4 Reasons Why You Should Host a Social Media Surgery in Your Community

AmandaLevinson
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The typical social media workshop for nonprofits (or any audience) looks like this: an expert gets in front of a group of people and does a presentation on the benefits of using social media, facts and figures about usage, and drills down into some case studies and best practices for using Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.  After taking Q & A, the audience hopefully has a better sense of how social media can help their cause.  Sound familiar? This model is great for introducing the world of social media or providing an overview of specific platforms and techniques for large audiences. The only flaw with this model is that it allows for little, if any, hands-on time for participants. And let’s admit it, social media is all about practice.

photo 8.JPG Enter the Social Media Surgery. Nick Booth of Birmingham, England started Social Media Surgeries a few years ago as a low-stress, high-impact way to teach nonprofits in his community how to use social media more effectively in their work. How? Social Media Surgeries involve pairing professionals with expertise in social media (the “surgeons”) with local nonprofits (the “patients”) to deliver free targeted and customized assistance to help improve social media strategy over a couple of hours in an informal environment. 

I was first introduced to the concept of a Social Media Surgery a few years ago by fellow NetSquared organizer Steven Flower, who holds them on a regular basis in Manchester, England.  The surgery model is quite popular in England, though it’s quickly spreading to other countries.  Burlington NetSquared just held its second Social Media Surgery as part of Burlington Social Media Day, with 12 surgeons and 15 nonprofits in attendance.  Given the popularity of the event, we’re spreading the model to other parts of Vermont this fall in partnership with the Vermont Digital Economy Project. We think every community should host Social Media Surgeries! Here’s why:

1. They allow nonprofits to work through social media concerns in a relaxed environment. Let’s admit it, social media can be intimidating, and if you don’t know a hashtag from a pin, you might feel stupid asking. Some participants have likened surgeries to therapy sessions, since they can work through their social media frustrations and concerns in a nonjudgmental setting.

2. They allow for deep & targeted knowledge sharing. Your average presentation on social media might be great for learning best practices for posting on Facebook, but what if you want to set up a social media monitoring dashboard for your organization? Or if you can’t figure out your Google analytics? The hands-on assistance provided by surgeons allows nonprofits to dig deeper into the elements of their social media that pain them the most.

3. They build relationships between tech/social media professionals and the nonprofit community:  The relationships that emerge from surgery sessions between a nonprofit patient and its surgeon can be lasting; many surgeons encourage repeat visits or are even willing to answer the odd question outside of the session.  Surgeons also gain a new understanding of the work nonprofits are doing in their community, and the role social media tools are playing in supporting this work.

4. They are a win-win! Everybody leaves with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Your surgeons leave with the knowledge that they’ve provided something of real value to their local community, and the patients leave empowered to take the next step with their social media strategy.

Want to host a Social Media Surgery in your community? Here are 8 easy steps to hosting a successful surgery in your town.

1. Choose a venue with snacks & free wifi: It’s going to be essential for your surgeons and patients to be able to look at their Facebook page, Twitter account, website or blog during the session. Choose a venue that has free wifi. Also, snacks & drinks (whether donated or available to purchase) will fuel these sessions!

2. Choose a date and time appropriate for your community: In Burlington, the community seems to like after-hours events (6-8), whereas nonprofits in other towns prefer morning sessions. You might need to experiment to see where you get the most attendance.

3. Recruit surgeons: Consultants and marketing/communications professionals at local nonprofits, businesses and universities are great sources for surgeons. Hit them up on twitter, email or by phone, emphasizing the casual nature of the event (e.g. no need to prep a presentation or other talk).

4. Recruit nonprofits: Surgeons need patients! Think through the best means of recruitment in your town. In Burlington I use our NetSquared Meetup page, advertise in e-newsletters for the tech and nonprofit communities, and use Twitter to recruit patients. 

5. Have your patients register in advance: Although I use the NetSquared Meetup page to have nonprofits RSVP, I also have them take a Google survey to identify their social media needs in advance. Here are a few resources available for event sign-ups:

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  • Social Media Surgery platform: this keeps track of RSVPS, sends reminders and even generates posters for events. Free if you want to hold your surgeries in a single location. Fee structure for multiple locations.
  • Meetup or Eventbrite: also keeps track of RSVPs and sends reminders. Fee for use.
  • Set up an event on Facebook: free
  • Set up an event on your Google+ page: free


6. Pair nonprofits with appropriate surgeons: A few days before the surgery, let your surgeons choose which nonprofits they want to work with based on your RSVPs or survey responses. 2 or 3 patients per surgeon seems to be a good ratio, with another “floater” surgeon on-hand to take walk-ins or pitch in as needed.

7. Host the event! Here’s an important tip I learned: If you’re the organizer, don’t be a surgeon. You want to sign people in, direct them to their surgeons, find space for them to meet, answer questions, take photos, Tweet, and make sure everybody’s needs are met!

8. Follow-up! Thank your surgeons and patients for attending via email. If people Tweeted during your session, do a Storify about it. Highlight some of the discussions and takeways. And make sure you invite people to attend future sessions.

Remember to keep it casual and fun. What I like most about Social Media Surgeries is that they are great sources of problem-solving and community-building, and they create a feeling of goodwill among participants. So get started! What questions do you have about hosting Social Media Surgeries?