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Insidious Influence


Insidious Influence

Beedie School of Business professor Ian McCarthy researches how organizations can improve their operations, especially when it comes to social media.

The owner of a Twitter account that currently boasts nearly 24 thousand followers, Ian McCarthy gives social media praise for being an invaluable tool for disseminating his research and teaching to a wider audience. In fact, his influential content has landed his Twitter handle on lists with titles such as “50 Business Professors You Should Follow on Twitter,”  “Top 50 Innovation Tweeters of 2013,” and “Business Insider’s 54 Smart Thinkers Everyone Should Follow on Twitter.”

Also the author of the popular “It Depends” blog, McCarthy even gives social media some of the credit for his professional success, citing it as a key resource for forging professional partnerships and for promoting the SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

“I initially started using social media just to learn more about it but I quickly realized it was an effective tool for sharing my research with academics, policy makers and practioners,” he says. “It’s also valuable for scanning information about events and trends that are central to my research interests.”

McCarthy left England in 2003 to join Beedie where he is now Associate Dean and a professor who focuses on discovering the factors that make for successful organizations, including elements such as innovation, operations, marketing, and the use of social media to optimally engage with colleagues and customers.

And, not only is he a top academic influencer on Twitter, but according to Google Scholar Metrics, McCarthy is co-author of the most highly cited research paper between 2011 and 2015 in the category of Business, Economics and Management. In Social Media? Get Serious! Understanding the Functional Building Blocks of Social Media, McCarthy and colleagues introduced the “Social Media Honeycomb”, a framework that assesses how people engage with and use social media by using the markers ‘identity’, ‘presence’, ‘relationships’, ‘conversations’, ‘groups’, ‘reputations’ and ‘sharing.’ The framework has been used by universities, unions, health care associations, businesses and beyond to develop and refine their social media strategies. 

McCarthy has also co-authored papers informing organizations of best practices when it comes to consumer-generated intellectual property (i.e. when consumers rather than firms innovate, modify, hack, or in some way alter an organization’s proprietary products or services). This research reveals that this kind of creation involves not just intellectual property, but different levels of “emotional property” which springs from the affection, fervor and energy consumers exert and the attachment and pride they feel for their creation. To benefit from the innovation, an innovation manager’s strategy should consider the level of emotional property associated with a consumer.

Another focus of his research examines the effectiveness of gamification as a method of increasing engagement among stakeholders such as employees, customers, and students. Additionally, he has done work dispelling the notion that fast moving organizations are always superior. Instead, he explains that organizations that can adjust their activities to suit their environmental velocity (i.e. their rate and direction of change) have a competitive advantage.

McCarthy is also an advocate for the role of the university in nurturing the entrepreneurs and innovators who drive the organizations he studies, and he takes issue with the notion that leaders are born rather than trained. “In the same way that researchers study music, sport, science and art to learn how to teach these practices, business schools have long been studying and teaching the practices and traits of entrepreneurs and innovators,” he says.

“This has resulted in highly successful programs like SFU’s Management of Technology MBA program and its Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialization–these are playing major roles in advancing Canada’s innovation agenda. What distinguishes these programs is that they are grounded in research informed experiential learning: students learn by doing and producing successful innovations and ventures.”


Dr. Ian P. McCarthy worked for several years as a manufacturing engineer before earning his PhD in operations strategy from the University of Sheffield. His areas of specialization and research interests include: operations management, outsourcing, mass customization, innovation management, user innovation, creative consumers, new product development, social media, gamification, taxonomy, cladistics, complexity theory, organizational design, and change management. In 2009 he was named a Fulbright New Century Scholar. He is also Director of the CPA Innovation Centre at the Beedie School of Business. Follow him on Twitter: @Toffeemen68.    

Q & A with Ian McCarthy

If you could sum up the value of university research in one word, what would it be?


How is your research making an impact on lives?

One example is the research I have done with colleagues to understand social media. We produced a framework, the Social Media Honeycomb, which explains how people engage with and use social media in different ways. This framework has been used by many different organizations (businesses, universities, unions, and heath care associations) to design and develop social media practices. It is also one of the most highly cited management papers of the last five years. 

How important is collaboration in advancing research?

Research is a social process. Even when researchers work in solitude, the outputs typically face the processes of peer review and dissemination, which are collaborative by nature. But for many, the process of producing research involves experimenting and prototyping ideas by co-creating, testing and shaping them with other colleagues. The advancement of research involves combining and building on the knowledge outputs of others. Furthermore, collaboration can also have important development and “halo effects” where researchers learn from and gain reputational benefits by collaborating with more experienced and eminent colleagues.

SFU bills itself as “Canada’s most engaged research university.” How does your own work exemplify this spirit of engagement?

A few years ago I started a blog, called It Depends, to promote my research. I’m a publicly funded researcher and yet it is difficult and/or expensive for the public to access my research. I use the blog to disseminate and promote my research, and when writing each posting, it makes me question the value and impact of my work in the eyes of the public. This form of engagement has led to some very rewarding collaborations and research opportunities. So far my blog has had over 175,000 page views.