How open is our community?

Quick warning first – this post is based on my experiences last night at Third Tuesday Ottawa but it’s most certainly not a recap, review or extrapolation on the themes discussed.  My twitter-sized review of the event itself would be something to the effect of “Awesome discussion at #TTO; interesting to see what GoC is doing but sad that it’s all staying internal for now.”

There, with that done, I want to ask the dozens of you who read this blog about how the community treats outsiders. That sounds menacing but it’s not supposed to. I’ve left names off so nobody gets sidetracked by any previously existing bias towards any of the people or corporations.

Here’s the setup. At last night’s event, a guy stood up and asked a question which he prefaced with a note about who he works for (a huge international consulting company not known for being particularly social media friendly). Huge moment of disclosure: Said guy is a good friend of mine from long before either of us dipped our toes in these waters. Just to get that out of the way.

Anyway, his question was perfectly legit, well within the realm of the discussion and probably would have been asked by one of us ‘insiders’ if he hadn’t asked it. It seemed to start a trend though as several questions that followed his were prefaced with a quick note of where the person worked.

After the event was done I got to chatting with one of the leading minds in Ottawa’s social media community. We were talking about the presentation and the discussion eventually moved to the question asked by my friend. There was a sense that he had broken an unwritten rule by declaring his affiliation. It lead to an observation that I’ve heard before in the past – that anyone looking to make an entry into the SM realm should really spend some time getting to know the community and the way it functions beforehand.

Fair point and one that many companies would do well to mind.

But here’s the thing (and I will remind you of my disclaimer though I think I’m treating this fairly) – the guy in question didn’t strike me as someone who was trying to spin his way into a deal or anything. His question was prefectly on point; it didn’t sound like someone trying to drum up his next business opportunity. Maybe he’s used to introducing himself by his company affiliation, I’m not sure.

Interestingly, another person in the audience announced his affiliation before asking a question, then proceeded to ask a question that, to me, seemed a lot more self-interested. But that guy came from a company that is part of the open source community – so his self interest is the self interest of the entire community. His business would benefit but so would the greater community. The same person who was put off by the multinational company rep flagged this question as one that he was particularly impressed by.

So – here’s the question for all y’all. Do we treat our own differently than we treat an outsider? Should we immediately be suspicious of the intentions of anyone from a major company that stands to profit immensely or should we applaud them for trying to make an entry? Conversely, should someone be given a free pass for breaking an unwritten rule if they are part of the social community?

I realize this post sounds unnecessarily critical of the person I’ve identified as a leading mind. It really isn’t supposed to (blame the early hour at which I’m writing this)


  1. I was unable to attend last nights event, although I am happy to hear that it was a success.

    I think it is very appropriate to disclose who you are or your affiliation to a subject, product or company.

    First, it frames the question with who you are and your experience. It also let people in on your point of view.

    Second, by being open and upfront you are not hiding any conflict of interest about your question or comments.

    Last, my perception of the norms within social media are to be open, honest and accepting. I don’t see how an introduction violates that, but I was not there – maybe it was in the delivery.

  2. There’s a fine line between culture and ideology. If you spend too much time worrying about groupthink in social media, you’re going to miss the important parts.

    There are obviously cultural norms we should respect, but there’s no Mayor of Twittertown to decide what’s right and what’s not. We create this culture as a whole, and there’s no one interpretation of the laws of the land.

  3. Good points, Chris and Ryan.

    I guess I’m wondering not only about the legitimacy of cultural norms but also about how we as a community apply them. Do we have a double standard? If so, how can we address it?

  4. I was at the event and enjoyed it thoroughly. I thought a lot of really good questions were asked, including the question I believe you’re referring to.

    A number of people announced their affiliations throughout the evening and personally, I found it beneficial because it greased the wheels for discussions after the speaker was finished. While this particular guy declared his affiliation somewhat enthusiastically, it certainly did provide context on who was asking the question.

    Third Tuesday’s website describes the meetup as (among other things) “an opportunity to simply network with industry peers, to share knowledge, experiences and perhaps a few laughs and drinks too.” Maybe this is crass of me… but what’s the point of networking if you’re expected to maintain totally modest anonymity?

  5. Agree with Molly/Chris, I wasn’t there, but stating where you work helps put context to a question. Also important for networking.

    I think the point is that there are many of us who attend many events and know each other (or can easily find out via 2-second google search), so maybe it seems odd that someone there who wasn’t in the bubble acts in a way that’s otherwise normal at a networking event?

  6. As the person who “broke the social rule”, I feel justified in making a few comments… first of all, Joe, good and fair summary – Chris/Ryan, appreciate your perspectives.

    Simply put, social etiquette (whether business or social) requires us to introduce ourselves when we meet people. Stating your name and affiliation before asking questions in a public forums is, and always has been socially acceptable. It’s as acceptable as shaking one’s hand during an introduction and asking where they work or where they’re from.

    I can appreciate the “group norm” of not mentioning company tags when introducing yourself during questions, however, I suspect this unwritten and unspoken norm would have been established to prevent socially inappropriate “salesy” public comments. To that point Joe, if those type of people want to make a public embarrassments out of themselves, then let them.

    What I do find disconcerting, is there are people trying to control the culture and norms of the group by stating how people should introduce themselves and how they should dress (note: I didn’t rant on the comment I heard about people there with “ties”). What I do find interesting is that the era of social media is being introduced and used by counter-culture generations (NetGen, GenY), and yet people (apparently GenX or Baby Boomers) are trying to ‘control’ the culture of the networking event.

    Whether it’s ‘suits’, guys in jeans, Burger King uniforms, tshirts, swimsuits, or people wearing placards with their home town or where they work, I would hope that future events look beyond people’s attire and tags. After all, aren’t these events about sharing ideas and concepts? Isn’t it also about meeting people from different industries and walks of life? So, at the next event I would hope that people continue to mention who they are, where they’re from or what they do… isn’t that the point of networking?

  7. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with identifying who you work for when you’re at these events. As long as you don’t stand up and make a sales pitch, I’m fine with that… and I like to know where people are coming from.

    I can’t speak for everyone else, of course, but that’s my view.

    Oh, and I LOVE hearing from people who are new to the space, so kudos to your friend for attending and participating.

  8. I think that’s just it, Dave. The line between an intro and a pitch can be hard to define sometimes.

    A lot of the comments here have been about the unwritten rule about introducing one’s company – I don’t think that was ever the intent. I think it was about stopping pitches.

    However, I wonder if sometimes we allow our prejudices to define the line between the two for us. If I am at an event and I hear “I’m John Doe from Microsoft” am I more likely to have my pitch detector go off than if I hear “I’m Jean D’eau from OpenSourceCodeCo?”

    If we’re being prefectly honest with ourselves, I’m inclined to think a lot of us would admit we would be.

  9. I was at and thoroughly enjoyed the event as well. My initial reaction was similar to yours Joe. Upon further analysis, I believe there were two factors which played significant role in the increased perception about the purpose of Dave’s introduction.

    1) After Dave mentioned his employer, and before he could ask his question, Jeff said something to the effect of “I was just at your offices” and there was a brief banter between them.

    2) The subsequent question to Dave was prefaced by a comment about how little – by comparative to social media norms – government is doing towards openly communicating their internal processes.

    Particularily for those who have no other context from which to draw more accurate conclusions, these two events established in the minds of most that Dave was on the inside of the “black box” of the internal operations of government.

    I think Jeff was open and honest in all his answers. Particularily his answer to the follow-up question to Dave’s about the unique challenges which a public servant faces comparative to a private business one as to how they can be perceived as speaking for their organization.

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