Twitter and your academic reputation: friends or enemies?

trial by twitter

The feedback from social media like twitter can strike as fast as lightning, with consequences unforseen. For many researchers, the pace and tone of this online review can be intimidating — and can sometimes feel like an attack. How do authors best deal with these forms of peer review after publication? The speed of this “social peer review” is much faster than the time that was needed for the peer review process during submission and acceptance of the paper as part of the publishing process in (top) academic journals. and the feedback comes from anywhere, not just the circle of accepted experts in the field like with the blind review process of journals.

The result of this can be of enormous impact on your academic reputation. What if suddenly thousands of tweets disapprove of the conclusions of a paper just published? It will create a situation that is nearly impossible to handle for the author of the work. There will be a “negative sentiment” around the publications that will be of influence on aspects of your reputation. For example the chances your paper will be cited often. How will this social sentiment be of influence to other papers in the pipeline and under submission with (top) journals? How will the social sentiment be of influence to your co-authors? How will it influence the chances of your grant applications? How ill it influence your tenure process if the sentiment is negative? These are all huge stakes for researchers.

A recent article by Apoorva Mandavilla in Nature deals with this issue.  It is about “fast feedback”, “a chorus of (dis) approval”, “Meta-twitters ‘,  ‘new (alt) metrics of communication” and some possible solutions for the situation.

The possible power of social media for research and academic reputation is evident for me. The management of the communication and speed of the feedback needs special skills and special publication strategies by researchers (and institutes!) who care about their future careers and their reputation. The open social media review dynamics  at networks like twitter currently has many risks for the author of the paper. But at the same time the stakes and risks for the crowd who collectively performs these “trials”  is very low I guess. A single tweet is not powerful, but the flog together is impact full. It is a collective review of the crowd, with often a lot of people who just follow the sentiment by simply re-tweeting others.

I advice researchers to be very careful about which message on their paper is distributed in social networks, how this is distributed, by whom it is distributed and who is replying on it.  The social networks should not reproduce or copycat the formal peer review process by selected experts. They should be focused on adding value to the possible additional virtues of the work. The best approach might be to leverage the social media by initiating stories on possible practical values and practical impact of the research. Because when these  are confirmed in the wider social network audiences, the author can get confidence that the practical / managerial value of his research is valued and tested  immediately.  In this way the social networks can be very beneficial for the academic reputation; they perform a sounding board for testing managerial / practical value of the research.

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