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BACKGROUND: Social media coverage is increasingly used to spread the message of scientific publications. Traditionally, the scientific impact of an article is measured by the number of citations. At a journal level, this conventionally matures over a 2-year period, and it is challenging to gauge impact around the time of publication. OBJECTIVE: We, therefore, aimed to assess whether Web-based attention is associated with citations and to develop a predictive model that assigns relative importance to different elements of social media coverage: the #SoME_Impact score. METHODS: We included all original articles published in 2015 in a selection of the highest impact journals: The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Nature, Cell, and Science. We first characterized the change in Altmetric score over time by taking a single month's sample of recently published articles from the same journals and gathered Altmetric data daily from the time of publication to create a mixed effects spline model. We then obtained the overall weighted Altmetric score for all articles from 2015, the unweighted data for each Altmetric component, and the 2-year citation count from Scopus for each of these articles from 2016 to 2017. We created a stepwise multivariable linear regression model to develop a #SoME_Score that was predictive of 2-year citations. The score was validated using a dataset of articles from the same journals published in 2016. RESULTS: In our unselected sample of 145 recently published articles, social media coverage appeared to plateau approximately 14 days after publication. A total of 3150 articles with a median citation count of 16 (IQR 5-33) and Altmetric score of 72 (IQR 28-169) were included for analysis. On multivariable regression, compared with articles in the lowest quantile of #SoME_Score, articles in the second, third, and upper quantiles had 0.81, 15.20, and 87.67 more citations, respectively. On the validation dataset, #SoME_Score model outperformed the Altmetric score (adjusted R2 0.19 vs 0.09; P<.001). Articles in the upper quantile of #SoME_Score were more than 5 times more likely to be among the upper quantile of those cites (odds ratio 5.61, 95% CI 4.70-6.73). CONCLUSIONS: Social media attention predicts citations and could be used as an early surrogate measure of scientific impact. Owing to the cross-sectional study design, we cannot determine whether correlation relates to causation.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Internet Res

Publication Date





bibliometrics, online intervention, online social networking, online systems, social media