discipline differences. It could well be that some fields with human subjects will naturally lend themselves to communication/interest with non-specialists.

5. I have some comments from a young (advanced graduate student), digital-savvy researcher in political science who was pretty clear about why he doesn’t use social media to read or write about his area. “I don’t mix work and play”. “It feels like self-promotion” (and this is not a shy person!). “It is not peer reviewed.” “Peoples’ research interests are narrow.” “My research doesn’t fit in bite-sized attention spans.” “If I want feedback, I’ll send a small group an email with a draft of a paper.” “Existing platforms do discovery for me well.” (He was referring to Google Scholar alerts.) And, “Who are the research rock stars who do this? You follow the stars.” Now, this is only one voice, but “sobering”; it at least suggests there are dimensions to this to figure out who social media fits and where it works.

6. Kent puts his finger on something when he says “publication is a major form of social sharing”. We should think of publishing as a social channel in the overall communication ecosystem. Maybe if we think of publishing as already a social component (and not social as a component of publishing), we realize how publishing elements (editors, authors, journals, search engines, etc.) are part of the platform for sharing.

Sorry for the long note. This is on my mind a lot!

When I spoke with a few authors and editors their comments boiled down to who has time for that!


I remember talking with an editor about podcasts, who said “I have spoken on many podcasts, but never listened to one.” The implication was, “who has time for that!”.

What we found (I referred to it as “bi modal”) was that some people used podcasts a lot and some never. It seemed that it was related to what type of time they had for listening, that couldn’t be used for reading. E.g., driving, running, etc.

I think this is a really important point that gets overlooked. Back in the days of the science blogs revolution, every scientist was supposedly going to be blogging and getting all of their information from blogs. Turns out that blogging is hard, and not many people enjoy doing it or are good at it. Those who do like it tend to do it a lot. Then comes Twitter. Those who use it, find it incredibly useful, others cannot for the life of them see the point. Some people spend a huge amount of time on Facebook, but personally, I have no idea why one would bother.

There’s a great deal of variety in social media, just as there’s a great deal of variety among the human species. It’s a good reason why when one makes social media efforts, you’re usually better off going broad, and working through a variety of channels if you want to reach a large audience. The folks who read your post on LinkedIn are probably different from the folks who saw it on Tumblr.

To each his own, as it were.

Clearly, Chefs should be people who like to cook, right? 🙂

(As someone who writes a blog post occasionally, I can say that it is not easy *for me*, and yet I don’t find it hard to write at all. Witness the length of my comments on others posts!)

John – I look forward to hearing what you find out. Definitely time for a new study!

This is a great post and a topic that I think we can see is evolving at this moment! The point Kent makes about the use of social media to increase awareness of selected articles is one that seems to especially ring true. The reality is digital publishing is resulting in more research being published by more journals than ever before, and whether you call it marketing, promotion, or the like, it’s becoming necessary for scholars and journals to take extra steps beyond publication to ensure new research is widely disseminated and reaches its intended audience. Using social media to share research outputs is becoming a key way for scholars to put forth a signal over the noise, with some seeing a dramatic increase in downloads of papers shared online. Like Melissa Terras, Director of University College London’s (UCL) Centre for Digital Humanities, whom Scholastica interviewed about her use of Twitter and blogging to promote her research ( Full disclosure, I’m the community development coordinator at Scholastica.

At Scholastica, we’ve been exploring the topic of how journals can better use social media and other promotional outlets to raise awareness of their latest research. We just released a new series of free digital handbooks on this topic for editors – Scholarly Journal Promotion 101:

The series may be of interest to editors reading this article. It includes many examples of how journals are using Twitter and other online outlets to promote their content.

I also appreciate Joe’s projection of social media as a tool for idea development. I think we do see this happening somewhat now with the use of Twitter chats. Scholars are coming together on Twitter to brainstorm and discuss different topics during these chats.

It is also worth considering that some people use a range of social media platforms with varied emphases for differing aspects of their daily life. I use Twitter mainly for political and higher ed. discussion, Facebook mainly for family updates and LinkedIn for blogs about publishing for example. Other academics and publishers that I know do the reverse, make no distinction at all or have clearly distinguished personal and work accounts. Even for avid users within the scholarly milieu, social media is a hydra with multiple personas and emphases.

Interesting that no one has mentioned the deeper issue, which is that some folks want social media to replace scholarly publishing. Here is a quote to that effect from a recent routine correspondence:

“We live in the age of the internet which offers all sorts of intriguing possibilities for scientists to communicate their research to each other far more efficiently, far quicker and far more cheaply. Yet we still persist in sticking to a 17th century model. Research/higher education dollars are precious, after all, so surely better to keep them for that purpose rather than propping up an outdated industry?”

I hear this all the time, but perhaps the Chefs do not take it seriously.

The uptake of social media by the science community seems to be on a rise, but what role it plays might be difficult to define. Some science professionals and non-academicians use it to be on top of the current happenings or engage with others. However, one can find many researchers as well as institutions that are active on social media with the prime aim of making themselves visible. Whether it is a form of soft marketing or a tool to engage, social media has a strong presence in scholarly publishing; and if wielded correctly, it can revolutionise the way scientific knowledge is disseminated.

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