Background: Academics in all disciplines increasingly use social media to share their publications on the internet, reaching out to different audiences. In the last few years, specific indicators of social media impact have been developed (eg, Altmetrics), to complement traditional bibliometric indicators (eg, citation count and h-index). In health research, it is unclear whether social media impact also translates into research impact.
Objective: The primary aim of this study was to systematically review the literature on the impact of using social media on the dissemination of health research. The secondary aim was to assess the correlation between Altmetrics and traditional citation-based metrics.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review to identify studies that evaluated the use of social media to disseminate research published in health-related journals. We specifically looked at studies that described experimental or correlational studies linking the use of social media with outcomes related to bibliometrics. We searched the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online (MEDLINE), Excerpta Medica dataBASE (EMBASE), and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) databases using a predefined search strategy (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews: CRD42017057709). We conducted independent and duplicate study selection and data extraction. Given the heterogeneity of the included studies, we summarized the findings through a narrative synthesis.
Results: Of a total of 18,624 retrieved citations, we included 51 studies: 7 (14%) impact studies (answering the primary aim) and 44 (86%) correlational studies (answering the secondary aim). Impact studies reported mixed results with several limitations, including the use of interventions of inappropriately low intensity and short duration. The majority of correlational studies suggested a positive association between traditional bibliometrics and social media metrics (eg, number of mentions) in health research.
Conclusions: We have identified suggestive yet inconclusive evidence on the impact of using social media to increase the number of citations in health research. Further studies with better design are needed to assess the causal link between social media impact and bibliometrics.
- Journal impact factor
- Social media
- Translational medical research