Being a social media influencer - #thinklist interview with Cathy Clark

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media

We’ve been asking some of our top #thinklisters to share their views on why they use Twitter and how it works for them. In this piece, Andy Crane interviews Cathy Clark – ranked 12th (and top ranked woman) on our list of digital influencers. Cathy is Faculty Director at the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Named in 2014 one of the top 20 women in the USA working in philanthropy, social innovation and civic engagement, Cathy has 17,000 followers on Twitter.


AC – tell us about why you started using Twitter

CC - I started using Twitter because I had taken on a new role at Duke, but I also had two small kids at home. I realised there were things going on in my field - impact investing - that I couldn’t witness because my ability to travel was limited.

So I turned to Twitter to find out what was going on when I couldn’t be at events and conferences.

In the early days, we had a couple of hashtags for social entrepreneurship and impact investing and it was a small group, like an expert conversation of 100 to 200 people. Then someone suggested shortening the impact investing hashtag to #impinv, and things really took off.

Impact investing as a field grew out of practice, not academia. So I would tell my students to follow the hashtag and get involved, and become part of a privileged conversation. It’s like being part of a private but free, accessible club. Now it has really grown, and there are hundreds or even thousands of tweets a day on that hashtag.

I find Twitter a really efficient way to keep up with practice driven, international field. It has become the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes of my day, and has been for the last 9 years.


Cathy Clark, Faculty Director at the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

AC – do you feel part of a community on Twitter, even though it’s grown so much?

CC - I see it as a community of practice, and it’s a large community. About four years ago, I realised there was so much going on that it was becoming difficult to keep up. So I started a weekly newsletter made up of my tweets, to make it more accessible for people who’d rather get the highlights in their email box. The newsletter is my filter of what are the most interesting ten or twenty things every week, and it becomes an archive of the most useful material. It’s like I’m doing my learning in public – I‘m keeping up with what’s happening and then I’m sharing it as I do it.


AC - so your reasons for using social media have evolved – it was about accessing and staying abreast of information, but now you’re curating that information

CC – Yes, I’ve taken on the role of being a curator or editor for thousands of people in over 100 countries. I’ve also tried to be sure I’m considered a trustworthy, neutral voice, in a field that is commercializing rapidly. Now people send me things to post and I always tell them it’s not automatic – I will use my judgement each week on what will be posted. A few months ago, the most active news service in our field, ImpactAlpha, changed to a paid subscription model. They are expanding and doing a wonderful job as a paid news service. I wondered if that would mean fewer subscribers to my #OnImpact newsletter, but it hasn’t. In fact, new subscriptions have increased, perhaps because my newsletter remains free.


AC – one of the things that people find off-putting about Twitter is that it seems to take up a lot of time. How do you make it manageable, and what are your tips for using it effectively?

CC - Now I do travel more, but I can’t go to everything. But I know what reports are coming out in the next few weeks and I know what hashtags to follow – so I can vicariously be in a whole bunch of different places following those conversations. Is it as good as being there? No, but it’s better than nothing.

I think it’s hugely efficient, but it’s all about using the hashtags - whether event hashtags, group hashtags, topic hashtags. I look in the morning to see what events are going on, then I might follow that hashtag for the rest of the day.

On Twitter, I have a following of almost 17,000. I am aware that I can use this to get attention for what we do as a School – for publications, ideas, or events.  But we have a lot of different stakeholders, so I try to aim for an 80-20 split on content – 20% is us and 80% is about the field. That’s really important if you’re trying to build a large following – you can’t just tweet about yourself. People are following me because they want my point of view on the broader field, and I need to share what gives most value to them.


AC – so what are the biggest challenges you find in using Twitter?

CC – The biggest problem early on was that I tried to follow too many people. Once you follow a few thousand people, your feed is insane and it’s not useful. So my biggest tip is - use the private list function. Create lists of the key groups or stakeholders that you want to track. I have lists of board members, alumni, colleagues at Duke, colleagues at other Schools, impact investors, entrepreneurs, program participants, etc. You should think about the stakeholders and interests you have, then create private lists. Then you can check your list every day or two. It helps to focus your attention and people appreciate when you notice what they are posting. We’ve also created a few public lists to give people interested in our field a boost when they first join twitter.  Following other people’s curated lists is always a great place to start.


AC – have you ever encountered any issues as a woman on social media? Is it relevant?

CC – I have never thought about it. Ever. It’s never occurred to me that it makes any difference. It helps me be efficient as a mother, but I’ve never had trolling or discomfort online in the nine years I’ve been doing it.


AC – Why do you think Twitter is useful for academics?

CC - I’ve definitely become more confident – I feel that people are listening to me, I have a voice. And you get instant feedback. You can see what resonates, see what people think is important. The feedback loop is exciting thing about social media. If you compare it with writing a book, you’ve shortened what would be a two- to three-year process into ten minutes.The thing that satisfies me the most is when you share something and then someone writes back with something personal about how it helped them. It can feel like your posts are going into a vacuum, but sometimes people reply and say that this was really useful, or it changed the way they thought about something. And then I know that I’ve had an impact on that person that day because I made something available to them. That’s hugely satisfying!

I love feeling like you’ve really changed the way people who are driving impact on the world are actually thinking and acting, because that is one of the main goals of being an educator.

Posted in: #thinklist, Social media


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