Working with a large number of partners, Digital 20/20 has now been able to stimulate nine regular Social Media Surgeries in Yorkshire & the Humber, and there are more in the planning stage. Current surgeries take place in:
- North East Lincolnshire (Grimsby)
- North West Sheffield (High Green)
- Sheffield Central
Social Media Surgeries are relatively informal events where people with some knowledge of how to use social media as a communication tool pass some of their knowledge on to people working in voluntary and community organisations, arts charities and very small businesses. The first Social Media Surgeries were started by Nick Booth of Podnosh.com in Birmingham, and Digital 20/20 has taken his model and applied it around the region. A team of volunteers was already in place planning the first Yorkshire & Humber Social Media Surgery in Huddersfield in November 2009, when Digital 20/20 launched the first Leeds Surgery a few days later. Surgeries in York, Sheffield Central, North East Lincolnshire, North West Sheffield, Bradford and Rotherham all followed on, and the latest addition to the stable is Doncaster, launching on the 28th July 2010.
The basic tenet of a Social Media Surgery is that volunteer advisors (who have become known as “Surgeons”) sit down over a cup of tea and a laptop with someone who wants to learn more about how to use social media to engage with their audiences, recruit more volunteers, or report on their events. It is important that “Surgeons” do not see this as an opportunity to demonstrate their technical knowledge, but that their first step is to listen to what the “Patient” is trying to achieve, work out how comfortable they are with social media, and work with them to find an appropriate tool to help them get to their goals. As the Surgeries have built their track record, word of mouth has brought new customers through the door, attendance has grown at all the Surgeries, and evidence has emerged that they are having a real impact on community capacity. Many new people and organisations have been assisted to become active on Twitter, to set up new blogs, or to manage their Facebook group effectively. And the approach at Surgeries is that people learn something new, go away and practise it, and often return to a future event to get feedback on what they have done and assistance in moving to the next stage. Another key part of the Social Media Surgeries strategy is that those who attend are encouraged to pass on what they learn to those they work with in local communities.
All but one of the Yorkshire & Humber Social Media Surgeries to date has been held in central locations in major population centres. The North West Sheffield Surgery is an exception to this rule, the one event so far taking place at Paces Campus in High Green, and drawing people in from a range of very local organisations. In the long term, the plan is to attempt to get all the central Surgeries to spin off neighbourhood events, but this may only happen effectively when people who have come to the central Surgeries as “Patients” feel comfortable enough in their use of social media to act as “Surgeons” in their own local events. There is evidence from Birmingham, which has been doing this for longer, that this is indeed starting to happen there.
In the era of the new Government’s Big Society policy, the growth of Social Media Surgeries, in Yorkshire & the Humber and elsewhere, is doubly important. It both shows how volunteer effort can be mobilised to help with skills and capacity development in the voluntary and community sectors, and it demonstrates how the reach and profile of such organisations can be improved using social media at a time of scarce resources.