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On altmetrics, going beyond citations to measure research impact

Published by Alison Moore

This blog post was written by Oluwatomilola Ojo, SFU Library co-op student

The success of a scholar in this globalized world is not how brilliant or how many books, papers, peer reviews and journal articles they have written but how visible the works are to people all over the world whether in the academic setting or outside of it. In recent years, altmetrics have emerged as an innovative approach to measuring the impact of academic research.

Altmetrics are complementary metrics, and not an alternative, as the name suggests, to the traditional model of measuring the impact of scholarly work. They are still a relatively new and evolving approach to measure the impact of research that looks beyond traditional citation counts to measure a broader range of impacts, including online dissemination, social media attention, and public policy implications (Priem & Hemminger, 2010). They provide a more comprehensive picture of societal impact of research; altmetrics track data from social media pages such as Twitter and Facebook, traditional media, specified field platforms, blogs and online reference managers like Mendeley and Zotero which can provide feedback on the reception of their work that can be used to inform future research (Thelwall et al., 2013). Altmetrics have become increasingly relevant in research evaluation and assessment, given the multidimensional and diverse impact of research. (Haustein et al., 2014). For instance, altmetrics offer a more inclusive and detailed view of the impact of research beyond academic circles, highlighting the relevance and contribution of research to society, public, debates, and policy-making (Costas et al., 2015). They do provide a more comprehensive and immediate picture of the impact of scientific research.

Benefits of altmetrics

  • Capturing the societal impact of research: Traditional citation metrics primarily focus on academic impact, such as the number of citations a paper receives within the academic community. However, they may also indicate how much interest there is in the research beyond the academic community and how the research is being discussed and shared in wider society (Thelwall et al., 2013). This can help researchers understand how the public, government, policymakers, and other researchers interact with their work.
  • Complementing traditional metrics: Altmetrics offer a more comprehensive set of data derived from a broader spectrum of sources and provide more timely information about the impact of research compared to conventional metrics. They collect and analyze data from a wide range of sources beyond traditional ones, offering a more complete picture of the attention and engagement that research is receiving beyond the academic community.
  • Provision of open access advantage: Altmetrics provide the public with access to source codes, APIs, and other resources, making data more easily replicable. Additionally, the use of open data sources in altmetrics ensures that the data is not influenced by commercial interests or biases, thus reflecting the true impact of research in the broader scholarly community.
  • Offering speed and discoverability:  Altmetrics data accumulates much more quickly than traditional metrics, which is particularly useful in disciplines where citations tend to accumulate slowly. This is especially beneficial for new researchers as the rapid accumulation of online attention can help identify which of their outputs are gaining traction in the online sphere (Jenkins, 2022). Altmetrics provide a way to track and measure the impact of research beyond traditional academic channels, such as through social media, blogs, and news outlets, allowing researchers to better understand the broader impact of their work.
  • Provision of reasons and context for a citation: Altmetrics can provide reasons and context for a citation by capturing the attention and engagement that a piece of research is receiving in online environments. For example, if a research paper is being widely discussed on social media, this may provide context for why it is being cited in other research. Altmetrics can also provide additional information about the impact of a citation, such as the geographic distribution of the users citing the research, the types of users citing the research (e.g., academics, practitioners, policymakers), and the sentiment of online discussions surrounding the citation.

Where can I find altmetrics?

Altmetrics are used by a number of institutions around the world to rank methodologies and benchmark. They are not limited to the university setting alone. They are also used by individuals for job applications, evidence of promotions and to inform a publication and communication strategy. They can be found and used on these platforms:

  • Impactstory: This is an open-source and web-based platform that provides a range of metrics for tracking the impact of research, including altmetrics, citation metrics, and usage metrics. It also provides tools for generating researcher profiles and tracking the impact of individual researchers.
  • Plum Analytics: This platform tracks the impact of scholarly work by capturing various metrics such as usage, views, mentions, and citations making it easy to access and analyze. It provides a comprehensive range of metrics, including altmetrics, citation metrics and usage metrics. It also measures the impact of research across different channels like social media, news media, and policy documents as well as the awareness and interest of people in the work through their interaction.
  • Dimensions: Dimensions is a research platform that provides a range of metrics for tracking the impact of research output at individual and institutional levels.

Further resources

You can find out more about altmetrics and traditional impact metrics on our Scholarly Publishing webpages.


Costas, R., Zahedi, Z., & Wouters, P. (2015). Do “altmetrics” correlate with citations? Extensive comparison of altmetric indicators with citations from a multidisciplinary perspective. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(10).

Haustein, S., Peters, I., Sugimoto, C. R., Thelwall, M., & Larivière, V. (2014). Tweeting biomedicine: An analysis of tweets and citations in the biomedical literature. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65(4), 656–669.

Priem, J., & Hemminger, B. H. (2010). Scientometrics 2.0: New metrics of scholarly impact on the social Web. First Monday.

Thelwall, M., Haustein, S., Larivière, V., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2013). Do altmetrics work? Twitter and ten other social web services. PloS One, 8(5), e64841–e64841.

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