Social media and impact

How was social media cited in 2014 REF Impact Case Studies?

Writing on the LSE Impact Blog, Katy Jordan and Mark Carrigan, describe their analysis of the role of social media in the case studies submitted to REF 2014.

While they see considerable use of social media as a route to impact, they are concerned by an overly simplistic use of metrics of reach:

However our fear is that the easily accessible measures which platforms provide, built into their architecture in order to encourage ever increasing user engagement, provide a faux-objectivity which will be drawn upon to solve the problem of impact.


An excessive fixation on metrics “bakes in” a dissemination model of social media, obscuring the relational value it can create (and the capacity for impact ensuing from this) in pursuit of ever more impressive engagement metrics in spite of the ambiguity about what, if anything, these entail for real world impact.

As well as being problematic in its own right, the authors argue that this also takes attention away from potential opportunities to use social media in different, and ultimately more productive ways:

If framed in such a narrow, technical way, as devices for dissemination, then the more subtle possibilities they offer for building relationships, generating solidarity and facilitating co-production are liable to be marginalised in a rush for bigger, better, and more.

This is wise and important insight. In particular, I think use of social media as a tool for co-production deserves more thought and experimentation.