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?