A very interesting discussion in the “Virtual Events and Meeting Technology” group on LinkedIn was recently derailed. The initial question posed by the group administrator was, “Will Virtual Events Ever Really Take Off?” For those of us invested in this topic—vendors, event organizers, journalists and passionate observers—this question is the key to unlocking the resources and momentum necessary to move beyond mere discussion to widespread understanding. It is the kind of question that begs responses from any and all whether they have a horse in the race or a comfortable seat in the stands. Instead, some of the most important voices were admonished or excluded.
After several weeks of contributions to the discussion from mostly vendors, it was revealed that Michael Doyle, the founder of the Virtual Edge Institute (VEI)—a prominent voice in this fledgling industry—has been intentionally excluded from the group. The announcement took the focus off of what was a fantastic dialogue onto who should or should not be allowed into the discussion.
The group owner clearly stated his reasoning for excluding Mr. Doyle in a recent post: “Since VEI is financially supported by vendors, I consider content produced by them to be a form of advertising. There have been of couple of past members who were tied to VEI and only posted links back to VEI. Not in line with my goals for the group. So my question has always been this, if I approve Michael does this forum become just another exposure point for his agenda?”
The group owner’s position on admitting Michael Doyle or excluding persons affiliated with VEI is self-defeating. If, as he admits, live event producers have not yet embraced the virtual models, who is available to participate in the discussion if not vendors and thought leaders like Doyle? At least Doyle has street cred for having moved the needle on a class of technology that is helping to bring our old school industry into alignment with the rest of the business world.
I can well appreciate the group owner’s interest in protecting the integrity of the discussion. I will be the first to admit that the cacophony of advertising and digital stimulation eating my brain cells has my cognitive shield on red alert. Yet, with an industry in its infancy, there have to be exceptions made in the interests of the community at large. If, in exchange for valuable contributions, the community has to accept the bias, motivations, and sometimes “commercial” references (in the opinions of some) that come along with them, isn’t that a fair exchange?
There is an important place for moderation in a group. Ad hominem attacks and blatant commercialism without any added value to the discussion does not advance the cause and a third party presence to normalize the discussion is very helpful. But, if we have learned anything by choosing to have our discussions on public social media platforms such as LinkedIn, it’s that the community takes care of itself—they either voice their opinions loudly (recent developments in the political/public space prove that point unequivocally) or they move on to forums where the discussion is more fruitful and open.
There is a responsibility on the part of the group owner as well as the group participants to move the discussion forward. Using one’s affiliation or the behaviors of those seen as sympathizers to his or her cause as a reason for exclusion seems a little short sighted. That said. The onus is also on the participants of a group to check the commercialism at the door, lest they be “wailed upon” by the community or the moderator and to apply the same openness to their own groups, discussions and endeavors elsewhere as a sign of their genuine intention to contribute to the greater goal of the community. Should we be drawing lines in the sand before there is actually a beach?
Dave Lutz says
Wow, thanks for sharing this Michelle. Sounds pretty short-sited to me. In my book, participants should be innocent until proven guilty. You establish posting guidelines and moderate based on those, not based on your personal beliefs about an individual or company type. Many group or community members do a pretty good job of self policing or tuning out anything salesie. This strategy is a big turn off for the most influential group members, IMO.
Jenise Fryatt says
LinkedIn Groups: always with the rules and regulations! YES, blatant self-promotion is something to be discouraged on most social media platforms. But, let’s face it, most of us wouldn’t be using social media at all if we weren’t interested in promoting ourselves.
The answer does not lie in limiting WHO gets to participate but in helping to guide participants to contribute to the discussion in ways that benefit the most people.
When it comes to the topic of virtual events, you risk silencing all useful discussion if you exclude vendors. Unfortunately, at this time, there are very few non-interested voices out there who have a lot of useful information to contribute.
I would also argue that when you are overly militant about your exclusions and rules in discussion groups, it creates a chilling effect. People, like me, who live in fear of violating a rule, are much less likely to take part.
Thanks so much for another brilliant post, Michelle. I always enjoy your stuff. 🙂
Dennis Shiao says
Well written. I participated (to a minor extent) in that LinkedIn Groups discussion and voiced my opinion that Michael Doyle ought to be let into the Group. While that particular Group does foster some great discussions, the policy decision (by the Administrator) damages the credibility of the Group, in my mind. Without allowing Michael participate, the derailed discussion became the definition of “one sided.”
Mitchell Beer says
Great post, Michelle, and an interesting discussion. It makes me crazy trying to sort out the rights and wrongs on groups that are over-moderated, on LinkedIn and on some of the other industry discussion boards, and I agree that the cost of the chill far exceeds its value. If I think I’m at risk of overstepping a line, I’ll likely just stay out of the discussion — especially when it isn’t particularly clear where the line is being drawn.
The problem is most serious, and the loss to the industry is greatest, in emerging fields like virtual events where the number of knowledgeable voices is still limited. For years, I avoided industry speaking engagements in my own particular specialty area, not because I didn’t think it was important, but because I didn’t want to appear overly promotional.
But I find it astonishing and troubling that a voice as expert as Michael’s would be silenced! That kind of heavy-handed, anticipatory moderation amounts to censorship, and only undermines the credibility and usefulness of the discussion board where it takes place. Self-policing works well in most online communities, as Dave points out, and I think the broader oversight that you’re practicing with this kind of post, Michelle, is an important factor in keeping moderators realistic and responsive.