Tuesday 12 June 2012

Unleash numbers! Social media and OA repositories

Oscar Wilde famously stated “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” This is quite poignant when one considers the open access institutional repository movement, for what is the point of archiving and making your research available on open access if nobody knows it’s there!
Sadly this has been the case with much of the material archived in repositories. The submission process and getting the publications “out there” is, in the main, a passive affair with repositories waiting patiently for their metadata to be harvested. As a result, overall usage statistics tend to be low even when the item is first uploaded. This can be disheartening for the author, not to mention the long-suffering repository manager.
However with a little bit of self-promotion through the use of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and other platforms an item deposited can become “hot” and achieve healthy usage statistics. After all that’s why the work was made “open access” in the first place.
The promotional aspect of alerting the world to the location of something is self-evident, however how significant it is? We looked at three items that were submitted to the Sydney eScholarship Repository and made available in open access on the same day. The author of one of the items used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to publicise his work, while the other two authors relied on the passive process.
Using Google Analytics and assessing access for the three items we could see that:
·         The item that was tweeted received far more hits, especially on the first day (454 versus 10 and 6 respectively).
·         On the second day the tweeted item still received 90 hits whereas the other two items received none.
Using Twitter’s 140 characters to post some information and a persistent link to a substantial piece of research in a repository is a great mechanism for researchers to get their message out fast and effectively. The authors of the top five most viewed items in the Sydney eScholarship repository in May 2012 tweeted, used Facebook, blogs and other social media tools to alert their peers, colleagues and followers of the availability of their work.
There are obviously a number of factors that may also contribute to an increase in usage statistics such as the size of one’s social media network, the nature of the content and access, etc. However, at a cursory glance one can see the value in using social media. There is obviously a need for much more research in this area and I look forward to reading it.
Many institutional repositories continue to suffer from low uptake. If they are able to prove through real time statistics that when combined with social media activity, access and usage can increase considerably, there is a strong case to be made for open access repositories.
But don’t take my word for it, watch Professor Simon Chapman http://youtu.be/RIkupM1xxvI talking about his experiences with social media during our OA Week Activities.

Sten Christensen
Sydney eScholarship, University of Sydney Library

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