Thoughts on SMBOttawa v4.0

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] and please send this to anyone else who might be interested.


  1. Great recap! Your impressions seemed to echo my own. While it helped me to firm up some of my own opinions about community, I felt the Q&A format was a bit limiting – I kept wishing for a bit more depth from the panelists. The answers I really wanted to hear, never quite emerged via the questions – specifically what elements contributed to the success of the panelists’ communities? what didn’t work? How exactly (beside vague comments about google analytics and tracking new memberships) did they measure their success? How did they translate their community activities into business value?

    Regarding your second question – nonlinear often works with non-profits, universities, gov etc… so would love to share/discuss specific tactics – but not sure it merits a separate and distinct group.

  2. Hey Joe,
    Great post about the SMB Ottawa–I greatly enjoy attending these events (though I am NOT a morning person) and find the atmosphere energizing and inspiring. Interesting question you raise about the mixing and mingling of non-proft types with industry-types… I’m a marketer in a non-profit cultural institution and I agree that there’s a wide spectrum of issues that we deal with that is different from industry. However my gut feeling is that it’s useful for us all to be under one roof where we can exchange ideas and we can learn from each other. I leave these events often saying “Geez, I wish I had a budget/resources like thiers” but I almost always find some kernels of info that I can apply to my puny budgets and different audience segments. Maybe as non-profiteers/academics/public sector folks we can offer a different perpective on social media and can start bringing that to the table at SMB Ottawa, whether that be in the form of questions, presentations, panelists etc.

  3. Maybe I can add a perspective as a panelist.

    I actually liked the format but I agree no format is perfect. It would always be nicer to drill down deeper but the challenge is always the time and trying to appeal to a wider audience. My objective for these types of panels and presentations are hopefully to take away 1-2 new things that I learn.

    As for a non-profit group, the Eclipse Foundation group is actually non-profit. I think the challenge you will have with any community conversation is that ‘it depends’ on what is the community you are trying to form. There are some best practices but it is hard to create a cookie cutter for all communities. Therefore, I think you could gain more by sticking with the SMB format but try to drill deeper into specific topics.

    Just a couple of thoughts…

  4. Thanks for the insights, Ian. And sorry for misrepresenting your Foundation, my bad entirely.

    I agree, the panellists did a great job given the constraints of time and the scope of the audience. The one or two new things approach is a good one and I certainly learned AT LEAST that much.


  5. Thanks for the recap Joe!

    I enjoyed this morning’s conversation immensely, but would certainly also enjoy an alternate venue to discuss these issues as they relate to government.

    My involvement in social media is on a personal level as a blogger (, a moderator and participant in various communities, but also as a service delivery/communications consultant to government (

    Many of my government clients are expressing more interest in social media and are interested in hearing about the challenges, lessons learned, and ideas of their colleagues in other departments.

    Please let me know if you put something together and I would be happy to attend and to market the events to my past, current and future clients.


  6. Great post Joe.

    “(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!).”

    I particularly liked this part of the text because the room basically represented how a typical online forum goes. Most people never throw in their $0.02 for whatever reason.

    Re another group: I think the more groups the better; I currently attend all the functions and would be interested in attending another.

    While on topic big thanks to the organizers and Gowlings for hosting us. I have enjoyed every different session I attended but definitely prefer the panel approach. It’s more discussion and from different perspectives which is always a great thing.

    All the best,

  7. Great feedback to this post so far! I’m going to send out our survey soon – feedback at this blog and survey data can only help us do better next time. And, I’m happy that many of you have not only emailed me with suggestions, but you’ve also offered to help.

    One thing I wanted to do was to profile the panelists a bit before the session and so, this time, I experimented with video. If you haven’t seen them, check out:

    Gérard Métrailler, Corel –

    Luc Lévesque, TravelPod –

    There are tidbits that would round out some background info about Gérard and Luc and their respective organizations. (Ian’s interview is a couple of weeks away.)

    I’m curious if today’s audience members truly would like to keep the conversation about online communities going. It could be through blog posts and commenting like on this blog. We could create an online community, for example. We can have a day long unconference with online communities as a speaker track, etc.

    Your thoughts?

  8. I’d be in favour of having more social media gatherings for those (like me) not in the private sector. IMO there’s enough of a difference b/w for-profit and not to justify some separate events. Must admit that I’ve bailed on some social media events around town because they looked too focused on the business of selling – not the last Third Tuesday though, I was bummed about missing that one!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *