What are the analytics of a peer-reviewed blog post as compared to an article?
Social workers are in the business of making the world a better place. Many of us in academia started out as practitioners, where we could see changes in a matter of hours. Our efforts were measured in symptom reduction, caseload, and billable hours. When we transitioned from practice to academia we learned that the impact of our work (teaching, scholarship, service) often took years, not hours, to become apparent. The long-standing metrics for evaluating academic effort have parallels with direct practice; instead of client outcomes we’re evaluated on journal impact factor, citation count, grant funding and general overall impact (as hard as that may be to define). With the rise of social media, academics have new outlets for sharing innovation and discovery through social media as blog posts (long form and micro posts like Twitter), visual posts like Instagram, and audio posts like podcasts. Social media provides academics with a return to the immediacy of direct practice. The value of an idea is measured in a matter of hours, not years. This blog post will compare and contrast the metrics involved in peer-reviewed blog posts and articles published in journals.
Measuring the impact of peer-reviewed publications
There are four primary ways to measure the impact of publications. The first three use publications and the fourth uses social media.
Journal impact factor: Impact factor is a measure of the importance of a journal. Although the technical definition is uninspiring (the number of times a journal’s articles have been cited divided by the number of citable articles in that journal), impact factor has come to serve as a proxy for how much impact a journal has on a field of study. In theory, if Journal A publishes articles that are cited more often than the articles published in Journal B, then Journal A must have a greater impact on a field than Journal B. Journal impact factor, however, is often erroneously used to assess the quality of a journal, a scholar, or to compare one field with another.
Citation Count: Citation count is a simple sum of the number of times a journal article has been cited in another publication. Unlike the controversies over journal impact factor, the only dispute regarding citation counts pertains to self-citations, i.e. where an author cites their own work. In some instances, self-citation is disallowed in citation counts.
h-index: h-Index is a measure of a scholar’s impact. The formula is the number of papers that have received at least h number of citations. If a scholar’s h-index is 10 it means they have at least 10 papers that have been cited at least 10 times each. The h-index does not provide a good measure of a scholar’s impact if that scholar has published a few highly cited papers. The easiest way to find an h-index is to look on Google Scholar. Figure 1 is a screenshot of the Google Scholar page for one of the blog’s authors. On the right there is a citation count, h-index, and i10-index.
Figure 1. Google Scholar H-index
Social network mentions (e.g. Altmetrics): Altmetric is an example of a service that keeps track of the number of times that a peer-reviewed publication has been mentioned in social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and reference managers like Mendeley. Altmetrics provides two metrics that parallel citation counts and h-index. The first is the number of “mentions” across social networking sites (SNS). The second metric, called the “attention score” ranks the publication based on the number of cites compared to all other publications (total, of the same age, and within the same journal). Figure 2 shows the attention score for a peer-reviewed journal article published in August 2016 (https://www.altmetric.com/details/10739486). Figure provides a snapshot of who is tweeting about the article.
Figure 2. Altmetrics for Journal Article (Summary view: attention score in context)
Figure 3. Altmetrics for Journal Article (Twitter view)
Measuring the impact of social media
One of the democratizing aspects of social media is that anyone can create and distribute content. There are no nameless and faceless reviewers deciding whether or not your words and ideas will find an audience. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to become an influencer. Your critiques of the establishment are not filtered through the establishment. Social work’s racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s murder happened immediately on social media and interrogated the ways that whiteness was centered by social work’s national organizations, schools, faculty, and curriculum. For example, a Facebook Live event in July, 2020 on the role of social work and policing was viewed nearly 20,000 times in one week. Unlike a “letter to the editor,” this event allowed panelists to share opinions and allowed viewers to share comments and questions using the chat function. The impact of this one event could be measured in the number of comments, views, shares, likes, as well as the number of faculty who used the event as an assignment or springboard for discussion. This dynamic engagement resulted in a richer and more compelling experience than could be found in traditional academic publishing or even web-based content that is less interactive like podcasts or blog posts.
As the previous example highlighted, there are more metrics available for online content than for academic publications, although the breadth and depth of the metric depends on the service. For example, a free service called Podtrac provides information for podcast episodes on the number of unique downloads per episode and the size of the listening audience. Paid services can provide more depth, such as how many minutes an episode was played on average, the point in the episode where most people dropped off, and the speed people listened to the episode.
Academics who are integrating blogs or social media content into their performance reviews, including tenure and promotion, can use these metrics as an example of their reach and influence outside of the ivory tower. If you wrote a blog post about one of your research findings that was shared by Brené Brown, web metrics would allow you to show how many millions of people were exposed to your scholarship.
In the examples below, I (Jimmy Young) describe the metrics available for blog posts. I personally started blogging my academic journey on several different blogs before ultimately landing with WordPress and if I did it again, I would likely stay with the Google platform of Blogger simply because I use a lot of other Google products. Besides that point, in recent years I have dramatically slowed my blogging as life on the tenure track has absorbed more and more of my energy. However, blogs remain a great platform for a variety of reasons and today there are many platforms that provide a number of different features. Basic metrics you can obtain from a blog include number of views, referral traffic, demographics, and much more.
Figure 4. Blog Post Views for JimmySW.com
Blog views represent the number of times a unique visitor lands on your website to read your posts or otherwise engage with your content. I provide some of my own stats from my blog at JimmySW.com only as an example. There are a number of other, more active, blogs in social work that could provide similar analytics with more promising stats. Figure 4 provides the All Time number of views for the top performing blog posts. Depending upon your chosen platform you can also get specific insights related to how many times a blog post has been shared and on what sites. WordPress (and I assume other platforms) provides an “Insights” feature that even drills down to the specific day of the week and hour of the day that are the most popular times for your blog. This information can help you determine when it might be best to publish your posts in the future. Additionally, you can obtain details related to where people are coming from when they visit your blog. Figure 5 shows the traffic sources for my blog with the top being search engines like Google or Bing and the second being Twitter. To be fair I’m on Twitter quite a lot.
Figure 5. Traffic Sources for JimmySW.com
Figure 6 provides analytics related to what country a site visitor is viewing your blog from. I’m not sure how accurate this is given that people can use virtual private networks or VPN’s to make it seem like their computer is in a totally different country. Nevertheless, this kind of information is pretty cool and can even translate into the geographic impact of your work. Additional analytics and metrics include things like how much time a visitor spends on your site, certain user demographics like age and gender, and also what kind of digital device they are using whether it’s mobile, a desktop/laptop configuration, and even their specific operating system.
Figure 6. Country Level Demographics for JimmySW.com
All of this may seem overwhelming and you might wonder what it has to do with demonstrating impact versus the more traditional journal venues. The reality is that blogs now offer more ways of demonstrating your impact than a traditional journal does and more importantly, you are in control. Blogs often feed into other digital platforms like Academia.edu or ResearchGate.net and social media better than a journal article does, which means that your work can be amplified faster and easier than ever before. I often post my conference presentations and other academic work to my blog to help amplify its reach and make it more accessible. Blogging can help increase your creative thinking and I’ve even been successful turning a blog post into a peer-reviewed book chapter. I keep an area on my Vita for creative research dissemination that outlines some of my top blog posts as measured by visits. My blog was instrumental in flushing out my dissertation and some of my posts still get visits nearly a decade later. I’ve used those metrics when on the job market and even when I went up for tenure. Demonstrating impact can now move beyond the traditional journal metrics, but we are interested to know more of your experience. What ways have you seen or used blogs to help with research dissemination? How has it added to your knowledge or overall impact? Leave a comment and let’s connect to help increase the reach of social work research.