Thinking about the #thinklist

Posted in: #thinklist, Business and society, Social media

This month we launched our #thinklist to highlight those business school faculty who are most effective at using social media to shape debate in the responsible business field. We wanted to generate some discussion around the role of online communications in supporting research activity. When we embarked on this task, we had no idea what we would find. We also did not know how the list would be received...

A few weeks in and we wanted to highlight some of the deliberations that have taken place about the list, particularly on social media. Creating debate is healthy; offending is not, and we are conscious that any list like ours has the potential to be divisive. Given that our top 20 thinkers only included two women, a lot of discussion understandably centred on gender, while others questioned whether such a list was even necessary. Here we address some of our readers’ concerns, and reflect on the opportunities and obstacles of developing a responsible business faculty #thinklist. Quotes are taken from comments made on Twitter in response to the launch of the #thinklist.


1. The Method

The thing is, it is unknown what the Klout score expresses. Maybe there is already a gender bias in the algorithm. Who knows? They won‘t tell us. Same problematic issue for many platforms, of course.

Klout is a measure of social impact. While the algorithmic ‘black box’ may bemuse some, Klout simplifies its method as focusing on such measures as engagement (the ratio of reactions you generate compared to the amount of content you share) and focus (how selective the people who interact with your content are). ‘Signals’ which are used to calculate the algorithms are measured across a range of platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Want to hear more about the science? Here’s a published paper that can tell you all about it.

Is Klout gender biased? There is plenty of discussion and research on this, but the implications are very much open to debate. Research does show that women are, overall, more active than men on social media. However, it also appears that, unlike men, they are more likely to use social media to maintain relationships and less likely to use it to try and enhance their job-related status. Also, some argue that women are less likely to take a stand and express strong opinions than men on social media because of the type of gendered flaming and abuse they might receive. Some of these things could count against women, on average, getting high Klout scores; but with social media platforms and the way we engage with them constantly evolving, it is hard to reach any definitive conclusions. Hopefully the #thinklist will continue to spark robust debate on these issues and maybe even prompt further research.


2. The Medium

This one really resonates for me. Do I pay attention to twitter or help my kids with their homework ...the choice is pretty obvious Klout score be damned. I'm not saying my male colleagues don't face the same choice but it's pretty telling that your list was so male dominated.

There are many debates taking place around how many hats we have to wear as academics. To many, social media represents wasted energy; time consuming self-promotion that gets lost in the ether and does little to help with the mounting to-do list. To others, social media offers a new opportunity to share research more widely, and to engage audiences in different ways. Over the next few months, we plan to interview various people from the #thinklist about their use of social media. One of the questions we hope to explore with our leading thinkers is how the prevalence of social media has changed the way they do research. If you want to get your research out there, perhaps Twitter becomes as much a part of your job as going to conferences and writing papers.

We know, though, that research suggests that women often face hostile environments online, and that those with family commitments at home (especially working mothers) might avoid tasks like social media that seem peripheral to core working activities, even if doing so might ultimately reduce the visibility and impact of their research. There is an important discussion to be had here around why women are so under-represented in responsible business and social media. To give a fuller picture, we’ve now provided the full list of thinkers who meet our criteria and with a klout score of over 40. There’s still a gender imbalance, but we hope to provide broader visibility to those outside of the top 20. We have also uploaded a list of all of these people on our Twitter handle for you to utilise.


3. The Measures

I think any ranking will only perpetuate the status-quo. A list of new thinkers, missing voices, diff. perspectives (inc. from outside org studies) on #sustainability will promote diversity. Harder to do, but will get us beyond the same names & faces!

Any list needs to have parameters. As a research centre in a management school, we’re interested in comparisons, in seeing what our peers are doing, and providing ways of identifying those who are influencing debates and learning from them. Our list is quite narrowly defined, focusing on academics working in business schools. We recognise that there are many other writers and thinkers out there offering many different perspectives, but a list of leading thinkers in responsible business would be a very different undertaking.

What is also interesting about Klout scores is that they move. A lot. Within a short space of time an individual can shoot up (or down) the rankings dependent upon their current activity. This temporal component shows that we are, to some extent, rewarded for short term activity, rather than the long-term slog of building a social media presence.

We want to bring more movement to #thinklist rather than to show a measure gathered at a point in time and we are working on how we do this. In the meantime, we also want to profile individual stories, from those throughout our list, of how social media is being used to discuss issues of responsible business; we want to learn from one another and help to elevate those whose voices are not heard on social media to become more visible.

Alongside profiling individuals, we will also profile blogs we enjoy reading and research centres that are taking the social media world by storm. And we won’t stop here. We want to continue this conversation. Let’s scrutinise the methods, the mediums and the measures that underlie our social media activity.


For more information on the #thinklist, please contact Sarah Glozer. You can also follow all our thinkers on Twitter, using our list


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Posted in: #thinklist, Business and society, Social media


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