Social media has become a ubiquitous part of life in the 21st century. In addition to popular platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, other research-oriented websites and apps (eg ResearchGate, Academia, and Mendeley) have increased in use.
Scientific researchers have begun to leverage these tools to further disseminate their research beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal publication. In a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Prof Marco Bardus and colleagues conducted a systematic review to explore how social media affects the impact of health research.
The team identified 7 impact studies, which assessed the effect of social media on the dissemination of research, and 44 correlational studies, which assessed the relationship between Altmetrics and bibliometrics. While their analyses of the impact studies suggested that article views may have increased with social media activity, citations did not. The authors cautioned, though, that the social media interventions tested were too heterogenous to compare—with intervention duration and intensity ranging widely—making it difficult to draw conclusions.
Of the 44 correlational studies (most discussing Twitter and Mendeley), around half found a strong association between traditional citation-based and social media metrics. However, when limiting the analyses to just the 7 correlational studies of high methodological quality, the association was moderate or non-existent.
Despite their inconclusive findings, the authors recommend that researchers continue to use social media to disseminate health research. The authors note that social media provides the opportunity to reach different, non-specialised readers, and advise researchers to adapt their work for specific target audiences. Sharing research in this way is likely to become increasingly important as publishers take steps to improve patient accessibility of journal articles and as the use of plain language summaries to share scientific content with the public continues to grow.
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