• The Responsive Summit

The Responsive Summit shows the web industry has a lot to learn about communicating online

As the dust settles on the Responsive Summit, its perhaps worth having a look at just why the event generated so much heat on Twitter and beyond. As has been widely reported in the last 12 hours, the title of the recent “Responsive Summit” event that riled so many, was just a bit of self-mocking fun. The problem was that most of the web community were not in on the joke, and that itself is a microcosm of what went wrong with the promotion as a whole.

The event was clearly organised with honorable intentions, and Mark, Chris, Josh etc done well arranging something like this on such short notice. The decision to ask for questions from the community should have beset any thoughts of elitism, and some attendees even got a seat at the table just by asking. So what’s the problem? Well, dissecting the days events, there seems to be several.

Mysterious, Shadowy Nature of the Event

A lot of folks just couldn’t get their head around what this event actually was, myself included. The last event I went to called a “Summit” had about two thousand attendees and a free bar. How strange that that nobody had seemed to have heard of it. Was it a big event or a small event? Invite only or could anyone come? The site lacked much in the way of info, probably because the whole affair was organised within a week, but the information drought made the event seem more and more peculiar… and exclusive. “Who are the attendees and why are there so few of them?” derped the Internet. And “why was I not invited?”

“Why was I not invited?” 

Nobody knew the reason for this was that it didn’t exist until a few days previously. Instead, people just felt they weren’t in the loop, which caused a negative emotional response. The organisers thought they had this covered by asking for questions and opinions on the site, but regardless, some people who thought they had something to offer felt snubbed. This combined with its Mysterious Nature – which as it transpires was one step up from a local Pub Standards meeting – made it seem rather exclusive. The ad-hoc planning and small attendee list, combined with it being “an event” as opposed to just a meetup, conspired in some minds to give the appearance of something “cabalish” in nature, which was the opposite of what was intended.

Lack of Streaming 

I was not alone in asking where I could see a live stream to watch while working, as there was with, say, the measurement.ie event last week. It’s a Summit, right? Instead, the event was just live tweeted, which I’m sure the organisers will already have concluded, was an important oversight. Instead of hearing the debate as it happened, we were fed 140 character burps of information, and left to piece together the original meaning from the fragments. Like Victorian archaeologists just making up a Brontosaurus out of bits of other dinosaur, we got a lot of things wrong. Such as the infamous “get new clients” tweet, which seemed to confirm the worst fears of those who perceived a clique of out-of touch thought leaders telling everyone how to do their jobs.

The lesson I take from this is that even with the best of intentions and goals, we can still manage to balls up our communications strategy by taking it for granted that people will “get” what we’re trying to do, even if you think you know your audience.

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