A Case of Semantics: #GRtweetElite Frackus a Textbook Example of “Bypassing”

[Updated] A seemingly-innocuous social media event in Grand Rapids raised a few hackles last night:

There was a great late-night convening of the Communications Majors to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of the frackus (thanks to @seelowitz and @ekuhn for the fun discussion; it brought me back to grad school).  One of the concepts my Interpersonal Communication students cover is “bypassing”:

Bypassing: Confusion caused by the same words’ meaning different things to different people.”
(Beebe, S. A., Beebe, S. J. & Redmond, M. V. (2008). Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others, 5th Edition, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.)

There are a few likely reasons for the hurt feelings:

  1. Terminology: The term “elite” (or “3l33t“) has a very specific connotation online, and the way in which it was used was a challenge to the discourse community that typically uses the term (ie tech-savvy types like hackers and gamers).  In attempting to craft a clever name that used alliteration, “Experience GR” (the organization formerly known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau) tripped into that domain.  (My vote would have gone for “GRTweetRetreat”).  It doesn’t help that the people who use the term 3l33t tend to be those who were excluded socially during their formative years (which is often what drove them online to find a sense of community).
  2. Ownership: Social media isn’t owned by anyone.  The democratized nature of the medium means that to co-opt its status as a media darling buzz word for the purposes of an unveiling event rubs some people the wrong way.  Similarly, inviting only certain people to an event belies the inclusive nature of Web 2.0 technologies (as does classifying anything as “elite”).
  3. Personal Pride: As the traditional media declines, many communications professionals are jockeying for position in the social media world, and their professional reputation depends on being plugged in to the various communities that are thriving online.  Whether or not ExperienceGR/CVB intended to do so, the result of the event was to ascribe “elite” status to the attendees that they may not have earned – and simultaneously to exclude a broad swath of the social media pros online from claiming that status.  To wit – that’s exactly how the event is now being portrayed by those that covered the event:“Yesterday the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention unveiled their new name … Experience Grand Rapids.  Experience Grand Rapids unveiled its name and logo Tuesday night with an invite-only party called the ‘GR Tweet Elite’.” (via GR Social Diary’s Facebook page)

Hopefully other organizations will be able to learn from this experience in planning future social media events.

UPDATE: As a PR pro, it strikes me that if you’re going to host a Twitter event to announce a new name for an organization, you might want to own the Twitter account for that new organization name and have it active (right now “@experiencegr” is an account with zero followers that has its tweets protected):

Screen capture of the @experiencegr Twitter Account
Screen capture of the @experiencegr Twitter Account


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