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The Bird is the Word: Use Twitter to Predict and Boost Your Citations

Don’t shoo away the bird! Behemoth social media platform, Twitter, is much more than a place for celebrity gossip and catching up on sports scores. In fact, it is the #1 social network used by the scientific community! Many scientists have found it to be a powerful tool for tracking the potential impact and reach of their papers.

Typically, the nail-biting process of watching how many citations your scientific paper will receive takes years. Will it sink or soar? Will it flop or fly? Will it impact the world? No wonder the word “citations” makes us cringe. By the time we get the citations, our topic has normally become outdated. And we rarely have anything to show for the true impact our paper has made, because citations really are just the tip of the iceberg, as we see from the Altmetric impact tracking system.

But take heart. . . a little birdy is here to help. Twitter can help you predict the potential reach of your scientific paper.

When you tweet your scientific papers, pay attention to what happens next. Merely tweeting isn’t enough to lead directly to citations, but if you notice a significant amount of retweets and mentions, research shows that it’s a sign of good things to come. In fact, according to a study by Eysenbach, the number of tweets your paper gets is predictive of high citations within the first 3 days of publication. In other words, if you notice a large amount of tweets, go on and get excited, as highly-tweeted papers were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than papers with fewer tweets (Eysenbach et al., 2011).

Does the thought of referencing Twitter for proof of impact ruffle your feathers? Consider this: “There is a range of literature, including a study by Finch et al., which concluded that social media coverage and altmetrics, not only compliments traditional measurements of impact such as citations, but also can anticipate them” (Finch et al., 2017).

Another study suggests that altmetrics and traditional metrics are closely related, and that both can be used as a measure of the impact of your research (Peoples et al., 2016). The study goes on to say, “We found a strong positive relationship between Twitter activity (ie., the number of unique tweets about a paper) and number of citations. Twitter activity was a more important predictor of citation rates than 5-year journal impact factor. Moreover, Twitter activity was not driven by journal impact factor; the ‘highest-impact’ journals were not necessarily the most discussed online.

It’s true. . . the bird is the word. Twitter is a surprisingly easy way to share papers, research data, and other things in life that tickle your fancy. When you tweet your paper, you’ll likely get a quick read on the impact it’ll have. And like most social networks, you control what you see on Twitter based on who you follow, so the platform is also personalized and informative.

If you’re not sure how to make a tweet that sings, try this infographic on for size: Twitter for research papers. We wrote this basic guide to Twitter mastery specifically for academics like you.

So if you’re like us, and a bit too impatient to wait the five-to-ten years for the impact of your research to become evident, why not get tweeting! Trust us, it’s highly satisfying and deeply rewarding to see the immediate impact of your work.



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