What Topics Engage Innovation Leaders?

Innovation is a concept that’s fairly simple to define but incredibly difficult to achieve. Moreover, few companies introduce changes that are truly revolutionary and alter the course of a business, an industry or the world.

A research report from social insight firm Leadtail and software provider Brightidea recently explored the topic in an unconventional way. It did not attempt to identify specific personality traits for innovators, nor did it discuss organizational best practices. Instead, the study examined the things that enterprise innovation leaders—those on the front lines of business—think about, talk about and explore on a daily basis.

“Anyone who’s ever tried to drive innovative change at an organization knows how hard it is to make that happen,” noted Leadtail founder and CEO Carter Hostelley. “And while there’s no shortage of opinions about what the next new thing could be, it’s the management and execution of innovation programs that really determines whether that big idea lives or dies.”

The two organizations pored over social media activity for 40 innovation program leaders to learn what topics and issues they were engaged in and focused on. Overall, the study examined 13,366 public tweets and 2,894 hashtags, along with mentions, replies, shared links and retweets.

These leaders work in a mix of industries—including consumer goods, financial services, health care, software and business strategy—and they play a variety of corporate roles.

Here are the top 10 hashtags:

    1. #innovation
    2. #CES2015
    3. bigdata
    4. #IoT
    5. #technology
    6. #marketing
    7. #startups
    8. #leadership
    9. #wearables
    10. #tech

Here’s a list of the top 10 people these leaders track:

    1. @richardbranson (Richard Branson)
    2. @pmarca (Marc Andreesen)
    3. @benedictEvans (Benedict Evans)
    4. @ GlenGilmore (Glen Gilmore)
    5. @ScottKirsner (Scott Kirsner)
    6. @hblodget (Henry Blodget)
    7. @BillGates (Bill Gates)
    8. @amcafee (Andrew McAfee)
    9. @sammaule (Sam Maule)
    10. @dgwbirch (Dave Birch)

And here are the top media they use:

    1. YouTube
    2. Forbes
    3. Harvard Business Review
    4. TechCrunch
    5. The New York Times
    6. Instagram
    7. LinkedIn
    8. The Wall Street Journal
    9. Fast Company
    10. Twitter

Not surprisingly, many leaders track topics that are relevant to their industry or line of business. For example, the top hashtags for Curtis Kopf, vice president of customer innovation at Alaska Airlines, included #salesforce, #iFlyAlaska, #AlaskaAir, #alaskatravelhack and #customersincluded.

Likewise, David Butler, vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at Coca-Cola, used the following hashtags most often: #BestDesignFC, #Designtogrow, #WebSummit, #killingunicorns and #CokeInnovation. And the top hashtags for Jeff Mergy, director of global innovation at Columbia Sportswear, included #running, #TryingStuff, #exploreoregon, #portlandnew and #20kmparis.

Yet, it’s not just the topics that these business and thought leaders follow through hashtags. It’s the combination of social media mentions and media sources, along with the posts, that offers a unique and fascinating glimpse into their thinking and behavior.

As Hostelley puts it: “Social media activity can give us a truly unique lens through which to gain insights into the people driving innovation in the enterprise.”