If you’re an academic with twenty-six peer-reviewed articles sitting out there, what’s the next thing you want to do? If you are creative, you turn that into a potential twenty-seventh paper by doing an experiment on them. At least that’s what Melissa Terras from the London School of Economics and Science (LSE) did. Terras wanted to see how others would react to those open-access academic articles located on the University College of London’s (UCL) Discovery platform if she did follow-up blog posts and tweets about them. She wrote about her results in the LSE Impact of Social Science Blog, and it appears that the additional blogging and tweets made a significant difference in the number of downloads of her research.
(note: hat-tip to bespacific blog for finding the article.)

Terras didn’t do what most of us think of when it comes to promoting previous work on Blogs or Twitter (a.k.a. “blatant marketing”), instead she filled in the pieces of the research that didn’t make it into the original publications by giving the background details of what went into the process. Instead of just tweeting “go read my paper Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation,” she actually wrote a blog post where she talked about the issues surrounding why she wrote the paper and injected her personality into the blog post (which is usually lacking in those peer-reviewed academic papers.) The results were pretty good and Terras could see that there was value in taking these additional steps. After her first post and tweet about the article, she monitored the downloads to see what happened next.

She blogged about the article, then a couple days later started tweeting about the blog post. As you can see from the graph above, the results show a significant increase in downloads of her article. She then went on to test some other papers with the same process, and left one paper in the series out of the process… it’s pretty easy to see which one got left out.

Although she admits this isn’t exactly going viral, it does help in getting your work out in front of others. Terras’ advice is really two-fold and increasingly important for the academic community:

Ergo, if you want people to read your papers, make them open access, and let the community know (via blogs, twitter, etc) where to get them. Not rocket science. But worth spending time doing. Just dont develop a stats habit.

I’ve actually been thinking about how this relates to the legal community, especially in the large law firm environment that I live in. Try as I might, I can’t talk lawyers into stopping with those rigid and legalese “client alerts” that flood in-house counsel’s email boxes every time Congress passes a law, or the Supreme Court issues a ruling. However, could the approach that Terras did with her academic papers work with client alerts? Could a lawyer that wrote the client alert turn around and actually write a more personable blog post explaining the background of why he or she wrote the client alert (add in some personality, maybe a little humor??) and then tweet about it? Could the results be similar to what Terras discovered with her papers?

I’d love to run an experiment to see. So, if you’re an attorney and you are forced to write one of those lovely client alerts, how about guest posting here about what you wrote, and why you wrote it? Make sure you tell your Marketing Department first so we can get them to monitor the stats for how many downloads you get in the following days after the post and after the tweeting begins. If it works like Terras’ experiment, then maybe firms should rethink how they promote client alerts and start this three-phased process of client alerts, follow-up blog post, and Twitter.