What we can learn from the Social Media Surgery movement

Nick BoothNick Booth is the founder of the Social Media Surgery movement. He has been helping the sector to use social and digital media since he established the Big Society Award winning company Podnosh in 2005. Before all this, he was a political reporter and documentary maker for the BBC. Nick will be managing the Social Media Surgery at Evolve 2014.

The (accidental) growth of the Social Media Surgery movement could provide a lesson in simpler, more relaxed ways to provide advice or support services. Behind it is a culture built on putting relationships first, keeping things simple and helping people with the support they can digest and use.

A social media surgery is simple and relaxed; no jargon, no lectures, no PowerPoint, instead a cup of tea or coffee and a conversation. It’s a place where you can come and sit next to someone and learn what you need to know about social media. It might be a specific tool or technique, it might be thinking through why it matters to your organisation or your campaign. Since we started in 2008, only ever meaning to run one, they have spread to more than 150 places and at least seven countries, including Nepal. We’ve helped more than 4000 organisations through the work of 460 “surgeons”, most of whom volunteer their help. This has grown three-fold since we picked up a Big Society Award in 2012 and doubled since we were recognised by Oxford University and the European Union for “innovation in a networked society” and won a national Adult Learners award from the BBC and NIACE

There’s something else about this though – it’s not just a model for helping the third sector to make the most of social media.

What if we applied the approach to other problems?

Could it help…

  • …young people looking for work?
  • …older people adjusting to life in care?
  • …young parents to unpick financial problems?
  • …fledgling small businesses find their feet?

Why have social media surgeries flourished?

The recipe

Part of the reason the surgeries have spread is because they are ruthlessly simple. All you need is a place where the person needing help can sit down with the person providing help and they can get a drink and talk to each other. In the case of social media it’s good to have wi-fi, but you can still run surgeries without access to the web.

It’s the ability to relate to each other that counts.

I’ve written a couple of times about what it takes to run a successful surgery. The first was a longer list, the second time I cut things out, leaving just these four…

  1. a place – a free room where there is wifi and you can buy or blag a drink  (cafe is perfect)
  2. a surgery manager – the person who’s happy to choose a time and date and check with the people at the venue that it’s ok with them. On the day they welcome people, introduce them and make sure everyone’s ok.
  3. at least one surgeon – (can overlap with manager in smaller surgeries) and hopefully at least one person from a local community and voluntary group who wants some help
  4. zero expectations – high hopes can kill enthusiasm. Expect nothing and be delighted by what does happen.

That last one, zero expectations, is critical. If we’d had grand ambitions I think we would’ve failed, bogged down with disappointment. Simplicity is at the core of the surgery – keep it streamlined, keep it social and just do it.

Social glow

They also work because people enjoy them.

Immediately after that first surgery in October 2008, I sat in the pub with a dozen or so bloggers who just given away their skills for free to help local active citizens and community groups. They were buzzing, full of the thrill of sitting with someone interesting and helping them. “Can we do it again?”, some asked, and because it’s easy to organise (no curriculum, no paperwork) we could, and we did. This feeling has been christened #socialglow by surgeons across the world. It’s the pleasure in the relationships you build that makes it work.

Keeping track

Zero expectations is quite an alien concept for many organisations expected to deliver on set outputs and (hopefully) outcomes. We may refuse to let expectations dampen enthusiasm but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about what difference the surgeries make. Instead of setting targets in advance we keep a simple measure of what is happening: The number of people who come, the organisations that they represent and, most importantly, how the surgery has helped them – in their words.

Come to a surgery at Evolve 2014

The surgeries are simple, they’ve spread quickly and they’ve already helped thousands of people.

If you’ve already booked your place at Evolve 2014 and you want some help, it will help us to predict demand if you could express your interest using these links. If you haven’t booked your place at Evolve, we still have some available.

  1. 11.00 surgery
  2. Midday surgery ­– you can drop in until 13.30
  3. 14.00 surgery
  4. 15.00 surgery
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