Social Media – How do we find out?

The latest Leeds Social Media Surgery was interesting to say the least. For some reason, I was the only “Surgeon” present, and we had 7 patients, considerably fewer than the average turnout, but a bit difficult for one person to deal with. The only way of handling the session was to turn it into a group discussion, and, apart from a brief demonstration of live video streaming via Bambuser on my iPad, no technology was touched during the whole of the Surgery.

A really interesting question was raised during the discussion. One of the participants asked “how do you find out about all these tools?”. It was a very wide ranging chat, and we did cover a lot of tools, from Facebook through to various live streaming apps. My answer was that you start by finding the social media tool that best suits your purpose, and that use of that tool is likely to lead you to others. From my perspective, I found out about most  of the tools I currently use via the recommendations of others on Twitter.

How did you find out about the social media tools that you use? And, from the perspective of a voluntary sector worker, new to the sector and new to social media, what are the best shortcuts to becoming proficient in a range of platforms?


First AuntySocial Connected Event / Blackpool Social Media Surgery


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.

Social Media, Identity and Personality

When I talk to people about social media, I often begin by making the point that social media is fundamentally about being social. The reaction to this polarises between people who think I am being facetious because that’s just obvious, and those who just don’t get what I mean until I explain it.

Part of the point I am making is that  the number of people who will actually “get” social media, and use it successfully in their professional / public lives is probably limited. Being able to use the technical tools is something that most people can learn without too much difficulty, but then finding the right tone of voice, and knowing what to say and when to say it, can often be beyond many. And this process is further complicated if you are part of an organisation that is trying to use social media to improve the way they do things, as that requires blending the individual’s personality (often those of several individuals) with that of the corporate entity.

While advising people at social media surgeries and in other settings, I have had people say to me things like “I need to learn to use social media, but it’s a struggle because I’m not a social person”. I have to be honest with people like that. I can show them the tools and how they operate, but, unless they learn to express themselves and their personality, their effectiveness in using them will always be limited.

And then there are the “offline” people. The people who won’t give you their mobile phone number because they don’t want to be contactable all the time. And the people whose email address you have to guess to track them down. These are people who, while they might not be total technophobes, are not alive to the possibilities offered even by the “new” technologies of mobile phones and email to enhance the way they work and keep them in touch with their professional networks. I have had people like this ask me to advise them on using social media, and I have wondered whether they are ready to make such a leap from their current way of working to the 21st Century networked world.

Many such people also fall into the category of those who think they have to put their personalities on the coat hook as they enter the office door. I fundamentally believe that the modern world means that the most successful people are those who forget the dividing line between work and the personal and bring their personality to work with them. Many people who find themselves being asked to use social media at work (and these are the people who are asked to do it, not those who volunteer) struggle because they’ve left their personality chained up on  the bike-rack outside, and bringing it into the office seems wrong to them. Perhaps we should give such people warning that one day soon they’ll be required to rummage around in the backs of drawers at home to find that personality they thought they had lost and polish it up to take it to work.

Social Media Surgery Tour

Thanks to the lovely people at the RSA I am about to embark on a Social Media Surgeries tour, mainly of the North of England, but a couple that fall outside that definition.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know what a Social Media Surgery is. If you haven’t then go away for a bit and read what the amazing Nick Booth, who really invented the Social Media Surgery, has to say about them. In essence, a Social Media Surgery is an informal session when nice people who understand how to use social media get together with people from voluntary & community and arts organisations to help them start out or improve their usage of free internet tools to communicate their messages and reach out to people they want to work with.

I’ve agreed with the RSA a list of places where we want to establish new Social Media Surgeries. This list is based on places where myself or RSA staff (or both) have contacts who we are fairly confident will take the Surgeries on, develop them, and make them a regular feature of the local infrastructure. There are nine venues on the list at the moment, and we are still looking for a tenth, so feel free to volunteer your area, if you think you can make it work. We are also open to persuasion to change the list if someone can make a compelling case for their area, but, this is where we are starting, and, if an area wants to join the list, somewhere else will have to drop out.

  • Blackburn
  • Darlington
  • Grimsby
  • Harrogate
  • Hull
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester (for community groups & RSA members)
  • Mansfield
  • Peterborough (not in the north of England)

The plans for nearly all the areas are not very well advanced as yet, so if you’ve got ideas for where and how we should do it in your area, please pitch in. In any case, we really need as many volunteer “surgeons” (advisers) as possible. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like this before, a key feature of Social Media Surgeries is that surgeons and “patients” often learn together, and we very often manage to ensure that two surgeons can work together so a more experience surgeon can help a new-comer out.

The important part about all this, is that these Surgeries need to be sustainable. I’ll probably only be able to help with setting up the first (and perhaps a second) event. Experience with the Surgeries that Nick has set up in Birmingham, and that I have worked on in Yorkshire, suggest that it needs at least one enthusiastic lead surgeon (and preferably a group) to take on the organising of the surgeries and coordinating surgeons diaries, venue etc in each area. I don’t want to raise expectations in areas and dash them by not being able to sustain an on-going regular event, so please bear that in mind when volunteering to pile in.

Well, if all that has not put you off, please comment below if you want to be involved in a Surgery in your area.

So Just What *Is* It about Facebook?

Another day, another Social Media Surgery.

Leeds Social Media Surgery - January 2011

And, once again, that sinking feeling when someone asks about help with Facebook. Now, I know, Facebook is by far the most popular social networking platform out there, and I’d be very surprised if there was ever a Social Media Surgery where at least one question about it wasn’t asked. So, why is that I don’t like it, and why do my views seem to be shared by nearly everyone I know who is serious about social media? And, when I say “serious” I mean who wants to use social media for socially progressive purposes.

I often tell people I don’t like Facebook, but I often find it hard to pinpoint just why. So, here are some reasons why I think Facebook makes me feel uneasy:

  • Privacy issues: Although it appears that Facebook is moving towards addressing some of the privacy concerns that people have about it, particularly in relation to young people, it is not there yet, and its historical reluctance on this front leaves a bad taste;
  • Stupid games: To be honest I haven’t seen any of the stupid Facebook games for ages, I seem to have been successful in blocking them from my stream. HOORAY!
  • Poking and throwing sheep; I just don’t get it.

Actually, those are the only tangible reasons I can think of at the moment. Are they enough? I suppose underlying all this is that I, and other social media surgeons, know that Facebook is, for the foreseeable future, going to be the social media channel with the greatest potential for reaching a wide audience, but, that reaching that audience involves side-stepping lots of trivial rubbish which clouds serious intent.

What are your reasons for hating Facebook, or should I just get over it?

Leeds Social Media Surgery - January 2011 #2

In Praise of Social Media Surgeries (and a few concerns)

Image courtesy Lloyd Davis

Around 18 months ago now, I was privileged to visit the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery run by the wonderful Nick Booth on two occasions. Inspired by these visits, I subsequently worked with a number of great and supportive colleagues to establish Social Media Surgeries in a number of locations around Yorkshire. I’ve also been involved, beyond Yorkshire in helping to get Surgeries off the ground in Hulme, Manchester and Penrith, Cumbria, and I am hopeful that more will follow.

The original recipe for a Social Media Surgery devised by Nick still holds good as far as I am concerned. The secret of the success of the Surgeries I have been involved in has been their informality, the friendliness of the volunteer surgeons, the fact that the first duty of a surgeon is to listen not to prescribe solutions, the fact that attendees can go away having physically built something new, and that they can come back again next time having had a chance to play with their new found knowledge and get some feedback on the progress they have made. And, perhaps one of the keys to the success of the Surgeries is that they are free to attend.

This is why is makes me sad when I see people running events which don’t fit this model and calling them “Social Media Surgeries”. Of course, there is (as yet anyway) no copyright on the term, so anyone is free to use it. But, it concerns me that the growing reputation of Social Media Surgeries, and the goodwill that goes with them, is potentially undermined by people doing things with the same name that don’t get it right. When I see people running events which are formal, which involve teams of “experts” pontificating from a platform, or which charge a fee (sometimes substantial) for entry, I am worried.

Nick started something in Birmingham which has spread far and wide because it is a fantastic model. I want to appeal to people who want to run events that don’t fit this model please to find another title.

The First Yorkshire Social Media Surgery for Musicians

First Yorkshire Musicians' Social Media Surgery #1

Last night, the long awaited first Yorkshire Social Media Surgery for Musicians finally happened. And it was well worth the wait. As we planned it, the wise words of Nick Booth, the originator of the Social Media Surgery concept kept running through my mind. Nick says that one of the pre-requisites of a Social Media Surgery is “zero expectations”.  I was trying to follow Nick’s advice, but I think I failed miserably, and I ended up having quite high expectations of the whole thing, but, nevertheless I was prepared for failure. As it turned out I need not have worried, the event was a great success. For me, and for everyone else I spoke to who was part of it, it was one of those genuinely uplifting occasions when everything seems to go right. It actually exceeded expectations, and left us all with a warm glow as we wended our way home (via the Midnight Bell pub in many cases).

First Yorkshire Musicians' Social Media Surgery #2The first part of the evening saw the foyer of the Round Foundry in Leeds a buzz of conversation as Surgeons and musicians debated the merits of different social media platforms and worked to develop strategies for reaching audiences more effectively. All the time, Rich Huxley of Hope and Social flitted from table to table passing on his knowledge of music-specific platforms, and inspiring people with his stories about how Hope and Social uses social media to create special events and engage its audience around them. All the feedback I got about this was very positive both from the musicians and the Surgeons. Nearly everyone I spoke to wanted to know when we were going to do it again.

We were very grateful to the guys at get-ctrl for their sponsorship that enabled us to lay on some food and drink for the evening. Please do me a favour and check out their great platform which does more or less everything a musician needs on the internet

First Yorkshire Musicians' Social Media Surgery #3The evening was rounded off by some musical entertainment. And, what entertainment! We were treated to some storming performances by David Henshaw, Gary Stewart and his band, and Wilful Missing.

And you don’t even have to take my word for how good it all was, the video evidence is below.

Scenes from the first Yorkshire Musicians’ Social Media Surgery

David Henshaw

Gary Stewart

Wilful Missing

Social Media – It’s Social, Isn’t It?

I’ve come across a couple of interesting issues recently in talking to people who come to Social Media Surgeries, and who are seeking advice on Social Media in other ways. I’m posting them here, because I am wondering if this is the challenge of the early adopter needing to understand the mindsets of people who have not got to the stage of adoption yet.

Bradford Social Media Surgery

Issue number 1: Fear of being followed Maybe it’s the terminology that Twitter uses. I think we’ve all grown up with a fear of being followed. It conjurs up images of stalkers lurking behind lamp posts. When I’ve been helping people get to grips with Twitter a number of them have told me that they feel very uncomfortable with the notion that strangers might be “following” them. Often, when I ask them what they are likely to say on Twitter that they wouldn’t want strangers to see, they struggle to think of anything. Perhaps this is because the question makes them think about what “following” actually means in the Twitter sense, as opposed to in other contexts, and this makes them realise it is not that threatening after all. But, there are also some people who really struggle to grasp the concept of a communication medium that is about talking to strangers. They are comfortable with Facebook and instant messaging programmes, because they are about talking to friends, you can control who sees what you say, and, by-and-large, they are mechanisms for continuing conversations online with people you meet regularly face-to-face. Twitter is different, yes, we can use it to talk to friends and colleagues, but, if that’s all we do with it, we are wasting a powerful tool; it is the talking to strangers element which makes Twitter different to the rest.

I often say, that it is relatively easy to show most people how to master the technical aspects of social media, but it is much harder to give them things to say, and harder still to make them into the sort of person who wants to share all the time. This has made me re-evaluate my thoughts about the future of social media. I had been thinking that Twitter was on an never-ending growth curve, and that, eventually, everyone but the most anti-social curmudgoens would be sharing details of their everyday lives. But, perhaps this is why organisations have marketing people and the rest just talk to people they know(?) Maybe there an awful lot more people than I had thought about who are made to squirm at the thought of strangers knowing what they are up to. And, perhaps Twitter and other tools are simple short cuts to extrovertism for those who never knew they were extroverts, me included. The other aspect of this is that I don’t think Social Media is a good mechanism for those people traditionally thought of as extroverts, i.e. those with broadcast personalities, who are constantly talking and never listening. These kinds of people are really annoying on Twitter and other platforms.

Just as a coda to this topic. I used to work with someone who was a real sceptic about Twitter but decided to give it a go. He signed up, but soon hit problems. Every time he got an email notification of a new follower, he would run around the office exclaiming “I’ve got a new stalker. Who IS this who’s following me; what do they want from me?”. This seemed to cause him great stress, not to mention the stress felt by his colleagues who had to suffer his reaction. I think it was about 10 days before he decided he couldn’t take any more and deleted his Twitter account.

Doncaster Social Media Surgery

Issue number 2: Do we need permission? The rise of social media has ushered in the age of the amateur. We can all get out there on the internet and try stuff out till we get it right or decide it is never going to work for us and give up. Some people are building lucrative careers on the back of stuff they never knew they could do till they tried it via social media. To many, this is the realisation of the JFDI principle (look it up if you don’t know, I’m not going to spell it out here), and the dictum that “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”. But, some people are just not comfortable with this. They NEED to ask for permission before doing stuff, and they are lost if there is no one to ask. The idea that you can just set something up online and not need a committee to sign it off for you is an alien concept to some. Someone said to me the other day,”so how long does it take Twitter to approve a new hashtag?”. When I explained that hashtags, like so much else in social media, are a user-generated thing and there is no one to give approval to them, I think it came as a bit of a shock.

So, these are two issues I have come across recently which made me stop and think. I had never really thought about them before, because I am the sort of person who likes wading into new stuff and seeing what possibilities it opens up. But then, I am an early adopter, most people are not. How do we bridge that difference in approach?

Looking for Sponsor for 1st Yorkshire Musicians Social Media Surgery

This is a new departure. Following on from the success of the burgeoning movement of Social Media Surgeries, started by Nick Booth of and now spreading around the world, particularly in Yorkshire, I am now working with Rich Huxley of Hope and Social, and Pat Fulgoni of Kava Kava to organise the first Social Media Surgery for musicians.

We are aiming for this to take place in Leeds, some time in October 2010. The intention is to advise musicians on how best they can use social media to reach their audiences, in particular learning from the experiences of the likes of Hope and Social in how they engage people and draw them into their community (Note to self: wonder if this means I have to mug up on how MySpace works these days).

We want to make this a Surgery with a difference, and, I ask my social media-savvy friends to give up a lot of their time to help out with the usual Surgeries, so I reckon we need a little incentive for them to turn out at yet another event. Thus, we are intending to have a little bit of live music at the end of the Surgery, and, we’d like those who are giving up their valuable time for free to be able to have a bite and a drink too.

So, I am looking for one or more sponsors who can help us make this happen. I’m looking for £300 so we can lay on some refreshments for our hard-working and dedicated Surgeons. Please get in touch if you can help. This will be quite a high profile event, we will be making sure it gets lots of publicity via social media, and in the mainstream and music press. You will get a prominent mention in everything that goes out to the world.

Please get in touch if you can help

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.