Social Media for Social Good

Often when people ask me what I do, I say “Social Media for Social Good”. I do things that are not social media, and I also help companies use social media to sell things, but a key part of my work, comes under that heading. And, as I often get asked to define what I mean, here goes.

Social media for social good is social media being used by public sector bodies, voluntary and community sector organisations, and social entrepreneurs to help make the world a better place.

Why should such organisations use social media?

Answer 1:

Because over time, social media will be the principal communication tools used by everybody. They will replace the telephone, email, marketing shots, press releases and newsletters. It’s happening now, just look around you.

Answer 2:

Because, especially in these austere times, they cannot afford not to. They need to use social media to:

  • steal other people’s good ideas and implement them with their own beneficiaries;
  • be open about their own practice, inviting suggestions for improvement, criticisms, and praise; and
  • crowdsource solutions to problems and opportunities for funding.

The Internet is not a Punishment

odp-wigToday is Our Digital Planet’s last day in Wigan. Tomorrow we move on to Leigh.

This morning I help someone register for the Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Jobmatch site and apply for some jobs. It was painful to watch his technophobia and how much he struggled to accomplish simple tasks on the laptop. But, he had been told that he risked losing his benefits if he didn’t use the site, so he had no choice. I am sure he saw all this as some form of punishment. It’s a real pity when people have to be dragged on to the internet against their will. I wish they could all enjoy it as much as I do.

“Why have I resisted so long?”

He came into the Internet Station of Our Digital Planet in Wigan and without introducing himself said “I’ve reluctantly come to the decision that I can’t hide from the internet any longer. My family are constantly complaining that I don’t participate in things they organise online”.

He asked to be shown how to send an email. Afterwards he said “I feel guilty now I know how easy it is. Why have I resisted so long? My family must think I am so rude”.

The Importance of Digital Storytelling

Last week I got the heart warming news that the LS14 Trust had secured 3 years funding for their Digital Lounge. When I met with them in March, they were seriously fearing closure as the funding they had was running out.

So, I made a video in which the staff members told some stories about how important their work is, and it generated quite a lot of interest.

Digital storytelling is important, and it works. Here’s the video I made with Nic and Jo:

If it makes me happy…

ODP Wigan 5

I’ve just had a lovely chat with a gentleman (who told me he was 85) who came into the Our Digital Planet Internet Station to tell me that new technologies and the internet are all a con.

He proudly stated “I am firmly a man of the 1950s, and that’s how I want to live my life”. He believes that all modern gadgets are part of a process of convincing people to buy things they don’t need. “I’ve seen them walking about with these biscuits” he said (meaning tablets)… “what’s all that about?”. He said he is content with his view that he has had his life and the modern world has nothing to offer him. I told him that made me sad, but he said he has been happy, and sadness has no part in his life. He doesn’t get lonely and is content with his own company.

And then he pulled out his mobile phone, which is pre-programmed with the work and home numbers of his daughter and that of a taxi company. “This is the only new technology I have, and it does those 3 things for me,” he said.

We had to agree to differ, and this was one that got away. But, if he is happy, who am I to ask him to change?


There be dragons

After Day 2 of Our Digital Planet in Wigan, I’m left reflecting on what a scary place the internet is for some people. I listened to a long tale from an older gentleman about the different error messages, warnings, and pop ups which had assailed him during his computer use, and which had eventually convinced him to give the whole thing up. Eventually, I could only advise him to bring his laptop into the Internet Station so I could have a look at it, as, without seeing it, it was impossible for me to judge which of these messages was potentially harmful, and which could easily be dismissed. Those of us who use computers and the internet all the time find it relatively easy to distinguish what we need to worry about and what we don’t, but, for those who are new and irregular visitors, it can seem an impenetrable maze of constant warnings.


Back in the Saddle

I’m writing this on my way to day 2 of Our Digital Planet’s visit to Wigan. Yesterday was almost 6 months to the day from when I locked up the Internet Station and walked away from it in Glasgow, and it was great to be back in there again.

But, of course, what really made it worthwhile was being able to help people do things which will improve their lives. That is a wonderful feeling.

And, to prove a point, our very first visitor was Harriet, who is 81 and was full of tales of the African refugee children she adopted in the 1950s who went on to be successful in the music industry and counted The Beatles and Rolling Stones among their friends. Harriet’s grandson has a degree in Computer Science, but she doesn’t like to bother him with her “trivial” issues, so she will be coming back another day with her laptop and scanner in a trolley.

I believe everyone has a touching point in their lives which will make internet use compelling to them. I will be looking for those touch points in Wigan until Wednesday, and then we move on to Leigh.


Introducing the WOW Bus

OK, this is a working title for a project I am working on, and I need your help.

Our Digital Planet - Bristol

If you follow my work, you’ll be familiar with Our Digital Planet, the touring exhibition, which visits, city centres, engages people through images of internet use, and then coaxes them to get online. Now, I’m working on a project (working title, the WOW Bus) which will do something similar, but fully mobile; able to go anywhere.

The project is at funding application stage. I am working in partnership with a largeish organisation which is putting a chunk of its own resources in and applying, with me, for funding to make the project happen. The plan is for the organisation to use the bus with its own clients, and for myself and others to use it at other times.

I am really excited about this. This needs to be done quickly, and I need to explore a range of options. Which is why I am asking for your support.

I believe in being ambitious. Maybe we’ll have to scale things down, but I’d like this to be a combination of Eastella’s Brilliant Bus, the John Lennon Bus, Peabody Trust’s Digivan, and New York City Housing Authority’s Digital Vans. We want it to create a buzz when it arrives in an area. It will flood the surrounding environment with free wifi and inspire people to explore the digital world. It will be the WOW Bus, because it will be a mobile Window on the World, but also, because people will say “wow!” when they see it.

We are going to explore all options, including buying and equipping a new vehicle. But, I know there are all sorts of vehicles out there which could, with a little tweaking and adaptation, become the WOW Bus at much lower cost. If you have such a vehicle, or know of one, please get in touch. If you can help in any way, drop me a line at or tweet me at @johnpopham.

Please help to make the WOW Bus a reality.

New York City Housing Authority Digital Van from

Rural Community Broadband Fund


Over the past year, or so, I have been working with James Saunby of Grey Sky Consulting on a number of bids to the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. We’ve been working with communities, local authorities, and other partners in areas which are defined as in the “last 10%” in terms of broadband connectivity. In this context, the last 10% means those areas which are unlikely to be served by the upgrades which are being rolled out via the main BDUK programme, wherein Government, local authorities and the European Union are investing in extending Next Generation Access (connectivity upwards of 24Mbps) beyond the areas deemed commercially viable by the main players. The BDUK programme will bring better connections to those who are located between the 66% of properties judged commercially viable and 90% (on average) of the population.

James and I have been working with communities and partners in Cheshire, Durham, Tees Valley, Kirklees and Cumbria. To date, we’ve had 100% success rate in getting bids through the Expression of Interest Stage, and the only project to have reached contract stage under the Rural Community Broadband Fund is led by Grey Sky in Rothbury, Northumberland (read more about this here). It has been great to work with some of the communities which had been in danger of left behind by the 21st Century, and set them on the road to benefitting from the same new technologies which urban residents now take for granted. It’s not a straightforward task. The technical challenges are one thing; the mindset of people who have never had the internet and don’t necessarily see a reason for having it, is perhaps an even tougher obstacle.

The current round of the Rural Community Broadband fund is scheduled to be the last. And, on Friday last week, we heard that the deadline (originally intended to be 24th May) has been extended to 17th June (although, at the time of writing the website has not been updated to reflect this). This could be the last chance for communities in the last 10% to have a crack at getting greatly enhanced broadband.

So, if you would like to work with James and myself to get better broadband please get in touch. But, do it quickly, there is not much time left.

Our Digital Planet is back on the road

I am very pleased to report that Our Digital Planet will be back on the road shortly. Thanks to the support of Nominet Trust and Wigan Council, we will be in Wigan Town Centre from 24th to 29th May, and then in Leigh Town Centre from 30th May to 2nd June.


When I locked up the Internet Station for the last time in Glasgow last November, a profound sense of loss suddenly hit me. This was a bit of a surprise, but, when I analysed it, I realised it was the constant interaction with people that I was missing; the immersion in their daily lives; the feeling that I was being trusted to listen to their stories, and, above all, the deep feeling of satisfaction at being able to do something which I believed would improve their lives.

This is what gave me a determination and a drive to make sure that we could do more of this. So, almost exactly six months after Our Digital Planet left Glasgow, it will be back on the streets again in Wigan and Leigh. I am so looking forward to getting some of those feelings again and being let in to people’s lives. And I hope we can uncover some more gems, like the gentleman who found a video online of his wife as a babe-in-arms being presented to the young Princess Elizabeth in a Maltese maternity hospital; like the lady who was able to connect with her children in the USA; and, of course like Ron. I make no excuse for re-posting the video of Ron below.

And I want as many people as possible to get involved. If you are within striking distance of Wigan, please come down and visit. If you are able to volunteer some time to help people get online, then that would be fabulous. During the week I hope to be doing some live linkups and letting the outside world in on what we are doing, probably using Google+ Hangout, so, please get involved in that. Oh, and we still desperately need 5 laptops / tablets, if you can help with that.

I am very hopeful that Wigan will be the first stop on a national tour for 2013. For that to happen, we need partners to come forward with funding as well as locations.


Here’s James Winterbottom of Wigan Council talking about Our Digital Planet coming to Wigan and Leigh

Here’s Ron, people like him make all this worthwhile