Why Social Media Surgeries Work… @UWSDigital #uwsltas

Social Media Surgeries in Melrose on Flickr

Last week we completed the final set of social media surgeries, the first half of the project that I’ve been part of  in the south of Scotland. So far I’ve made 6 round trips (and about to make the 7th) to Scotland in 6 weeks (a new record even for me), equating to over 4000 miles on the project alone (not including the ad-hoc trips to London and Manchester in between). Of course, part of this is my doing, living in Loughborough and working in Birmingham one day a week – it could be easier if I just stayed in Ayr for duration – but then I could get to do what I do, Ayr’s too far away from everywhere else, including the rest of Scotland (believe me, I spent 21 years finding that out.) Which is ironic really, when I’ve been working on a project that very much concerns the local and the face-to-face and how the internet can help small organisations in part of Scotland that lack the same resources that I’ve been accustomed to over the past 5 years.

The project was spread across 3 areas, Dumfries, New Galloway and Melrose – all in very different locations and venues, all with a very different set of local businesses and organisations, different networks, who had their own needs, expectations and requirements around the use of social media. I’ve spoken to people who have a business without a website, to award-winning young entrepreneurs who are addicted to their iphone and what facebook has allowed them to do with their business. I’ve reassured people that they personally don’t need to use social media *at all* – but to respect that others that they work with might need their support and understanding in company meetings – and I’ve met many who have been locked into awful contracts with web development companies who have charged thousands, to have blocked access to administration rights to their own website.

In 4 weeks, I’ve personally spoken to 30 independent businesses – and I’ve learnt a great deal about each of the regions, the united force of those who already use social media to not only promote their businesses, but also the areas as a whole. I could not have done this if I was expected to deliver the support as a 30 spaces collective workshop. I would have not have been able to prepare a session that could help a golf course in the same way as a jewellery maker or a creative copywriter that was beyond simply talking about technicalities of tools. Each session that I did do was vastly different from the next, and there wasn’t a single moment where I felt as if I was repeating myself. I can’t say it solved all the problems of the world, but it was tailored and it was personalised. I had to think on my feet lots, which I prefer to rattling from a script, but overall it just worked and we left each time with an amazing buzz from spending time with a range of different and passionate people.

Now I wish to see how this can be taken further, or used in a different context. For instance, UWS are currently implementing a new learning, teaching and assessment strategy (#uwsltas on twitter) across the university – something where social media platforms have cropped up on several occasions, from using posterous as a tool for consultation, to having our library live-tweet the proceedings of ltas dialogues happening across campuses. I see social media as a bit of a trojan horse in a way, it is now at the stage where those who may have not looked at it previously are now asking for the crash course in adoption – and I think the notion of social media surgeries/drop-ins could work nicely in a higher education context. Having already ranting about social media workshops in previous posts, where sometimes attendance is shifty and expectations are varied, and the importance of research/teaching practice is lost in the shine of uncritical technology, drop in sessions would be a much better use of time both in terms of resolving specific issues and widening networks across faculties and services within the university. I could also see it happening in the classroom, as I write between student 1-2-1s in my own classroom, where I didn’t provide an opportunity to sign up for specific slots, I just be somewhere for a couple of hours and be online at the same time. I’ve had higher numbers than previous years – and I’ve still got another hour and a half to go.

Now the first part of the @UWSDigital project is over, we will be spending some time evaluating formally and presenting the finding back at the university as a model to take forward in future projects. The next part of the project is to work with two existing networks in the south of scotland to help build a long term term strategy through a series of workshops and hack-days in the region – it will move from one to one to many to many – allowing for each network to take ownership of their own web presence. More details are on the UWSDigital website.