It is remarkable to think about how much the landscape has changed for academic clinicians over the past decade. Historically, academic productivity (and hence promotion) was measured through the extent of one’s extramural funding, quantity and quality of publications, and national reputation as measured by speaking invitations and society involvement. While each of these metrics persist, scientific investigators can now enhance each of these facets of their CV through involvement in social media. In a global survey of >3000 scientists and engineers conducted by Nature in 2014, Google Scholar, Research Gate, LinkedIn, and Twitter were all recognized as social media platforms for professional engagement 1. Among these, Twitter dominated, with >40% of respondents using it to comment on research and follow discussions, 50% using it to promote their own research, and 40% using it find peers and discover recommended papers in their field. At that time, only 10% of respondents were regularly using Twitter, but more recently, the scientific community on this platform has rapidly expanded and gained influence. A 2018 study evaluating 100 biologists on Twitter determined that the ‘tipping point’ to achieving ‘reach’, i.e. engaging with the non-scientist community, was having at least 1000 followers 2.
Social Media and Research Metrics
Since its introduction in the late 1970s, the journal Impact Factor has served as the benchmark (whether right or wrong) for determining the quality of publications. With the expanded use of social media in the research community, a variety of newer metrics have emerged, including those tied to a specific investigator (H-Index, i10 Index) and those tied to publications (Altmetric). Within our field, the impact of social media on journal impact factor is evident. In 2017, Ibrahim et al published a prospective, case-control crossover study examining the impact of Visual Abstracts on article dissemination for Annals of Surgery, showing that the use of visual abstracts on Twitter increased impressions >7 fold and article visits 2.7 fold 3. Since that article was published and visual abstracts were required for Annals of Surgery, the Impact Factor has increased from 9 in 2016 to 12.9 in 2020. The effect of social media engagement for specific articles can now be tracked in real time using the Altmetric, a composite score of social media engagement in the form of Tweets, blogs, Facebook pages, and citations among others. In examining the most popular article in JAMA Surgery this month, the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection, 2017’, one can observe that it has been viewed >1.7 million times, cited 914 times, and has an Altmetric of 2356, placing it in the 5% of all research scored using this metric 4. Emerging data suggests that being a top social media influencer in your field can have a personal benefit as well, with a higher H-index 5.
Taken together, it is clear that if you are not using social media to broaden the reach and impact of your work, you are missing out! Here are a few simple steps to help you ‘build your brand’ as a surgeon-scientist and become an influencer in your specialty.
- Claim your profile in Google Scholar: Google Scholar is the easiest way to keep track of your publications and see your H-Index and i10 scores. This is especially important if searching your name on Pubmed identifies publications from investigators with similar names, rather than exclusively identifying your work. In the Google Scholar platform, you can select your publications, see when and how often they are cited, provide a mechanism for people to email you, and link your lab website (more on that later). It will also start to suggest publications in your field of interest when you navigate to the home page, which is a great way to keep up with your topics of interest.
- Join, or expand your activities, on Twitter: Use your profile to link your institutional or Google Scholar profile so that people can find your work easily. Engage with other users, and follow collaborators, programs, societies, and journals in your specialty. Every time your group publishes a paper, receives a grant or award, or has some other positive experience, share that on Twitter. If you include a screen shot of a graphical abstract or photo, that is another opportunity to tag up to 10 accounts (lab members, societies, journals, etc) without using up the precious 280 character limit for a tweet. Even better, put together a short ‘tweetorial’ of the key findings from your paper. This recent article provides a great framework for getting started on Twitter if you are unfamiliar with the platform 6. Remember, you should aim to get at least 1000 followers to achieve impact outside your specialty. This can be easily done through regular engagement and by following others, who will often follow you back. It will also provide you with important feedback and ideas.
- Create a lab website and logo: These do not need to be fancy or highly professional. Most universities have a website hosting service with basic instructions on how to create one, and this can be a nice side project for student mentees working on your lab during the summer. Potential trainees and staff hires will definitely look for your lab website when considering joining your group, so it is to your benefit to spend a little time on this. Lab logos or even full websites can be commissioned through design websites for a nominal fee. One service we have had a great experience with is 99designs.com, which allows you to create a ‘design contest’ where designers compete to create your logo. During the contest, you can create surveys to get feedback from your group members on design features, and then you finalize your winner and get digital images in a variety of formats for future use. We used this for our lab logo and for a consortium logo with great results. In my group, we have a large summer contingent of high school students, undergraduates, and medical students conducting research. At our end of summer celebration, T-shirts and stickers for water bottles, laptops, etc were given out as small gifts for their hard work and dedication. Not only were these highly popular, they have served as small advertisements for our research across the larger campus community and made our colleagues aware of potential opportunities for collaboration and expansion of research projects.
- Other social media platforms that can be helpful: LinkedIn is a valuable platform for advertising for full-time lab positions, including postdoctoral fellows, technicians, and statisticians. You can create a posting for free and link it to your institutional posting. In my experience, this has at least doubled the number of applicants for positions. Publons is a free platform that helps you keep track of peer review activities. This is fairly effortless and enables you to create a professional looking report that can be linked to your annual review to capture this otherwise ‘free’ work that is necessary as an academic clinician.
- Van Noorden R. Online collaboration: Scientists and the social network. Nature. 2014;512(7513):126-129. doi:10.1038/512126a
- Côté IM, Darling ES. Scientists on Twitter: Preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops? Heard SB, ed. FACETS. 2018;3(1):682-694. doi:10.1139/facets-2018-0002
- Ibrahim AM, Lillemoe KD, Klingensmith ME, Dimick JB. Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Ann Surg. 2017;266(6):e46-e48. doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000002277
- Berríos-Torres SI, Umscheid CA, Bratzler DW, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection, 2017. JAMA Surg. 2017;152(8):784-791. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2017.0904
- Kesiena O, Onyeaka HK, Fugar S, Okoh AK, Volgman AS. The top 100 Twitter influencers in cardiology. AIMS Public Heal. 2021;8(4):743-753. doi:10.3934/publichealth.2021058
- Bilal M, Oxentenko AS. The Impact of Twitter: Why Should You Get Involved, and Tips and Tricks to Get Started. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020;115(10):1549-1552. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000763