Social Media Surgeries – A Mutual Learning Experience

I’ve mentioned before how people often tell me they’d like to be a “Surgeon” at a Social Media Surgery, but they are scared about being asked questions they can’t answer. My response to that is always that it doesn’t matter. You can probably find the answer and it will be a mutual learning experience as you find your way to the answer together.

First Doncaster Social Media Surgery

Last night, I had personal experience of this, and it was just as challenging and rewarding as I had predicted. It was the First Doncaster Social Media Surgery, which now means we have nine regular Surgeries in Yorkshire & the Humber (with more in the planning stages). This one was a bit different from some of the others as, with the help of Rob Wilmot, who is chair of Governors at Doncaster College, as well as George Trow, the Principal, and Charlotte Hill, the Marketing Manager (who is a former colleague of mine), we held it at the College, and invited college tutors to join us, as well as the usual audience of voluntary and community organisations.

I sat down with a group of college tutors and asked them what they wanted to learn about. They said they had heard about wikis and wanted to see if they could help them in their work. At this point, I had to admit that, although I have used plenty of wikis, I have never actually set one up. So, we spent five minutes exploring other tools I am more familiar with, to see if they would meet their needs. None of them did, however, so we concluded that wikis were where it was at.

First Doncaster Social Media Surgery - 2

So, we embarked on a mutual learning process. I googled “wikis in education”, found a site that was crammed full of relevant wikis, spent some time with the tutors looking at examples to make sure they met the needs they had identified, found they did, and plunged into setting one up from scratch and populating it with some early content.

It was a genuine mutual learning process. I learned a lot out of it, the tutors involved all agreed they had found the process both informative and enjoyable, they took copious notes so they could pick up from where we left off when they got back to their own computers.

So, I now have very direct and personal experience of what I have been telling people who are nervous of becoming a “Social Media Surgeon”. I very much enjoyed it, we are all learning all the time, and I, for one, never want to fall into the trap of thinking I am “expert” at anything.

Big Society in the North

Last night saw the first collaborative event about the Big Society in the North. Nearly 100 people came together at Electric Works, Sheffield for some intense discussions about what the Big Society means to them, and how we might develop a distinctly northern voice for Big Society initiatives.

Steve Moore from the Big Society Network addresses the gathering

Steve Moore from the Big Society Network addresses the gathering

Before the event, I was interviewed on Radio Sheffield and attempted to explain what we were trying to do. Here is the interview:

Lucy Windmill of Amplified did a fantastic job of live blogging the event, and her colleague Ben Ellis took some great photos

David Wilcox shot some fantastic videos

The live video from the night is archived below. This was just the start of a conversation. Much more to follow.


I’m part of a group which is organising an event around the Big Society in the North. Today, on the day prior to the event, I undertook a “reconnaissance mission”, visiting the district of Eden in Cumbria, which is one of four communities (the others being Liverpool, Sutton & Cheam and Windsor & Maidenhead) which have been chosen by the Government as Big Society “Vanguard” areas.

The Train to Eden

Lots of thanks go to Lindsey Annison, long time rural broadband campaigner and stalwart of the Eden community, who undertook to show me around and introduce me to some of the key people who are making “Big Society” stuff happen in the area. I was keen to find out how the Big Society is working on the ground. It’s very early days for the initiative, and, from what I could gather, it seemed that people in the district are still a bit shell-shocked at having been chosen and being in the unaccustomed position of being in the national spotlight. So, I was interested to find out what it was they were doing that had won them their designation, what they thought themselves about having been chosen, and what their hopes were for the future. Beyond this, my visit had two specific aims;

Firstly, to try to anticipate some of the issues that might come up at the Big Society in the North Launch Planning Event the next day; and

Secondly, to explore the potential for using technology and social media to connect community initiatives up in the area, to amplify their work, to engage new people in their activities, and to connect them with best practice and avoid re-inventing wheels.

Lindsey met me at Appleby Station and took me to the Tufton Arms Hotel in the town, where we met with Carl Bendelow and Miles Mandelson. Later, we travelled to Kirkby Stephen to meet with local councillor, Glenys Lumley. One of the key issues all four of them were keen to get across was that a primary need was to identify common interests across the different communities of Eden. To an outsider they might seem to be fairly alike, but people in rural areas have very long memories, and differences between neighbouring communities such as Appleby and Kirkby Stephen date back to the fact that they were settlements originally established by different Viking fiefdoms.

Boots in Appleby

What was apparent was that the area has a long tradition of community self-organising. People are keen to stress that, while public funding would be nice, they have no intention of sitting back and waiting for it to be granted, if necessary, they will get off their behinds and do what they need for themselves. This has been manifest in the work which has gone into pushing forward the case for rural broadband, and in installing wireless networks and other forms of connectivity, including the famous Cybermoor Fibre-to-the-home project, in places.  The local Community Plans, put in place with the leadership of Eden District Council, have also been instrumental, and there were lots of kind words for Libby Bateman, Upper Eden Community Plan Officer.

Lack of connectivity and bandwidth locally were real concerns as barriers to getting people connected, online and collaborating. Lindsey had personal experience of engaging people without internet connections in Bolivia, and there was talk of needing to be more imaginative about learning from what communities with scarce resources had done elsewhere in the world. One of the ideas floated was the conversion of rarely-used telephone boxes into Electronic Village Noticeboards. Something similar has been done in Wray in Lancashire. Other things we discussed that might be done with technology in Eden include releasing information on where gritting lorries are / or have been, on the model of how Walsall Council did it last winter, this is not “nice to know” information, it can be vital in a rural area for people to get where they need to be for work purposes or in emergencies.

We discussed the flow of information into, around, and out of, the community. Again, connectivity and bandwidth is a severely limiting factor. Distance is a big issue in Eden, and even TV signals can be problematic, in an area where the analogue TV signal has already been turned off. Local people in Eden complain that their TV news is all either about the Newcastle area or about the Isle of Man. The local paper does its best, but it is struggling to serve the community. Local radio stations are based in Carlisle and give scant coverage to Eden. And the topography of the area means that radio signals can be at best patchy, and at worst non-existent.  Although there may be moves to established localised radio services, and these have the potential to play a big role in the Big Society, if they can overcome the geographic challenges, but it was felt that the long term solution to local communication problems lay in online provision once the connectivity issue was dealt with. But, a key obstacle to overcome here is in reaching those people who do not own, and do not want to own, a computer. We wondered whether there might be an opportunity in the future to supply people with pre-programmed internet radios, one of the pre-sets programmed to a local community station.

The Loki Stone in Kirkby Stephen Church

The Loki Stone in Kirkby Stephen Church

Local people feel strongly that decision-making has moved further away from them over the years. While Westminster is certainly very remote, so are Warrington, where a lot of regional decision-making takes place, and even Carlisle, where the County Council is based, and Penrith, the home of the District Council offices. There is a desire to use the Big Society initiative to localise decision-making, and, crucially, keep money in the area and allow it to circulate there. They want to be able to employ local contractors to do vital work, and to ensure money follows local priorities.

Some of the other initiatives which were explored in discussion that might be under-pinned by technology to make the Big Society work in the area included:

  • Car Sharing Scheme – the sparse nature of public transport forces people to rely on the car, but some people just don’t own a vehicle. A central point for requesting and offering lifts might help many people who are struggling to get around;
  • Village “Welcome Packs” online guides to the local area for people moving in, perhaps complemented by printed packs pushed through the door. (This might be a “Welcome to Your Square Mile” for the Big Society);
  • Using Social Networking to connect Second Home Owners into local communities. Many don’t have the time to build up local connections, but they might have skills they are prepared to use to help the local community while they are in its midst;
  • Putting Planning Applications online;
  • Using the Schools’ IT network and connectivity to connect local residents to broadband

I enjoyed my day in Eden, and hope to be back there again soon. It is clear that people are excited about being chosen as a vanguard community for the big society, but also fearful that their local spirit and enterprise might be usurped by people coming in from outside with ideas as to how things should be done. In an area with such an obvious tradition of people collectively doing things for themselves, they will not take kindly to any attempts to dictate models. But, it is also clear that they will welcome help, provided it is offered in the right spirit, goes with the grain of approaches they are comfortable with, and adds value to what they are seeking to do.

I believe there could be a big role for technology and social media in helping them achieve their goals, and in many other Big Society initiatives too.  Ensuring effective use of social media, to connect people together, engage them with initiatives, build platforms for collaboration, and connect with and share best practice is a bigger challenge in Eden than it might be in other communities because of the geographic, topographical, and connectivity issues. I believe that the spirit and enterprise of the people of Eden mean these are not insurmountable challenges.

Travelling back from Eden over the Ribblehead Viaduct

How to Amplify Your Event

Earlier this year, I ran a workshop at the “Creating Connections” conference in Huddersfield called “How to Amplify Your Event”. It’s taken a while, but I have now pulled together the notes I made for that workshop into this blog post. Sorry this makes for rather a long post, but I hope it will be of use if you are looking for ways of promoting an event. I don’t claim this to be a definitive list of the available tools, your favourite tool may not be on it, but it describes a good number of the tools I have used or seen being used.

Digital Engagement

The age of widespread digital literacy, internet use, and the rising tide of Social Media means that small organisations, if they get their message right, can have a much wider impact than they might ever have thought possible in the past. Pictures and videos tell much more powerful stories than text, and the Internet means that content can reach much wider audiences than printed material ever did.

Similarly, the digital age means that there is no longer any excuse for only talking to the people in the room at any event. Free and easy-to-use tools means that it is a relatively straightforward process to open your event up to the world, via live streamed video and audio, live blogging, instant feedback via Twitter and otherwise. Social Media means even the smallest event can become a global phenomenon.


The first step in amplifying an event is to create a hashtag for it. A hashtag is a short code which can be used as an identifier for the event, and make content from it easily searchable on a range of social media platforms. Example hashtags include #NDI10 (for the National Digital Inclusion Conference 2010) #d2020 (for Digital 20/20), or #cconns for the Creating Connections event. The presence of the # at the start of the code creates a clickable search term within many social media clients (e.g. Tweetdeck & Twhirl for Twitter) and separates the code from other, similar terms. As well as allowing for collation of content from the event. The hashtag also facilitates remote participation. For example, it allows Twitter users to see everyone’s comments on the event, whether those comments come from people they follow or not.

Live Blogging

Many events organisers encourage live blogging, which effectively allows real-time, detailed, commentary on the events in a form that is accessible outside the conference room. There are tools which are specifically designed to facilitate live blogging – including Such tools can pull in comments made via other platforms such as Twitter, as well as allowing posting of material such as photographs, and even live video streams.

Connecting to the Outside world

There are still conference and event venues which fail to take into account the need for good wifi. If you want to Amplify your event, decent wifi connections to the outside world are essential. And, it is important to realise that standard domestic, or small office, wifi systems are no longer adequate for events. Most small wifi systems have low limits to the number of connections allowed, and they can suffer from limited bandwidth. If there are a lot of people with different wifi-enabled devices at your event, you need to allow for many connections, and, live streaming of video and audio needs a fair amount of bandwidth.

Live Video Stream

The ultimate way of broadcasting your event to the world is by effectively turning yourself into a TV channel and sending live video and audio out to the world. I am always surprised by how many people still think that this is an expensive and difficult process. In the age of social media, live video broadcasts can be done for free and using relatively cheap kit, or at least kit that you might already have in your possession for other purposes. and

are all services which allow you to stream live video and audio directly from a webcam. The easiest way of using these services is to utilise the built in webcam and microphone from a laptop computer, point them at the speakers at your event, and stream live to the world. All of them have facilities to collect input and feedback from participants in the room and remotely. is a version of the livestream service which is integrated with Twitter, and makes it very straightforward to promote the live stream via Twitter and collect feedback the same way. and are services which allow live video and audio streaming from a video-enabled mobile phone. also has a service which allows live streaming from an iPhone (3GS & 4 only). If broadcasting from a phone, remember to ensure that you are using a wifi connection, or that, if using the mobile phone network, you have a contract with a generous data allowance. Failure to check this could result in a big addition to your mobile phone bill.

Live Audio

It IS possible to broadcast live audio from an event. is a service which broadcasts and archives the content of a telephone call on the web. The live facility of iPadio suffers in my opinion, however, from being of telephone call quality, which can be difficult to listen to. There are other, more techy ways of broadcasting live audio, and, if you know a community radio station, you might be able to get them involved. Personally, I think there is a gap in the market for a user-friendly application which delivers high quality, live broadcast audio on the web, as audio can often be very useful if you are trying to follow an event on the move, and are not sat at a screen.

“Vox Pops”

A popular way of amplifying an event is to record “Vox Pops”, i.e. short interviews with participants or speakers, and upload them to the web.

There are some really good, cheap video cameras on the market now, such as the Flip range, which not only record excellent quality video, but are quite cheap (upwards of £70) and easy to use. Many of them have “one button operation” and plug easily into the usb port of a computer to upload content. But, you don’t even need to buy dedicated equipment for this purpose. Many modern mobile phones will record video of sufficient quality for these purposes.

There are lots of sites which will host video on the web for free, including: and

The obvious place to put such videos is Youtube, as this has the highest number of users, and you will have access to their vast audience. But Youtube has a 10 minute limit on videos, so, if you are looking to host longer film, then one of the other sites is recommended.

Audio interviews are also a popular tool. As already mentioned, iPadio is one such tool which can be used for this, and, as well as the live, telephone call-quality option, there is also the facility to upload better quality sound in the form of mp3 files to the iPadio site. Another option, which currently only works on iPhones and Google-powered (Android) phones, is At the moment, there is a five-minute limit on audioboo files, but this is likely to change in the future. Audioboo works by recording high-quality audio and automatically uploading it to its own site. So, it is not live, but integrates with services such as Twitter and Facebook to promote your audio widely.

Here’s an example of an interview using audioboo

Collating it all

So, there are a variety of options to Amplify your event, but, at the end of the day, you may think you will be left with content in a lot of different places, and it could be difficult to keep tabs on it all. This is where the hashtag comes into its own again.

Services such as: and

can be used to collate your content in one place. By enter the hashtag in the boxes of these services, you can present all your event content in one place on the web.

A New Approach for the first Rotherham Social Media Surgery

First Rotherham Social Media Surgery

Today it was my second Social Media Social Surgery of the week (with two more to come next week). The first Rotherham Social Media Surgery went very well, considering that it was effectively planned and organised in 48 hours, after Paul Webster (@watfordgap) challenged me to respond to my own blog post “Social Media Surgeries, JFDI!“.

Despite the short notice, the first venture in Rotherham was a great success, aided by the fact that we tagged the Surgery on to the end of a Social Media Workshop run by Simon Duncan, the regional Third (First?) Sector ICT Champion.

So, we had a semi-captive audience of 8 people, and my fellow “Surgeons” were Paul Webster and Neil Brewitt.

This was a Surgery with a difference. It was apparent that most people present were some distance further back in their understanding of social media than those who normally come to Surgeries.  So, after consulting them on their preferences, we agreed to conduct the Surgery as a group discussion, which then finished with a case study as we helped one member set up a Twitter account. Follow @lchord on Twitter, and give them some encouragement, please.

This format worked well with this Group.  I think it is probable that we would revert to the more usual format of one-to-one, or one-to-small-group advice at future Surgeries as people’s knowledge of, and confidence in, social media grows. But, this way worked well as a kick-off in Rotherham.

Social Media Surgeries – on Radio Sheffield

Through the Digital 20/20 programme, we embarked on an ambitious programme of Social Media Surgeries towards the end of July. As well as Leeds and Huddersfield, delivered with the usual estimable team of volunteers, Ben McKenna led the first Bradford Social Media Surgery on the 20th, and then we have firsts in Rotherham, on the 21st, and Doncaster on the 28th. These are rounded off with the second North East Lincolnshire event in Grimsby on the 29th.

I appeared on Radio Sheffield on the afternoon of Tuesday 20th July (well, it makes a change from being up at the crack of dawn for the Breakfast Show), to talk about the Rotherham and Doncaster Surgeries, as well as getting a plug in for the regular Sheffield Surgery.

More details on the Social Media Surgeries can be found here:

The interview is below:

Where are the University-educated entrepreneurs?

Branson at the Time 100 Gala, May 4, 2010

Sir Richard Branson at the Time 100 Gala, May 4, 2010

I heard yet another item this morning on Radio 4 about the high-profile entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university. A 17 year-old who is running his own successful business talked about his friends who would be leaving university saddled with debt, while he would be earning money all of the time. The item quoted the likes of Sir Richard Branson (above), Lord Sugar, and Sir Philip Green as successful entrepreneurs who didn’t feel the need for academic qualifications.

This is a line which the media loves to push, and it strikes a chord in the popular psyche. Which leads me to think, “who are the successful University-educated entrepreneurs? And why don’t we hear about them?” I know a number of people, including the redoubtable Kelly Smith of Huddersfield University, who are working hard to instil a spirit of enterprise in university students, but still the media obsesses about those who avoided the academic route.

It is that university suppresses the entrepreneurial spirit, OR is it that the Bransons and Sugars are actually exceptions to the rule, and that’s why they get so much attention? The reporting of their cases would suggest otherwise, have we been duped?

Social Media Surgeries – JFDI!

Leeds Social Media Surgery - July 2010

I’ve had to abort plans for two new Social Media Surgeries recently because other people got cold feet about being able to attract sufficient numbers of participants.

Now, while I wholeheartedly agree that it makes no sense to take up time and resources if no one is going to come, and I have cancelled a session myself in the past because of this, I also think that this is an activity where waiting for the perfect moment is counter-productive. My experience with Leeds Social Media Surgery, for instance, is that, even though we started there with quite low numbers, the Surgery has built its own momentum.

Going ahead and launching a surgery works so much better than waiting for the perfect moment for two reasons:

1. It gives you stories to tell. Even though you might only have a few takers at first, every episode of assistance at a Social Media Surgery is a story in itself. Surgery organisers can tell these stories as examples of the benefits people get out of attendance, and this is great publicity in the local area.

2. It builds word of mouth We have found in Leeds, as elsewhere, that people are now coming to the Surgery because they know someone else who has attended and got something positive out of it. This is a very important factor when many of the people we are trying to reach with Social Media Surgeries are (a) not necessarily online that much, and therefore relatively immune to online marketing; and (b) nervous about social media use, and thus more likely to take the next steps if they know someone else who has done the same thing.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a Social Media Surgery, I’d say, “do it!”. There may never be a perfect moment, and a slow start is better than no start at all.

Oh, and if you do start a Surgery, don’t forget to register it here

What do public sector cuts mean for staff development and good practice sharing?

I had a conversation this morning with someone who runs conferences and events aimed at the public sector. This person is very worried about his business because it appears likely that the spending cuts looming will have a dramatic effect on the ability of public organisations to afford to send delegates to conferences and training events.

This led me to wonder if the “unconference” will now come into its own as a mechanism for staff development and best practice sharing among public organisations.
Social Media Unconference, Sheffield 10th February 2010

During the past couple of years, I have been part of a number of really good “unconference”-type events, the most recent being the Social Media in Education Podcamp, held at Doncaster College on June 30th, Self-organised, semi-unstructured events are becoming increasingly popular as vehicles for getting people together, and, in the public sector, there is a growing movement of “GovCamps” and “localgovcamps”.

Basically, unconferences, are self-curated events at which the participants set the agenda at the beginning of the day, and people volunteer to run sessions on their specialist subjects. They might be called unconferences, but could also be called:

  • barcamps; or
  • open spaces
  • To date, they have mainly been organised by enthusiastic individuals, particularly around technology or social media-focused agendas.

    Perhaps it is time for the unconference to move out of the shadows and into the mainstream as a major force in public sector staff development and the sharing of good practice.

    Social Media in Education – on BBC Radio Sheffield

    On the 30th June and 1st July, a fantastic couple of linked events were held on Social Media in Education at Doncaster College. Organised by Rob Wilmot, who is Chair of Governors of the College, among his many other roles, and featuring the renowned Chris Brogan, who flew in from Boston, Massachusetts, especially for the event, the Social Media Podcamp, was followed by a seminar delivered by Chris the following day.

    Ahead of the event, I appeared on Radio Sheffield to talk about some of the issues it raised. My appearance at 7:20am, was followed an hour later by Rob Wilmot and Chris Brogan who amplified the themes further. Both segments of the programme are presented here;