Having rushed out to buy a back up mifi that afternoon, Melissa Guest and I arrived in good time at Café Grande in Stone Street, Dudley, where we had arranged with the owner Martin Williams to take over the café for a couple of hours (see Dudley News article). Martin had equipped the café with extension cables for laptops and we quickly settled in as our helpers started to arrive.
We’d had over 30 bookings and we filled nearly every seat in the café as people joined us to get a bit of help using blogs, photo sharing sites, Facebook, Twitter and other free web tools. If you’ve never heard of or been to a Social Media Surgery, here’s a bit of background and a video clip of our surgery.
Social media surgeries are basically informal gatherings of people active in communities, groups, clubs or societies who want to learn how to use the web to communicate, campaign or collaborate. They get to sit alongside someone who understands good ways to use the internet and lean about useful free tools. Most social media surgeries have an event every few weeks, so that people can keep coming back for help. The helpers are people who volunteer their time and know enough about using social media tools to help someone else. Some may have spent years understanding the internet, others will have started learning a few months ago but want to share what they know with other community groups and active citizens. (Most of this is from the social media surgery site.)
Melissa Guest and I had been trained by the amazing Nick Booth (@Podnosh) and Gavin Wray (@gavinwray) from Podnosh to manage social media surgeries, using the fantastic social media surgery + website built by Josh Hart (@joshhart) – who I was delighted to meet at a recent Central Birmingham social media surgery. There was no hanging around for Melissa after this, in her trademark enthusiastic style she started approaching people to be helpers, and we quickly put our first surgery date on to the website, invited loads of people …. and quickly filled our available places.
And on the night, once I’d managed the arrivals and matching of our learners with our helpers, I was able to wander around the café, a huge grin spread across my face, soaking up the sight and sounds of people learning from each other. It gave me a warm feeling inside, the helping is such a simple, beautiful act, and everyone seemed to be learning something and getting something out of it.
I was rather excited about it all, and as everyone seeking help had someone to help them, I was busy tweeting about how great it all was, and Paul Webster (@watfordgap) suggested that I was experiencing ‘social glow’. I think Melissa and I are still glowing! And perhaps Rob Hall (@CPStourbridge), one of our volunteer helpers, was glowing a little bit too – see this video:
The main things I learned through this experience were:
- Never underestimate the power of sharing knowledge, skills and experience (crucial in community development practice)
- Social media surgeries are to help active citizens to join the massive conversation which is taking place on the internet
- Social media surgeries are not basic IT training – we can signpost to adult learning for that
- Individuals working in the public sector, voluntary sector and involved in community groups are willing to give their time
If this has inspired you and you would like to join us at a future event, whether looking for help, offering help, or a bit of both, there is more information here - clicking on the event dates takes you to pages you can book from.
There’s also a blog post about our surgery from Nick Booth, who came along to help out.
I really would like to to say massive thanks to Melissa for making this happen at a rate of knots, to Martin and his staff for letting us use the café and serving lovely coffee, and to our first helpers: Jason Whyley, Catherine Hickman, Wendy Fryatt, Richard Johnson, Rob Hall, Steve Sparrow, Becky Pickin and Nick Booth.