A number of new metrics based on social media platforms—grouped under the term “altmetrics”—have recently been introduced as potential indicators of research impact. Despite their current popularity, there is a lack of information regarding the determinants of these metrics. Using publication and citation data from 1.3 million papers published in 2012 and covered in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science as well as social media counts from Altmetric.com, this paper analyses the main patterns of five social media metrics as a function of document characteristics (i.e., discipline, document type, title length, number of pages and references) and collaborative practices and compares them to patterns known for citations. Results show that the presence of papers on social media is low, with 21.5% of papers receiving at least one tweet, 4.7% being shared on Facebook, 1.9% mentioned on blogs, 0.8% found on Google+ and 0.7% discussed in mainstream media. By contrast, 66.8% of papers have received at least one citation. Our findings show that both citations and social media metrics increase with the extent of collaboration and the length of the references list. On the other hand, while editorials and news items are seldom cited, it is these types of document that are the most popular on Twitter. Similarly, while longer papers typically attract more citations, an opposite trend is seen on social media platforms. Finally, contrary to what is observed for citations, it is papers in the Social Sciences and humanities that are the most often found on social media platforms. On the whole, these findings suggest that factors driving social media and citations are different. Therefore, social media metrics cannot actually be seen as alternatives to citations; at most, they may function as complements to other type of indicators.