#ThinklistImpact: Is social media talk more than self promotion and ‘hot air’?

Posted in: #thinklist, Communication, Impact

The Centre for Business, Organisations and Society designed the #thinklist to highlight the most influential or interesting academics talking about issues of responsible business online. It was created in recognition of the value of discussions we have online, and in the hope of sharing insights with a wider community. Twice a year, a new thinklist is released. This time, it’s the #ThinklistImpact, celebrating scholars who influence practice. 

Mette Morsing concludes our short #thinklist series, emphasising the important role of social media in our #ThinklistImpact. One of the criteria for inclusion in this list was that scholars talk about or create impact via social media. While the concept of impact itself is nuanced and complex, and we were able to incorporate thinklisters who demonstrate many different types of impact, we did insist that communicate this impact in some way on twitter. Mette explores how communication or 'translation' is a key element of impact, giving examples of thinklisters who demonstrate this.

As a scholar, why would you want to invest your scarce, precious time on communicating your research findings in a manner that offers no professional advancement, nor any bonus from your Dean, instead maybe providing you with another scornful gaze from your colleagues asking ‘why do you self-promote on Twitter again?’

In academia, social media use such as tweeting is so far an under-appreciated yet highly socially complex, time-consuming, but potentially globally impactful affair.

It is this ‘impactful affair’ that we explore in the newest thinklist. After much deliberation we have announced a list of scholars who inspire us, and who we think will inspire others, through their efforts to create impact and have influence through their scholarly work, and to share that impact more widely.  

As scholars we are all encouraged and promoted based on the number and quality of our research publications. On top of this, some of us feel the responsibility, pleasure, and I think it is fair to say, the urge of engaging our work with practice as we progress our research. But why should we?

Talk is action

With roots in linguistic philosophy, management scholarship has established how communication not only represents reality but does things. Language makes our reality happen.  Most often mainstream thinking regards ‘action’ as superior to ‘talk’. However, we observe that talk is action, and that talk often plays a significant role in the mobilisation of resources and attention, as well as moving focus from one issue area to another, to influence behaviour. Or not. 

For example, the shift in focus with regards to environmental issues - from the need for producers and consumers in the 2000s to ‘recycle’ (urging new business models) to the need for ‘reducing plastic use’ in the 2010s (urging regulatory frameworks accordingly), and then today a renewed focus on single use plastic in the 2020s (urging business and regulators towards creating behavioural change from all corners of society), putting new challenges to producers, consumers and regulators.

This development is happening due to a lot of talk. Not least a lot of talk on social media.

At the same time ‘talk’ is looked down upon. In the Trump era, social media talk is increasingly deprecated as being hot air, deceit or bullshit.

Why the #thinklist honours talk

In the #thinklist we appreciate and honour talk. In fact, we suggest that our thinklisters are role models for what we have formerly framed as ‘twalking’, the concept coined to focus on when talk is action. Accordingly these thinklisters’ tweets are the action that contributes to forming and changing the agendas for the way the world rocks, when talk is the action that influences the world’s future behaviours. 

Here are brief intros for three of our thinklisters that show how they have made their words be the action that we recognise:

I confess to being addicted to tweets from Andy Hoffman, Guido Palazzo and Devi Vijay. Like all members of our #ThinklistImpact, they challenge my assumptions about what management scholarship and what management education should look like. They all have this audacious nerve to bring to our attention those contested and uncomfortable issues that we like to ignore because we know we should do more to address them. 

Devi Vijay brings to our attention alarming, “taboo’ized” issues and ‘unwanted news’ that are often brushed under the carpet or ignored. We know that these issues need our attention but we don’t really know what to do about it, so often don’t respond. Her work and tweets force me to ask myself: what is keeping me from responding to these issues? 

Andy Hoffman offers commentaries on how the management profession is on an ongoing slippery slope towards darkness. His work and comments provoke me to think how we may contribute to a better (lighter?) trajectory.

Guido Palazzo constantly challenges our basic assumptions about what is and what is not ethical. He does this in an interesting, intriguing way, that stimulates the mind by bringing arts, philosophy, literature and poetry to the conversation. His work and online presence cause me to pause and reflect.

Our goals with the #ThinklistImpact

We hope the #ThinklistImpact will help start a conversation about using impact to improve society in and via social media. I am excited to be further engaging in this conversation.

That being said, I am also very aware of how the possible (and perhaps tempting) metrification of scholarly ‘social media impact’ could be counter-productive, forcing scholars to adopt a social media presence that is about presentation and superficial impact only, done for the sake of career advancement and to serve business school rankings – while being detached from serving any social impact whatsoever.

Overall the process of curating the list, and the conversations that have come from that, have shown me that scholarly social media impact is not trivial, and more than that is a complex issue to discuss, measure and value. Let us keep up the conversation, and let the #ThinklistImpact serve as a challenge for further dialogue.

Posted in: #thinklist, Communication, Impact

Find the full #ThinklistImpact here


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response