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Submission requirement aims to boost social-media engagement

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Last year the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution began asking authors to include tweetable abstracts in their submissions. The journal’s assistant editor Samantha Ponton explains why and how the journal went about it

In November 2012, the online-only journal of the British Ecological Society (BES), Methods in Ecology and Evolution, introduced a new submissions requirement for all articles. We began to ask authors to submit a “tweetable abstract”. One of our sister journals, Journal of Ecology, followed suit in April 2013.

Social-media platforms are great marketing tools, and authors can play a major role in helping us to advertise their articles, alongside all of our usual marketing strategies. All five BES journals actively use social media to advertise their content. We think it’s important to establish ourselves within the online ecological community, and the growing number of researchers who use social media. Currently, the Methods Twitter account has over 2,800 followers, most of whom are ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and people interested in news from Methods.

To introduce our new submission requirement, a new box was added to our ScholarOne manuscript submission website, for authors to enter their text. We haven’t provided any detailed guidelines for authors, but have simply included the following statement next to the box: “Tweetable Abstract: Limit 120 characters - describe the novelty/key finding of your manuscript”. We ask for a maximum of 120 characters so that we can also add a link to the article. The initiative was also widely publicised through our Twitter account and on the Methods blog.

It is important to note that the text provided during the submission process is not used automatically. It is checked by the assistant editor and, providing it represents the article well, it is then used along with a link to the article. Before this introduction we mainly tweeted article titles, which were sometimes modified, but it’s more interesting if an author can concisely state their key message in their own words. However, if a tweetable abstract is not usable, we revert back to tweeting the title. Either way, our followers will see our tweets and hopefully click on the links to read the articles.

So far, approximately 75 per cent of Methods submissions have had a tweetable abstract that is usable. This is a healthy percentage, particularly considering that we only introduced the initiative six months ago and that not all researchers are familiar with Twitter. The most common mistake made by the remaining 25 per cent is to provide 120 words, instead of 120 characters.

We have also found that very few authors use the symbols ‘@’ and ‘#’ in their tweetable abstracts, to refer to an author’s Twitter username or to tag a key word, respectively. Hashtags can be used to increase the visibility of a tweet, as users can search Twitter for keywords using this symbol as a prefix, for example, #ecology or #statistics. This enables non-Methods followers to discover the tweet through their own searches.

Authors who already use Twitter have understood and embraced the concept of tweetable abstracts, but this is also a powerful tool for non-Twitter users. All researchers should be able to describe their research in 120 characters and we can then use our knowledge of Twitter to insert relevant hashtags and the article link, to promote the articles on behalf of the authors.

It is difficult to measure the impact of this initiative to date, as high downloads can often be attributed to a number of different factors and are unlikely to directly correlate to a particular tweet. However, we see the positive reaction that we have had from the community as one measure of success and certainly feel that authors are better placed to provide succinct summaries of their research findings than journal staff. When we tweeted about the introduction of tweetable abstracts, the feedback from our followers was extremely positive and we received some encouraging comments, for example:

“Tweetable abstracts? Brilliant idea for the short sharp taste of new paper releases! @MethodsEcolEvol”

 “Great idea. All scientific journals should promote this. MT: @MethodsEcolEvol *requires* a Tweetable abstract! Very cool!”

However, this obviously represents a fairly informed group of people who already use Twitter.

This will be an interesting trend to watch as authors become more informed about Twitter and as more metrics are gathered that could show the effects of this activity. On our five BES journals, readers can access article-level metrics (ALMs) via ReadCube. In addition, Methods has recently started a six-month trial with Altmetric through our partner publisher Wiley. Altmetric tracks when an article has been mentioned online on a huge number of websites, including Twitter. An Altmetric score is displayed next to the abstract of each Methods article on Wiley Online Library, which will include information on the number of times an article has been tweeted or blogged about, and by whom. With the increasing use of social media for the dissemination of research, the Altmetric score aims to measure the online reach of individual articles and we hope that our tweetable abstracts will help to boost this.

Samantha Ponton is assistant editor of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, a journal of the British Ecological Society