I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a Twitter user until recently. I created an account in 2009–probably a year or so after I started using Facebook. I think I posted three things and then my Twitter profile lay dormant for about eight years. At the time, due diligence is what motivated me to join Twitter. I’d just been to a national library conference where I’d listened to a panel of librarians talk about “meeting patrons where they are” whether that be in the library or Twitter. Getting a Twitter account seemed like the right thing to do, and I would figure out how it might be useful to me over time…eight years of time to be exact.
My time to rediscover Twitter began a little over a year ago when I stepped into the role of Digital Scholarship Librarian at Dartmouth. I became involved in conversations with authors about how to measure the impact of their scholarship. One way that an author’s impact has been traditionally measured is with an h-index. H-index ratings are determined when certain databases capture information about the number of times an article within that database is cited. This results in a calculation that intends to say something about the impact the article has had on the scholarly community. The problem with this method is that the article citation must live in (be indexed by) the database, and depending on the author’s discipline or type of published work (e.g., books) the work might not be indexed by that database and therefore remains unmeasurable by an h-index. For some authors, the h-index is not an accurate depiction of the importance or the impact of their work. Alternative ways of measuring scholarly impact have emerged through altmetrics. Altmetrics allow us to measure scholarly impact through non-traditional sources such as social media and news media mentions. An example of a tool that does this is Plum Analytics, which tells the story of scholarship and its impact through a variety of journal, social media, and news media lenses. This is where Twitter becomes relevant.
So, what if you’re not a fan of Twitter? Do you need to be on Twitter for tools like Plum Analytics to capture mentions? No, people can and will talk about your work whether you are there or not, which may be a good reason to be on Twitter. Like a water cooler, Twitter is a place to gather, and when people gather they talk about (among many other things) tv, news, art, and scholarship. Tools like Plum Analytics can show up at that water cooler and capture mentions of an author’s work on social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook), produce data about those mentions and share that with an author who might not be present at the cooler. This is useful information, especially if your work is not represented well to your peers and administrators through the h-index. And, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t know that people are talking about your work on Twitter, but once you do know, your enthusiasm for Twitter re-emerges. Over the past year, I’ve discovered that many faculty are like me in that when they discover that people are talking about their work on social media, they are surprised and delighted. Sometimes they are more excited about that than when it’s been cited, more traditionally, in someone else’s publication. This may be because on Twitter, people don’t HAVE to mention your work; they do it because it made impact on them and they are inspired to share it with others. As creators, this is exciting to discover.
When we talk with scholars about their professional identity, we address the importance of establishing a professional website that highlights professional or scholarly achievements and areas of expertise. We want them to know that if they don’t tell their own story online, someone else may do it for them, which can be inaccurate and harmful. We also talk about the importance of tools such as ORCID that will help establish them as a unique author, even if their name is John Smith. And then, we talk about the important role that social media plays in one’s identity (whether or not they are present in those social spheres).