The term “altmetrics” refers to a type of data that is used to measure the online influence and reach of a variety of scholarly resources, from articles to books to multimedia and more. Altmetrics can include any data sources from the web where scholarly resources are shared and engaged with, including social media, comments, blog posts, public policy documents, and social bookmarking services. These data sources can be monitored for discussions of digital library objects to garner information about their online influence and engagement. Altmetrics data are complementary to citation data, which measure the influence and impact of scholarship in the peer reviewed literature; web analytics (including usage statistics), which measure traffic to and consumption of web-based resources; and alert services, which monitor social media and the broader web for keywords and links to non-scholarly content like brand names.

Applications for assessing digital content use/reuse

While initially envisioned as alternative methods for measuring the impact of traditional scholarly publications, altmetrics can be used to track engagement with nearly any online scholarly resource with a persistent identifier or stable URL. As a method to assess use/reuse of digital content, they can be employed to measure the influence of digital objects in scholarship as well as non-academic fields.


Commonly used tools include:

Ethical guidelines

Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.

Additional guidelines for responsible practice

The collection of scholarly engagement data at scale has raised privacy concerns in the past. All altmetrics services either scan only publicly available data (e.g., public tweets), anonymized private data (e.g., private Facebook shares), or some combination of the two. These services are required to follow the European data privacy law, GDPR, as well as terms and conditions for third party websites from which altmetrics are sourced. Social media users whose posts are indexed in altmetrics services may be unaware of how and to what extent their data is shared in unintended contexts.


  • May provide data on use/reuse of digital objects more quickly than “traditional” citation analysis because altmetrics typically include results from frequently updated sources like blogs, social media, and mass media.
  • May identify more instances of use/reuse of digital objects and collections than methods that rely on well-formatted citations.
  • Institutions that prioritize engagement from news media, local communities, alumni, or other non-academic communities can use altmetrics to greater success than methods such as citation analysis.
  • Can measure impact outside of the traditional academic citation and publication context.
  • Can provide both item-level metrics (e.g., digitized photo) and collection-level metrics (e.g., hundreds of photos within a collection).


  • As altmetrics were envisioned as alternative methods to measuring the impact of scholarly works, some tools and tutorials still focus largely on scholarly publications and require DOIs or persistent identifiers to track use/reuse.

  • There is the possibility of altmetrics being “gamed,” such as by artificially inflating view counts or downloads, via bots or other automated programs (see Adie 2013).

  • Altmetrics measure attention, but attention does not necessarily equate to quality. If qualitative assessment is desired via altmetrics, the content of posts and other mentions must be analyzed by the end user to determine if the attention a digital object or collection receives is one of high regard or not. No altmetrics tool currently offers a sentiment analysis feature.

  • Some potential altmetrics data, such as social media shares,comments, and subscription news services, may be hidden behind paywalls and logins. The availability of source data varies from tool to tool.

  • Altmetrics may not be accepted by some stakeholders who prefer traditional impact standards.

Learn how practitioners have used this method

  • Alternative assessment tools and techniques for digital collections
    Whitepaper outlining alternatives to citation metrics, including altmetrics, and how they can be used to assess use/reuse of digitized special collections and institutional repositories. Includes an overview of Google Alerts and Mention.

    Konkiel, S., Dalmau, M., & Scherer, D. (2015). Altmetrics and Analytics for Digital Special Collections and Institutional Repositories [White paper]. Figshare. 

  • Metrics Toolkit
    “The Metrics Toolkit is a resource for researchers and evaluators that provides guidance for demonstrating and evaluating claims of research impact.  With the Toolkit you can quickly understand what a metric means, how it is calculated, and if it’s good match foryour impact question.” Though not specific to digital objects or collections, it may be useful for those seeking to understand the meaning of altmetrics, web analytics, and citation metrics.

    Metrics Toolkit. Accessed June 5, 2020. 

  • Altmetrics and Their Potential as an Assessment Tool for Digital Libraries
    Overview of altmetrics and their potential implementation with different commonly used digital library systems.

    Yang, S. Q., & Dawson, P. H. (2018). Altmetrics and Their Potential as an Assessment Tool for Digital Libraries2018 5th International Symposium on Emerging Trends and Technologies in Libraries and Information Services (ETTLIS), 351–354. 

  • Interpreting “Altmetrics”: Viewing Acts on Social Media Through the Lens of Citation and Social Theories.
    What do altmetrics mean in practice? In this paper, “a framework is presented that describes acts leading to (online) events on which [altmetrics and other scholarly metrics] are based. These activities occur in the context of social media, such as discussing on Twitter or saving to Mendeley, as well as downloading and citing. The framework groups various types of acts into three categories — accessing, appraising, and applying — and provides examples of actions that lead to visibility and traceability online.”

    Haustein, S., Bowman, T. D., Costas, R. (2016). Interpreting “altmetrics”: viewing acts on social media through the lens of citation and social theories. In C. R. Sugimoto (Ed.), Theories of Informetrics and Scholarly Communication (pp. 372-405). Berlin: De Grutyer Mouton. 

Additional resources

Documenting the Now develops tools and builds community practices that support the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.


Contributors to this page include Elizabeth Kelly and Stacy Konkiel

Cite this page

Kelly, E., Konkiel, S. (2023). Altmetrics. Digital Content Reuse Assessment Framework Toolkit (D-CRAFT); Council on Library & Information Resources.

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