Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Reverberations: #SocialMedia, Impact and #Altmetrics within Libraries and Research

I changed my CILIP Special Interest Group membership recently and, although it is too early in the year to tell, it’s possibly cemented the new direction in my continuing professional development. I’ve previously been nervous of the Multimedia and Information Technology Group (MmIT) because I am not a technical whizz and merely an enthusiastic end user of other people’s inventions; I constantly salute the brains behind Blogger, MiCoach and Evernote. However preconceptions are there to be unconcepted and at their AGM yesterday I was astonished at the group’s breadth, scope, and imagination.

During the introduction to the afternoon, chair, Leo Appleton said that the AGM usually set the theme for the year, providing a springboard into the annual conference. After the success of last year’s conference on ‘Sound and Vision in Librarianship: Going Beyond Words and Pictures’, which I’m sad to have missed, they are thinking about revisiting social media and how it's developed. Given that library and information services are using social media in increasingly inventive ways, it would be interesting to reflect on these changes and talk about where it is all going.

With this in mind the three speakers were all heavily involved in social media in their respective posts and studies. MmIT Secretary Andy Tattersall spoke about potential roles LIS professionals can play in helping academics gain membership to the ‘Academic Social Club’ and understand its member benefits. Blogging took centre stage for Sierra Williams’s presentation on ‘Digital tools and technologies are making it easier for researchers to reach wider audiences’. After the brief formal AGM, Laura Smith concluded the afternoon with a light hearted romp through what social media has done for her as a student, a researcher, a librarian, and an activist.

Universal application

Although the speakers had an academic library bias, as with many aspects of librarianship, bright ideas are applicable in other disciplines. Is it true that lawyers don't worry about their articles being read and influencing others; would they want to spend time running an influential legal blog; would they be concerned about spending time campaigning for issues which affect their legal practice? All of these issues were touched upon by the speakers and all of them can be translated into the legal information world.

Statistics are key. When lawyers see how many people have seen their article on Lexology, there is much preening and whooping. The first thing that marketing savvy lawyers ask is, how many people will my article reach, what will this mean in terms of the firm's profile? This is why law firms are now employing PR consultants to ensure that interviews, articles etc. reach the widest possible audience. After Andy's discussion on academics, I'm pleasantly surprised that the traditionally conservative and slow moving legal profession have come so far in spreading the legal word online.


I’d never heard of altmetrics and I was fascinated to find out how they combined social media, google, online databases etc., to score the reach of each academic/researcher. Although I'm personally interested in this, being on, I had no idea about ResearchGate, Figshare which help academics organise and share research and enable discussion., Plu.mX, and others measure individual's clout. This has massive implications for the allocation of funding, tenure and other ways of identifying movers and shakers in university departments. Just as a highly regarded rainmaker in a law firm can measure business development success by looking at fees generated, their name and external profile is crucial.

Andy also touched on the way that academia is changing; from  MOOCs, open access, big data, the way that they are delivering the university experience. For every traditional way of doing something, there is a new option(s) available; we are shifting from presentations/seminars/conferences, mid term papers, academic books, peer review to YouTube, open access, blogs, immediate interaction. This has a major impact on how research is digested and presented to the outside world - an enthusiastic researcher blogging about a pertinent topic can be picked up by the media with a simple Google search. That person can then find themselves as the 'go to expert'. We can then see what immediate societal impact their research is having and their heads of department/employers will be impressed by their profile.

Not just about the Bieber

I don't want to dwell too much at length here on the ways that librarians should take ownership of altmetrics, rather than to say that the information profession is perfectly placed to do so. We are excellent at supporting, reviewing and filtering information. We have excellent social media skills and can provide impartial advice. It is up to us to convince our users that Twitter isn't just about Justin Bieber and that given time investment, it is a useful way of identifying and communicating with other experts.


As if to back up Andy's conclusion about social media being a ticking time bomb for anyone with outdated web presence, Sierra Williams, Managing Editor of LSE's Impact blog exhorted everyone to get communicating online. If you are interested in finding out how social science research impacts on the 'real world' then pop over there and read this quality controlled/curated blog.

The main point I want to emphasise here is that social media can make the invisible researcher/lawyer/whoever visible - by creating a space for your thoughts you can turn your niche area mainstream. If you're not ready for that, offer to write a guest post for someone else and you may hit on something really important and be asked back.

Again I don't want to over do the pros and cons of blogging v article writing, this has been done to death. Professional/academic v enthusiastic amateur; free v fee; quality control and peer review; there are many challenges facing professionals who blog. Sierra highlighted a few, namely, time constraints, whether it is an appropriate vehicle for certain research, the scary blogosphere and trolling, and the problems round copyright. I can thoroughly sympathise with the issues around producing regular content, it is time consuming and can be quite pressurised.

Asking lawyers for articles when they are supposed to be fee-earning can be challenging. But if websites are to remain active, relevant, high up the Google rankings, then it is an important contribution to the firm's online profile. Just as these academic library people are selling the benefits of being online to their colleagues, I am doing the same in law - don't think of it as social media per se, but an extension of conversions they are already having with peers

It was an instructive afternoon with friendly chat and interesting speakers. I really hope to make more of this SIG and perhaps join their committee. I may even get vocal at their 2015 conference, if asked! Thank you MMIT for an excellent start to the year.

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