This week I was fortunate to be part of the the First AuntySocial Connected event which also incorporated the first Blackpool Social Media Surgery. AuntySocial, as described by one of its founders, Cath Mugonyi, is a group of mainly 18-30 year-olds living in and around Blackpool, who are passionate about social media and want to spread the word about how it can play a key role in helping assist with community regeneration in the town. This was the first in a proposed regular series of events bringing people together with a common interest.
I had originally approached Duncan Hodgson, a key member of the group, seeking support for running a Social Media Surgery in Blackpool as part of the work I am doing with the RSA, setting up new Surgeries. It was fortunate that Duncan, Cath and others had their own plans to press on with AuntySocial, and we were able to dovetail the two initiatives so that the first Social Media Surgery could take place as part of the AuntySocial event. This meant a slightly different format to most of the other Social Media Surgeries I have been involved with, as it kicked off with a couple of presentations.
When I arrived at the venue, the No. 5 Cafe, there was already a significant buzz about the place, despite it being more than half an hour before the event was due to start. And this buzz continued throughout the night. Around 30 people turned up looking for social media advice, and the different format was really interesting as we kicked off with presentations about the current state of social media, starting with Nathaniel Cassidy of 3ManFactory, whose presentation is here:
Nathaniel was followed by Duncan Hodgson who got people to “break the ice” by introducing themselves and suggesting 3 “hashstags”, brief facts about themselves. He followed this with a short presentation about social media stats in Blackpool and Lancashire.
And then we were into the Social Media Surgery aspect of the evening, with people splitting into small groups for discussions with the “Surgeons”, all of whom were denoted by a smiley face on their badge. And this is where the different format really made a difference. I found that the group I was talking to were really buzzing, their heads were filled with ideas and suggestions coming from the presentations, and they wanted to explore all sorts of options. This was the first time ever, at any of the many Social Media Surgeries I have been part of, that I got into a serious discussion about the merits and uses of foursquare, which got me thinking about how the voluntary sector might use it. The members of my group were very intrigued when I showed them the “benefits” offered by some of the local venues for people who checked in there.
In short, I thought this was a fantastic event. I want to thank Duncan, Cath and everyone else involved in helping to make it all happen, and they pulled it off in a relatively short space of time. They are already planning the second event, which is likely to happen in late July. And it was intriguing to see how a different format can work. I am a great believer in the informality of Social Media Surgeries, and in ensuring debates are not dictated by outside influences. But, I also think, particularly for the first event in a particular locality, a bit of facilitated discussion about the possibilities is worth trying to stimulate ideas. This certainly worked in Blackpool on Wednesday night.