NB: Are you a communications or PR person who works in a non-profit, academic or government environment? Please read (or skip) to the bottom, I have a question for all y’all.
First and foremost, many big thanks to the awesome organizers of Social Media Breakfast Ottawa. The fourth installment went off wonderfully in the comfy confines of Gowlings’ downtown offices. Great panelists and a great topic led to, well, great discussion.
I and others tweeted before, during and after the event; if you weren’t there you can check out #smbottawa on Twitter Search for a good recap.
I won’t bother getting into the meat and potatoes of the discussion since I’m hardly an expert on the issues discussed. I will, however, add a bit of substance to a few of the comments I made about the format and overall direction of SMB Ottawa.
Firstly, I love that these events exist, are open to anyone and offered free of charge. There is always something to be learned when a group of enthusiasts come together to discuss shared passions. But SMB Ottawa is almost becoming a victim of its own success. Crossing the 100 person threshold means that spirited discussion is impossible. It’s too big for the dynamics of a small-group discussion to really take root.
Which is why the organizers should be commended for switching to the panel format for this one. I felt like those of us in attendance got to eavesdrop on a great converation about community (and this is particularly fitting for this topic – we had 3-5 per cent of the crowd doing the talking while the rest lurked about the room and listend, much like an online community!).
However, while there was some divergence in the answers provided by the panel, for the most part they agreed on trends and issues. This is not unexpected. The entire event is geared towards people with shared interests, I didn’t expect someone to sit on the panel and decry online communities. However, it may have been worth the effort to try to track down a skeptic. Those of us who dwell in the 2.0 realm are all guilty of thriving in an echo chamber – a reality check is always useful to keep us grounded or, at the very least, remind us what the ‘other side’ is saying so we can be prepared to argue for our cause.
The other drawback to the format employed today was the ‘agree or disagree’ framework for the discussion. It was great in terms of drawing out comments from the panel, to be sure, but polling the audience seemed to me like a bit of a failed attempt at engaging the audience. Given that “it depends on the community” was the subtext of every answer from the panel, I don’t think there was much value in asking the audience if they agreed or disagreed with very high-level statements about community.
Is there a better way? Maybe not. Especially given the short timeframe for discussion at these events.
My last observation relates again to the scale of the event. And this is by no means a criticism of the SMB Ottawa folks. Indeed, the very fact that they can draw IT people, agency flacks and comms folk from every industry and trade is a testament to their efforts.
However, much like the Third Tuesday discussions I so enjoy, it’s tough to appeal to everyone. Today’s panel was made up of three people who use online community as a business tool. They are selling products. I found what they had to say to be very interesting but I found myself wondering a few times how to relate their comments to my field. I don’t begrude the panellists or organizers, there certainly seemed to be a sizable chunk of the audience who come from the corporate sector too, but it left me wanting something more geared towards those of us in the non-profit, government and academic sectors.
UPDATE: As panellist Ian Skerrett rightly noted in the comments, I’m a tool (well, he didn’t say that, he just pointed out my oversight, I applied the tool label). The Eclipse Foundation is, in fact, a non-profit foundation.
Which brings me to phase two of this post.
Is there any interest in starting up a meetup/SMB type gathering for communicators and flacks who work specifically in the aforementioned sectors? I don’t want to draw people away from SMB and Third Tuesday, of course, just to offer something to a smaller segment of the broader audience, those of us who are more worried about engaging a specific audience (be it membership or prospective students or whatever), less so about selling something.
Let me know in the comments or by emailing joe[at]joeboughner.ca and please send this to anyone else who might be interested.