This post summarises emails I’ve sent in response to enquiries about the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery I coordinate – and advice to other Surgery Managers.
It’s about my personal take on what – and specifically who – the surgeries are for. It also stems from feeling protective of the helpers who volunteer their time and skills for free at the surgery, the very social capital that makes the surgery work.
The surgery description on the website says:
“Volunteers are offering social media help to voluntary organisations, community groups, charities, clubs and societies in a relaxed, informal setting.”
When individuals book a place or send me an enquiry, I quickly look at their website or search to find out a little about them. Basically, I’m doing a quick check asking “does this person represent a voluntary or community group or a charity?”
If the individual looks like a private business or a politician, then I’ll write back to them to find out more information − I don’t immediately say “sorry, you can’t come.” Our jobs and community activities aren’t always so clear cut. Life is messy. Relationships, work and communities overlap.
If the individual can come along to the surgery – and ask for help there – in a capacity representing her voluntary or community group, then great, come along. If she wants social media advice to help campaign for political reasons, or to improve her business, then the surgery isn’t the right place for her.
My response goes something like this:
“Thanks for getting in touch about the Birmingham Social Media Surgery. I can see that you’ve booked a place at the next event.Please note, as it says on the website, the surgery is for voluntary and community organisations, charities, local clubs and societies. The surgery doesn’t provide support to politicians or private businesses with their own resources for communications or training support.This is because the surgery is staffed by volunteers – and I don’t want any volunteer helping someone who they wouldn’t want to help or any paid-for public servant advising someone for electoral reasons. It puts them in an awkward position.Also, some of the volunteers provide paid-for social media consultancy and training as part of their day jobs. The surgery is a good way for them to provide free help back to the community they live in and care about.However, from past experience, I know that individuals wear many hats in and out of work. A communications manager in local government might be a scout leader. A nurse might coordinate a bridge club in a community centre. A self-employed mortgage broker might chair the local residents forum and want help setting up a website.Are you able to attend the surgery in an individual capacity – and ask questions – with your “community hat” on, rather than as a politician or business? If so, you’re very welcome to come along.If you need help using the internet to campaign for political reasons, or to improve your business, then the Surgery isn’t the place for you.
Another, increasingly common, enquiry I receive is “I’m unemployed and trying to get my freelance business running. I need some help with social media.” I usually reply with links to other meetups that may be more suitable, such as the Birmingham Social Media Cafe.
I hope this text is useful for other surgery managers who may wonder how to handle enquiries and keep the surgery focused on the voluntary and community groups the surgery is there to help – those very organisations doing great work that inspires the helpers to keep coming back. I also hope this gives you more of an insight into coordinating a surgery and my personal view on who the surgeries are for.
I’d be interested to hear from others on how they handle this.