Recipe – how to make a social media surgery

I often get asked how you make a social media surgery. Below is a list of ingredients and how you use them.

This recipe is for a standard social media surgery and is ideal for community, voluntary and neighbourhood groups.

Last year I would have said this is enough to serve a city, but since then I’ve got a bit greedy and think that every neighbourhood should have a surgery much like this one. I’d recommend you read all the way to the end before starting to mix the ingredients.

Social media surgery recipe

A diary: This should be full of dates and used to avoid clashes with other things.

Lists of people – 3: Here in Birmingham we use three lists of people. One is a list of people who care about where they live and get things done (some people call them active citizens). This list can be any size, although bigger tends to be better. These are our patients. We have a much smaller list of people who themselves have bigs lists of people who care about where they live and get things done. We send the dates (see above) out to these people who circulate them to their lists.  Finally you need a list of people who care about where they live and get things done and know about the internet. These are your surgeons.

As you get better at this recipe you will find that people who first appeared on the patients list will move across to the surgeons list. That’s exactly the result you’re looking for. In fact those people are the sweetest part of the whole confection. Also if you are making different social media surgeries for different neighbourhoods you will probably find yourself acquiring a whole range of different lists. That’s normal, but do keep them in separately labeled jars.

A room (with corridors): This is the standard size social media surgery so you just need a standard sized room. Most rooms come with corridors, please don’t discard these. We have found them very handy as marvellous overspill spaces.

Tables and chairs: Some people like their tables and chairs in neat rows. I prefer them just how they come. So scatter these around.

Tea and coffee: Let people help themselves.

Wi-Fi: Never skimp on this. A good social media surgery will be drenched in wi-fi. If you find yourself tempted to drizzle the ‘nets the whole thing will certainly turn out flat. Some types of wi-fi come with a key. If you have that sort make sure everyone can easily find it.

Organiser (1 or more): You must have at least one of these so dates get set, rooms get found, wi-fi checked, lists updated, emails sent out. It also always helps to keep a couple of spares in your store cupboard. Don’t use too many organisers though, that can spoil things.

Welcomer (1): People really don’t believe that a surgery can last between 90 minutes and 2 hours and nothing formal happens. So it’s good to have someone to welcome the patients through the door, take their details and explain to them what isn’t going to happen (you’re not going to get lectured at, speeches won’t be made, you won’t be made to do or learn anything your don’t want to).  The welcomer also introduces the patient to their surgeon.

Social capital: This is the most important ingredient. We started with Birmingham Bloggers Group social capital, which had been simmering for a good 20 months, thickened by all sorts of strange ingredients. Think of social capital as the stock pot of your social media kitchen; you need to keep it constantly bubbling away. By the way, it has to be home made and hand made. In an emergency you can borrow some social capital from your neighbour, but please take care to return it as soon as you can. Some people are tempted to use shop bought social capital. It never works.

Note: Some of you may be surprised to see that I have not included Expectations in this recipe.  I use zero expectations when making a surgery. Anything more than that can sour things.

Happy surgeoning.

This is the Birmingham standard social media surgery. Other recipes may be available from Sheffield, Solihull, Brighton, Nottingham, SCIP in Brighton, in Dave’s head, a Solo Bassist, Pete Ashton, ManchesterMosman, Australia.


  1. Steph Gray says:

    Nice write up. I wonder if it would work with ‘policy officials who are enthusiastic about their policy area and get things done’… is the model unique to local communities do you think?

    And do the patients need some aptitude at least for the tools and culture, if not knowledge?

  2. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks Steph. It can work in all sorts of environments, although will need re-shaping a little accordingly. One key thing though is the the environment has enough potential and willing surgeons.

    The patients need to be able to choose to be there or not and the opportunity to keep coming back to get the help that’s relevant to them.

    I’d love to have a crack at engaged policy folks.

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Hi Nick

    Great article and congrats on a successful model that seems to have reached some kind of critical mass.

    FYI SCIP has recently been running Community Web Surgeries in Brighton. We use more or less the same ingredients so apart from the name there’s not a huge difference in content.

    In our case it was linked to the web design training we deliver using, which includes support with whatever social media the ‘patients’ feel is relevant to them.

    Can you add that to your list? More details at

    BTW The NixonMacinnes one you have listed for Brighton seems slightly out of place as it was delivered at a conference for marketing people. I’m not knocking it – and Tom Nixon is on SCIP’s board – but I wonder what connection you see between a grassroots community event like your surgeries and a more marketing oriented activity such as the NixonMacinnes example?



  4. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks Mark,

    It was in fact your work I was looking for when I came across the NixonMcInnes work. I agree – they are very different bests. At the moment the model is being used by so few people I’m OK with a nod in a variety of directions.

  5. Mark Walker says:

    Hi Nick
    Thanks for that.
    One issue we came across with the Surgeries was a suspicion on the part of the patients that they may be sold something. Running a social media surgery in a conference about social marketing seems like a great tactic for increasing sales, but it may also confirm some people’s suspicion about the underlying motives when the same name/model is used elsewhere?
    We struggled to recruit the patients – but had lots of web experts available, several of whom were quite clear about wanting to dip their toe in a potential new market.
    We accommodated them quite happily – and made sure they were transparent about their motives in the surgeries – but again I wonder whether the problems we had reflect a concern on the part of the potential patients that there is an underlying marketing message here?
    Contrast this with having 40 people sign up for 28 places on How to build a free website courses [using]which ran alongside these surgeries.
    Just a thought, but having found it easy to recruit surgeons, and difficult to drum up enough patients, its an issue which we are looking at before we run any more similar surgery sessions.

  6. Jo Jordan says:

    I’m new to your site and I keep wondering if I am thinking about the same thing that you are writing about! If not, please forgive me.

    6 months ago, I started a drive to improve the internet presence in my small town. A little naively, I think. We’ve lurched this way and that, but it is I get the impression of huge progress but often in ways I didn’t expect.

    Its a spiral I think. Try a little – see what happens. Adjust to the people who want to get involved. Try some more.

    We do have people intent on making money right now and others who just join in and the money flows to them! A bit Buddhist-like or a small English town, but it seems to work like that.

  7. Nick Booth says:

    Jo (sorry for the delay in responding). We are talking about the same thing. Different people have different approaches to blogging and online publishing at the place where they live.

    Some wish to apply the same methods as mainstream journalists, others like to be sure a piece is done and dusted and “complete” before they press publish, others are happy with asking questions, or sharing half thoughts.

    Some want to reflect the positive, others the negative.

    Many of of us as all the above, but at different times. So it is an ongoing process. You’ve probably twigged that you’re as much about building community as you are about making media.

  8. Sanna Ali says:

    I like the way this is written.How are we supposed to re-shape Social Media Surgery, Nick?

    You’re right there, this enviroment does have a lot of potential and willing surgeons. 🙂

    I’m excited about this and I cant wait to see what you are going to do to make this successful?


  9. lynne young says:

    have often wondered about whether literature, even fiction to keep it light, might have an influence on changing people’s opinions. Not the main stream writers but local and/or amateurs. Reading a book is usually an individual, isolated passtime, but surely if a piece of writing says something important it should be shared and discussed! People who bother to put their thoughts onto paper should be listened to. There would no doubt be a lot of ‘difference of opinion’ but discussing it usually builds bridges that could lead to common ground eventually. Writing should be encouraged at ALL ages, be it fiction, diarists, or simply observations. What does anyone think?

  10. Jo Jordan says:

    @Lynne you have many different points embedded there.
    Yes literature influences opinions (in content and in helping us explore narrative structures)
    Hmm, should we be listened to? Not in my opinion. We compete for ears.
    Yes, there will be difference of opinion that benefits everyone including the writer (when well moderated by those who are good at this)

    Which particularly point are you making?

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