Excuse me, can you pimp my profile and measure my research impact, please?


Altmetrics by AJ Cann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Universities are at the centre of a changing research landscape due to a variety of national and international drivers.  New roles for librarians are being identified to support researchers. Richardson, Nolan-Browne, Loria & Bradbury (2012) mention the emergence of two new, important trends in research support since 2012:

  • social media optimisation
  • alternative impact metrics, or altmetrics

I had some questions: what is social media optimisation? What are altmetrics? Is impact related to quality? Are these measures misleading? What is the librarian’s role? Read on for answers…

What is social media optimisation?

Richardson, Nolan-Browne, Loria & Bradbury (2012)  define it as the provision of advice, links and demonstrations to social media web services such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate, in order to develop a researcher’s online profile.  This trend may have been just emerging in 2012, but it seems that many academic libraries (e.g. University of Southern Queenlsand Library, Curtin University Library, and QUT Library) now provide information and guides on how to maximise researcher impact using social media.

According to Thompson and French (2016) from QUT Library, “the modern researcher must embrace social media”, disseminate research via social media, and create an online persona.  The “Pimp my Profile” initiative was created by Creative Industries (CI) liaison librarians  to assist researchers in the CI faculty to develop their online personas.  The initiative consists of a three step guide, a workshop, and the Researcher  Profile Health Check service.  Although not yet formally evaluated, the initiative has had positive feedback and continued endorsement from the CI faculty, as well as uptake in the wider university community.

What is the research librarian’s role?

Thompson and French (2016) discussed how CI liaison librarians partnered with faculty to collaboratively develop their “Pimp my Profile” initiative to meet the specific need of developing researchers’ online personas.  Clearly, research librarians have a role in providing information resources to assist researchers to create their online profiles, however, it is also clear that these products can be very effective when they are developed collaboratively with users to meet users’ needs.

What are altmetrics?

According to the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL),  altmetrics is an emerging category of impact measurement based on data from the social web.  Altmetrics are proposed as an alternative to traditional impact metrics (bibliometrics),  such as citation impact  and journal impact factor.  Konkiel, Sugimoto and Williams (2016), cite flaws with traditional impact metrics  and consider altmetrics to be a potential solution, because they allow assessment of broader research impacts including societal impact, educational impact and public engagement and outreach.

This is not to say that there are no concerns regarding the use of altmetrics.  Some of these are:

Duke University’s Medical Centre Library and Archives website  states that more research is needed to make altmetrics’ measures more useful, and reminds us that altmetrics are measures of attention, not quality.  

What is the research librarian’s role?

Roemer & Borchardt (2015)  refer to the growing role of academic librarians in supporting and training researchers in the use of altmetrics and bibliometrics, as well as educating them about their limitations. Bibliometrics and altmetrics are quantitative measures and don’t tell the whole story.  A research article still needs to be read and evaluated to determine its quality.

Social media optimisation and altmetrics are the new kids on the block, emerging and developing in response to the disruption in the traditional dissemination of scholarly communication, and bringing researchers and librarians along for the ride.



  1. Ashlee Brown · October 16, 2016

    Hi Michele,

    Once again thank you for the great titles you provide each week, it gives me something to look forward to!

    I really enjoyed reading your post as altmetrics is something I am not very familiar with! I feel you have helped me gain some further insight, and I am interested to see what kind of role they will have with future research


    • Michele Smith · October 16, 2016

      Hi Ashlee, thanks. I am very interested to see where altmetrics go, too. Right now, it seems that altmetrics work best in combination with bibliometrics, as they allow for a bigger, more holistic picture to be obtained. The thing that makes altmetrics a bit special is that they allow for the measurement of social impact, which of course, bibliometrics does not accommodate, as that field is a more narrowly focused on scholarly impact. Since scholarly communication has now been turned upside down by social media, there is so much more opportunity for research to gain a mainstream foothold, particularly if researchers write a blog post based on their research and use plain language, to make it accessible to a lay audience. Breaking down the walls of academia – I love it!


  2. Anitra Ross · October 17, 2016

    Hi Michele, I agree that bibliometrics & altrimetrics need to be viewed together. I was fascinated to see on twitter a link to a free ebook (from the Altrimetrics blog you noted above) https://www.altmetric.com/libraries-ebook/, where the title is “Altmetrics for Librarians:
    100+ tips, tricks, and examples”. Anitra


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