For Professor Marcel Bogers, his tweets are intertwined with his work and career
With more than 8,600 followers on last count, he is only one tweet away from getting thousands of people to spread the word about his own new published research.
But for Marcel Bogers, who is Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Copenhagen, his work on Twitter is not really about getting people to read his own stuff.
“I see my work on Twitter and myself as a kind of hub. When I read interesting research, maybe some new items that are relevant in my research domain. Then I share it with the assumption that others will find it interesting,” he says.
Originally from the Netherlands, Marcel Bogers’ main research field is open innovation. It is about how new ideas and projects get to flourish within, outside, and between organizations and businesses.
He moved to Denmark in 2009.
“When I originally moved to the University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg, I wanted to make sure I maintained an active network. I saw Twitter as an opportunity to share interesting things that I found relevant to innovation and business. It was, and is, a way of getting in touch with people, especially in the industry and policy areas, and at conferences.”
“Twitter won’t replace good research, but Twitter is one element in the scanning of the relevance of it”
He got in touch with new collaborators when he moved to Copenhagen three years ago.
“The Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen also provided a new empirical setting for me. And it was through Twitter that I met Harry Barraza, who used to be Head of Open Innovation at Arla Foods, and which I ultimately co-operated with. I met him via a discussion on the platform. And then there was Niclas Nilsson, Head of R&D Open Innovation at Leo Pharma, who I originally met in a Twitter discussion. And Timo Minssen, a professor in Biotechnology Law, I met through Twitter, and with whom I am now working closely together.”
“Sure, I may have met these people if I was not active on the platform. But it has speeded up the process. Twitter, in this way, has channeled the potential connections that were already there.”
Rigor or relevance
New specific research problems emerged spontaneously from these interactions.
“I look at it as a continuous source of ideation and ideas. There are specific people on Twitter that I follow that come up with good research ideas. This is an example of how the real world and the virtual world get mixed up.”
“… it is not so much competition as a mutual awareness thing. At most it will be a healthy, joking competition between colleagues. A high follower count on Twitter becomes a small part of your overall academic profile.”
“In my work with Carlsberg, for example, we were all inspired by the work we did through Twitter. The Chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation Flemming Besenbacher is also quite active on the platform and it speeded up the process of ideation and dialogue. To give a specific example, I wrote up a teaching case and some research on a wood fibre bottle, a fully biodegradable beer bottle, and on how to use open innovation for this sustainability project. Twitter helped us in this exploration on how to learn more about it.”
In ‘ideation’, the process of creating new ideas, Marcel Bogers contrasts rigorous research, and the assessment of its relevance.
Networking on social media might not replace focused, rigorous research. But the routine of scanning related research and methods by others in the Twittersphere, and the deep networking of collegial contact through platforms like Twitter helps ensure that the rigorous work is relevant and has the necessary scope. As Marcel Bogers sums it up:
“Twitter won’t replace good research, but Twitter is one element in the scanning of the relevance of it”.
Sometimes the ‘real life’ collaboration with other scholars and with policymakers is reflected in the virtual world of Twitter, resulting in hundreds of article downloads and a large academic impact. Like one of Marcel Bogers’ papers, which has had a high impact in this way. It was co-authored with the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas and with Henry Chesbrough, a US business scholar who is considered the father of the open innovation concept.
“I was co-organising a conference with Henry Chesbrough, and Carlos Moedas happened to have been a student of him. And after we invited Carlos as a keynote speaker for our conference, we got him to write an article for a special issue together with us. This in itself was a neat thing. And of course, this had leverage on social media, as he has himself a large following when he retweeted it,” Marcel Bogers explains (the tweet can be seen below).
At last count the article had 9,877 downloads and 201 tweets from 121 different Twitter users.
The article on open innovation was in this way caught up in a perfect storm of real life networking and conference organizing, a retweet from a Twitter ‘influencer’ with many followers (the EU Commissioner), and a positive narrative, as a successful pupil paid tribute to his teacher.
The competition for followers
Will you admit to friendly competition between you and your peers in terms of your follower numbers?
“Yes and no!” Marcel Bogers says with a laugh.
“In a local context, it is not so much competition as a mutual awareness thing. At most it will be a healthy, joking competition between colleagues. A high follower count on Twitter becomes a small part of your overall academic profile. At some point. It becomes a part of your ‘story’. But this is mostly when you meet other colleagues who are active on Twitter and at conferences.”
For those who are not on the platform, of course, a high follower count has no meaning. And many people may not even be aware of it.
“I look at who it is that follows me. For me, this is also about respect for this person, and I often follow back,”
But in an international context, according to Marcel Bogers, there can be instances where organisers deliberately boost the fame (and vanity!) of the top tweeters through competition, especially at conferences.
“I was at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management a few years back. It attracts more than 10,000 people and the organisers really embrace Twitter. They had a competition going, and a generated list of top tweeters. It was very interesting, and I was once the top tweeter at the conference!”
The academy announced it below:
“The year after I was asked to organize a workshop on how to use social media for research. Now the crazy thing was that one year subsequent to this I was not even physically there, but I was still ranked as one of the top tweeters.”
How do you, in practice, use Twitter at conferences, then?
“It differs from context to context. Most of the time I am also there to listen to people’s presentations and I don’t want to be looking at my phone tweeting all the time,” says Marcel Bogers.
But just like for many conference-goers, when a good slide goes up, so does the smartphone.
“I have one strategy that I use if I want to be present and focused, yet still share the topics with others. I take a picture of the presenter with the first slide. This is very low level informative. But it shows what it is about. And I also feel I offer a service to the presenter by showcasing their work.”
“Then I do sometimes use another strategy and tweet a photo of a slide with a specific interesting point, if I feel that it somehow starts a conversation.”
He responds to others’ tweets from the conference under the hashtag if he thinks that he can add a perspective, he adds.
Do you automate anything?
“I use the Hootsuite dashboard to schedule some of my posts. This ensures that people aren’t being hit by flurries of my tweets at a time of the day when they may not see it, or may see it too much. To be truthful, I have actually lowered the intensity of my tweeting of late, and I find Hootsuite very useful to space things out a bit.”
One sneaky way in which some tweeters get large follower counts is by using a bulk following/unfollowing tool. The tool will indiscriminately follow, and subsequently unfollow, hundreds of accounts just to garner attention. But Twitter has started to monitor accounts for this follower churn and to crack down on the practice.
…like for many conference-goers, when a good slide goes up, so does the smartphone.
Marcel Bogers doesn’t use these tools. His, for academia, relatively high following and follower numbers have come about through many years of Twitter activity in his field, he says.
“It is organic, but if I am at a conference, I might follow a bunch of people at one time. And sometimes I follow people on Twitter’s own ‘Twitter suggest’ function.”
Respect for other users
“The main thing is that I am curious about the people who follow me. I try to check and look who it is that follows me. For me, this is also about respect for this person, and I often follow back,” he says.
Many Twitter accounts in academia are institutional accounts, representing a research group, a department, a faculty, or an annual conference.
“With the exception of obvious bot accounts, I respect these organizations too. And I follow back because I know that there is always a real person behind it,” says Marcel Bogers.
“I started to just have a [Twitter] list with people who I really wanted to see on my timeline. Then I got a second list with people I, actually, really, wanted to see on my timeline.”
For those who follow many on Twitter, like Marcel Bogers, the result is a cluttered Twitter newsfeed. If you choose to follow many people on Twitter, the timeline becomes unmanageable. The solution: To set up Twitter lists, with specific earmarked groups of accounts under specific topics.
“I do lists,” says Marcel Bogers.
“I started to just have a Twitter list with people who I really wanted to see on my timeline. Then I got a second list with people I, actually, really, wanted to see on my timeline. And now, well … now … I have many lists!”
In the meantime, Marcel Bogers’ twitter account is a hub for anyone interested in the fields of innovation and entrepreneurship. And, almost as a side effect, people become aware of his own work.
If you were to put a winning formula on Marcel Bogers’ strategy, it would be like this: Be a hub first, and then, and only then, a sharer of your own work. It is your function as a hub that gives you the goodwill and legitimacy that has people ultimately downloading your articles, and maybe even collaborating with you in the future.
“My hub function is part of the impact. That I, as a service, share this and that with the wider world. But this said. When you do have a new article that is accepted in a journal, you can also put that on your Twitter feed to showcase some of the things that you do. And If you do it in a balanced way this can be useful.”
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