Social Media Surgeries (by @watfordgap)

Finding out how to use social networking websites for the first time can seem difficult as the layout and terminology used can be very confusing. Looking at sites developed by other groups or reading a ‘how to’ guide can help, but often a one to one session with someone who is already using these websites provides the most help.

This article describes Social Media Surgeries, a popular and successful way that this transfer of knowledge and skills is taking place.

Relax and enjoy the surgery

At a Social Media Surgery groups, organisations and individuals wanting to find out about using social media websites meet and chat with volunteers who are not just willing, but positively enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge.

I was introduced as a helper (surgeon) to the concept by their founder Nick Booth (@podnosh on Twitter) back in October 2008, a little unsure about what I was letting myself in for. I soon realised this wasn’t anything to be concerned about as surgeries aren’t a test for the helpers, a lecture about social media or a master class in Twitter or Facebook.

Surgeries are simply a relaxing way for an organisation (the patient) to tell their story and for the helper to listen whilst you explore ideas, try out social media websites and choose websites appropriate for what they want to do.

Since that first surgery the concept has been picked up by others across the country from London to Carlisle and York to Taunton with many others in between. Currently there are 37 locations registered on the website.

How to blend a good surgery

There are four ingredients, key to making a successful surgery:

  • A space – preferably in a venue where the local community already meet or that they know well such as a neighbourhood hall, community cafe or maybe a local place of worship. Lots of wireless internet is essential to help the surgeons work run smoother as are plug sockets, tables and chairs … the comfier the better!
  • Helpers – these are the volunteer surgeons who are good at listening and who know a lot, or a little (but where to find it out!) about social media and its use to help and support communities and organisations.
  • People – local organisations, community arts projects, members of church groups… in fact anyone who wants to increase the reach of their message, the power of their story or the effectiveness of their campaign and would like to find out if social media can give it that extra sparkle
  • Refreshments – a supply of tea, coffee and biscuits always makes conversations flow smoother, stories be told more passionately and the volunteer helpers be more willing to give up their time

A good surgery becomes an excellent surgery if the organiser takes time before the event to advertise it through local community networks or on parish notice boards and when the event arrives has someone to facilitate, welcome and match patients with surgeons – triage style!

The special touch

But one thing more important than all these ingredients is social capital’ – the desire of the community, the group or the place to make this happen and for the helpers to contribute towards this. Surgeries don’t work as well if they are imposed in a place or run as a duty. They have to be driven from the ground up by people who want to learn and grow.

There is no charge made to attend a surgery and surgeons don’t receive payment. It’s the local social capital which ‘pays’ for the venue, the organising and covers the wi-fi, sometimes even the refreshments too! Get this part right and the rest of the ingredients listed above just fall into place. Honestly!

No two surgeries are the same. I’ve helped an allotment group set up a Twitter account, given tips on WordPress to an arts project and shown a youth work team how simple it is manage events using Eventbrite… and much more too. I’ve also simply sat drinking coffee listening to people tell their story and showing me their website whilst we look at others for possible inspiration. No surgery needed, just a nudge and some links to help along the way. I’ve also been to regularly run surgeries where people return each time to learn more as their appetite and enthusiasm grows.

Surgeries for the Church?

Faith communities are looking at how others are using social media websites and recognising that their use could apply to what they do too. Facebook is being used to build shared support groups, Twitter for conversations about important news, YouTube for videos about the work of the Church and Blogging as way of discussing core aspects of belief. Although there is at the moment some reluctance to try them out due to fear of the unknown, lack of confidence or just not knowing where to start.

A social media surgery could be the answer; helping both the community and the members of the church too. Maybe consider opening up your church building to host a surgery as a drop in for local community and voluntary groups. If you have the skills and willing helpers maybe even consider leading one too. Surgeries are richly rewarding events, a great way to connect with the local community whilst learning and developing new social media skills too.

If you’d like to find out more about running a social media surgery, email me or read the blog of Nick Booth. If you now feel you’d like to organise or take part in a surgery for your community or in your church visit

Feb 2011

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