Giving a talk at Progress Energy

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Today my colleague Ashley R. Kelly and I were invited to Progress Energy headquarters in downtown Raleigh to talk with their corporate communication employees about our ongoing research into their merger with Duke Energy. We’ve been studying this merger ever since they announced it last January, and thus far have published a conference proceedings paper and a forthcoming journal article, with another one in the works. We’ve also presented various aspects of the project – the merger’s connection to the nuclear disaster in Japan, the public hearings, Twitter data and online newspaper reporting – in several academic venues, but this is our first foray into bringing our research to a group within the public sphere. It shows that our work – as with the work that many other academics do – has real world implications that are important and should be heard beyond the walls (or paywalls) of academic venues.

We had a great time today talking with the communication folks at Progress Energy. We spoke with employees in Raleigh (in person) but also had employees from their Florida locations calling in to LiveMeeting to hear us and see our presentation. We really enjoyed having a large chunk of time to talk about our work – no 12-15 minute conference limitations there! – and easily filled the time with our talk and their questions. They were an engaged and inquisitive group; they do their own research and had some of their own hypotheses about their social media use and public conceptions about the merger, but they learned a few things from our research and gained an alternate perspective hearing about public discourse from a pair of objective academic researchers. Their merger with Duke Energy is a messy, complicated, and enormous undertaking – and our research reflects that and speaks to the range of issues that the public is concerned with and the ways in which they have brought their ideas and concerns to the table (or have attempted to).

As a young academic, I feel the need to see the connection that my work has to the world around me and to find ways that I can better connect with the groups that we have worked so hard to study over the last year and a half with respect to this merger. Today we gave a group of people a glimpse into the work that academic researchers do, which I think is important to do such that more people might better understand what we do (and not make wild claims about only working 9 hours a week, like this crazy guy did).

Today was a great way to connect the work that we do to the broader community in which we live and to see the value of our work for others. I look forward to having more opportunities like this in the future. Our invitation today also shows that a little self-promotion (such as tweeting about events we are at or what we are studying) can help us to make important connections to the community. We were invited based on tweeting about our work for the better part of a year and the head of communications one day replying to a tweet to say, “Would you come and talk to us?” So we also very encouraged about reaching out to broader communities through social media. Overall, it was a great day!

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