Tweeting journal articles merely drives Twitter-driven traffic

Members of the online radiology community, take note: Personally tweeting links to articles posted ahead of print in online medical journals doesn’t increase overall pageviews of these articles. It just increases the number of people who find their way to any given “article in press” via Twitter.

So found researchers who looked at pageview numbers as put up by members of the online emergency-medicine community.

The Journal of the American College of Radiology published the findings online, ahead of print, Nov. 6.

N. Seth Trueger, MD, MPH, of Northwestern University and colleagues obtained web traffic data for Annals of Emergency Medicine for 18 months before and 13 months after a social media team, nine members strong, began using their personal Twitter accounts to drive traffic to articles posted at that journal’s website.

(The data were provided by Annals publisher Elsevier, which also publishes JACR.)

Along with the traffic driven by Twitter, the researchers looked at pageviews from Facebook, for which they’d done no article-sharing intervention, as well as total article views per month.

They found the tested Twitter strategy was associated with an increase in pageviews from Twitter—about 1,200 to 1,400 more page views per month—but there was no corresponding lift in total article views.

“Although it is possible there was an increase in monthly traffic that was simply too small to detect, it may be that social media promotion influences the avenues by which readers access articles in press but does not pull in additional readers or visits,” the authors comment. “For example, readers could begin accessing new articles by following AST (Annals social media team members) in their Twitter feeds instead of receiving update e-mails linking to new articles in press.”

The authors note several limitations in their study design, chiefly the absence of a component to gauge cause and effect. They allow that the climb in clicks from Twitter may have reflected a simple increase in the use of social media by emergency physicians as a group.

“We were unable to disprove this possibility, as we do not have access to the data of a similar journal to serve as a control,” they write. “However, given the sharp increase in pageviews from Twitter and the much smaller increase in pageviews from Facebook, we believe that this is unlikely.”

Annals of Emergency Medicine has a comprehensive social media strategy of which Twitter is just one part, Trueger et al. point out, adding that the journal also uses blogs, podcasts and so on.

“Further work is necessary to determine which strategies will achieve the overarching aim of maximizing dissemination of data and how to best measure it,” they write.