Having an impact within and beyond the ivory towers

Posted in: #thinklist, Digital, Social media

The struggle to escape the ivory towers, demonstrate relevance to greater society, and illustrate why academics matter is real for business scholars. In this piece, Kam Phung of the Schulich School of Business, York University (Canada) reflects on his experiences as Social Media Manager of the Academy of Management’s Social Issues in Management (SIM) division and presents his thoughts on why Twitter can be a promising platform for business scholars who seek to have a social impact.


The case for academics to use social media has been made by many, though certainly not everyone agrees that academics should be using social media. Nonetheless, in reflecting on my interactions with scholars and practitioners on Twitter via the SIM division’s account, as well as in person at the Academy of Management meetings and beyond, I’ve identified five key reasons why we as business scholars who seek social impact may want to ramp up our Twitter activities.


Reach audiences beyond the ivory towers

While expectations for more practical relevance and contributions to society continue to grow, business schools continue to embrace rewards systems that pressure business scholars to prioritize theoretical contributions over practical ones through publications in top tier journals. The result has been the creation of unfortunate circumstances in which many managers “believe theories and research geeks have nothing to teach them.” Yet, Twitter presents business scholars with a platform through which we can not only begin to share our findings and expertise with greater society, but also do so in ways that appeal to lay audiences.

Most scholarly journals are not accessible to the public, and media outlets are not always going to pick up on releases put out by universities promoting recently published research. While scholarly publications are certainly worth celebrating, I urge us to think about whether they are worth celebrating if no one beyond academia knows about them, let alone reads them and thinks that they are relevant. Through platforms such as Twitter, business scholars have the opportunity to reach people outside of the academy, including the people and organizations that we study, and illustrate to them directly how our research is relevant in the real world.


Time is of the essence, especially for social and environmental issues

If you research social and/or environmental issues in management, there is a very good chance that you’re examining issues that deserve more immediate attention. Yet, while business schools are increasingly broadcasting their focus on solving issues beyond the bottom line, publications can take years to come into existence.

Twitter gives us a way to begin to share our insights with relevant stakeholders and potential users of knowledge before it is “too late” - as Tima Bansal emphasized to doctoral students at this year’s Academy of Management meeting. Yes, theoretical contributions take time and change as papers progress. However, our empirics have stories worth telling and can contribute directly to public dialogue on the precise issues that we study without diving into theory. If you study climate change, do you really want to wait all those years before you begin to share your insights with the world?


Give attention to new and prior research worth sharing

Twitter can be a great platform to share your newly published research. Yet, these aren’t the only updates worth sharing. In fact, if we all waited around until our research was published to tweet something, Twitter would be a pretty sad and inactive place, unless you’re some sort of machine.

There is significant value in bringing renewed attention to prior work, especially as it speaks to current events. So please, don’t be afraid to engage with prior work on Twitter. In scholarly papers, we cite prior work without batting an eye, but when it comes to social media, our ability to look back seems to be limited.

Indeed, concerns over appearing as narcissistic self-promoters seem to be common. However, no one said that Twitter needs to be for your research. Twitter is rife with scholars that promote and give attention to research by their colleagues and fellow scholars around the world as it should be.


Learn and help others learn

Many business scholars that I’ve spoken to are still hesitant to use Twitter because of the challenge of not knowing how to filter out noise. Yet, we face a similar challenge when we first enter academia and need to learn how to navigate constantly expanding databases of scholarly publications. It takes time to craft a Twitter feed tailored to your interests, but once you begin to do so, it can be a great place to learn and get updates.

Meanwhile, Twitter enables us to get updates from events that we cannot attend. There’s always a good chance that sessions that you want to attend at a conference are happening at the same time. You’ll also know that not everyone can attend international conferences. The beauty of Twitter and people live tweeting sessions is that it can help us maintain the spirit of academia and knowledge sharing by making sure insights and ideas presented at conferences aren’t confined to the walls of the venues and enjoyed only by those that can physically attend.


Community and collaboration awaits you

Twitter can also be used to build relationships, foster collaborations, and nurture scholarly communities. With the click of a button, you can connect with scholars around the world and contribute to a community of scholars just as you do by publishing and attending conferences. While most of these won’t become deep and meaningful relationships, you’d be surprised how often I’ve seen relationships and collaborations form when two people who follow each other on Twitter that have never met before meet at a conference for the first time. It’s always a beautiful moment to remember.

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Posted in: #thinklist, Digital, Social media


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