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Nowt so Queer as Folk…

…As they say in Yorkshire and today that seemed to be irrefutably proven as (and at the risk of sounding all Fleet Street) the preparation for our forthcoming social media event took a dramatic and unexpected turn!

Tensions have clearly been building in the team. I think this was more the result of a clash of personalities that has intensified in the context of

a. working within a small group; and

b. having a reasonably short deadline for delivery.

However today it became clear that this combination had taken its toll and sadly tensions boiled over…

In my role as chair of the group and as a sincere attempt to head off this very situation I had suggested an informal chat over coffee for anyone with concerns about how the project was progressing. The idea was to get any differences of opinion out in the open so that they could be discussed rationally. Having spent my entire working life in fairy high pressured environments I honestly thought today would be pretty straightforward. After all, we all have the same goal.

However, the ‘out in the open’ part of my plan, as it turned out, was the only thing that worked and my idea of a ‘friendly chat between like-minded individuals’ descended into a slanging match that would have made Jeremy Kyle blush. I can honestly say (now at the risk of sounding like my parents!) that in all my years I have never seen anything like this (apart from that one time that I did accidentally see an episode of the Jeremy Kyle show).

I’ve organised numerous events during various roles throughout my career, and for thousands of people, with all kinds of unknown variables and risks – technology failure, people not showing, guests disappearing when they were due on stage and even one time where I launched a new service for a very high-profile client, whilst at the same time as fighting off a hostile takeover of the business where the buyers planned to asset strip the company (now there’s a story!). In all that time I have never known the thing to go wrong, the weak link in the chain, to be the people whose responsibility it was to make something a success. I guess, looking back, I’ve always been lucky to work alongside committed people able to put aside any personal differences they might have had for the good of the team and to just get on with the job at hand.

So today has been a valuable lesson and the first serious test in my short leadership of this particular project.

Once again I’ve been fortunate –the team response has been fantastic and whilst today has left a big hole in terms of what, at the moment appears to be the loss of a team-member and their own unique perspective, and therefore an increased workload for everyone, I think events have galvanised us and given everyone a renewed sense of purpose. What is it they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

I guess you could say, all in all, it’s turned out nice again, hasn’t it?


Vorsprung durch Technik…

…as they say in Germany, but as our MA Social Media group met today for the second time to discuss the planning around our forthcoming event it was less ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ and more ‘Vorsprung durch Kaffee, Kuchen und Unterhaltung’ (advancement through good, old-fashioned coffee, cake and chat).

Having been nominated to chair the group (an honour or a poisoned chalice? –the jury’s out) I felt we generally needed a bit more urgency in decision-making. We’ve had a tendency to get stuck in circular discussions which has sometimes felt a bit like herding cats and today really could have gone either way.

However, I am pleasantly surprised at the progress we seem to be making. Our brief is fairly simple – put on a social media event, decide a format, promote it, run it and then report back on it – but when you consider that between our group we represent seven countries and a fairly broad age and experience range, all of a sudden the task isn’t quite as straightforward.

After some initial revisiting of previous decisions followed by a spot of ‘speed-democracy decision-making’ we now have a format – the event will feature a series of keynotes followed by smaller discussion groups around the themes of:

  • We Tweet – I Tweet – an exploration of how Twitter can be useful in a wide variety of situations from mobilising a community to marketing a product;
  • Our Stories, Our Lives, Our Truths – a look at the role of storytelling and the relationships between mainstream and social media.

Just need a venue and some key speakers to attract the punters, a bit of publicity and we’re there!

There really is no substitution for getting round a table, chewing the fat and making some decisions. Ironic really, considering the event will be all around the use of digital tools but then again it does underline the symbiotic relationship between on and offline working.

If things continue to go this well I may consider offering my services to the UN…

Begin with the End in Mind

For anyone that is familiar with Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, habit two suggests “Begin with the End in Mind.” This is particularly pertinent to an effective social media strategy as well as planning a social media event.

Along with my fellow MA Social Media students, one of our current tasks is to put on such an event and build a strategy that promotes it. In both cases the end could refer to the end-user or in simpler terms, the audience. Yet we are already in danger of becoming fixated on a theme for the event without considering who the audience for any given theme could potentially be.

We should first seek to understand the audience we are looking to target, how/if we can reach them and after considering all that, whether they can be persuaded to come along and participate. By starting with this in mind and working backwards, the strategy should at least ensure that we are not setting ourselves up to fail.

To use one of our potential themes as an example…

Current events in Egypt and the role of social media.

The difficulty of a theme like this is that, as an object of study it is extremely broad. For the context of what we need to achieve it needs to be framed within a much more specific focus. For example, is the perspective democratic change, public order or government control (or lack of it), all of which may have a slightly different appeal to a variety of audiences.

And what of those audiences? Who is likely to attend an event on these subjects? For instance, democratic change could be a subject that would interest a broad range of people from political activists to local government personnel but should the event use the Egyptian example to illustrate the point rather than it being the point in itself?

For me there needs to be a consideration of a specific aspect of such a theme linked to a strategy for appealing to a particular (and accessible) audience.

There is, of course, a wider question or indeed a different ‘end’ that we should consider, and that is the academic assessment that will follow. Ultimately this is the goal and one argument is that success or failure of the event is irrelevant providing there is the opportunity for an academic analysis of it.

For this reason I think we need to be a bit more focussed, even ruthless in terms of choosing something specific enough to allow that sharp focus. We should set out to clearly define an audience that is accessible and plan how we can best engage them. Whilst a big global issue would undoubtedly make for an interesting study, does it also lend itself to achieving our academic and professional goals? If we can solve the audience question, agree what the ‘end’ is, only then will we be in a position to answer that.

Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study – a review

This week we have been looking at a range of journal articles that examine social media. Here is my review of Catherine Dwyer’s paper, “Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study


The paper considers how social networking and instant messaging are used to manage relationships as well as the ways in which communication technology arbitrate behaviours in the management of those relationships.

It is a qualitative study that makes use of semi-structured interviews and aims to explore concepts of self-presentation and impression management; which aspects of the technologies work and which don’t; how prevalent the systems are with users; and whether users actually find the technologies helpful in forming new relationships particularly in light of attitudes towards privacy

In total, 19 respondents took part in the study, all similarly aged (average 22.2 years), which was conducted by 6 undergraduate students trained in semi-structured interview techniques. Results were analysed for common themes using qualitative research software (QSR NVivo).


The study concludes that there is substantial use within the respondents of communication technologies.  This occurs through multiple channels based upon convenience, ease of access, low-cost and enjoyment.

It suggests that online profiles are carefully managed with authenticity playing a key role in that process although accepts that constructing an online identity was generally considered to be an enjoyable entertainment activity.

In terms of privacy, respondents articulated broad indifference to the way this affects their activity within these sites, citing it as a natural and acceptable trade-off for access to such free sites.

Critical Analysis

Whilst it may be said that the research is somewhat flawed both in terms of the number of respondents that participated and their similar demographic profile  (80% male and 50% white all within a similar age bracket) it does raise some interesting points.

Goffman (1959) depicts identity generally as a continual performance whereby individuals present a ‘frontstage’, where their social role, behaviours and audience expectations are brought together with the aim of a ‘controlled performance’; and a ‘backstage’ where deviant or atypical values and actions are hidden and only presented in public to legitimise the individual’s social role and confirm faith with the embracing social framework.

The research within this study would appear to bear this out in terms of a) carefully managing the information exchanged in a social interaction conducted online and b) the huge importance of our social networks, the information that they present to us and how this reaffirms or affects our own identity.

The author accepts that there may be limitations in terms of generalising findings due to the sample size not being significant but offers a preliminary examination of ‘the attitudes and technology features that influence interpersonal relationship management’, indicating that further study is warranted.

My own view is that online behaviours around impression management and identity formation are closely linked to the same behaviours offline. It is not digital tools that drive us to carefully present a version of ourselves to the world but a psychological drive for social acceptance within a chosen group.

As Carl Rogers (1980) wrote:

When a person realises he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense, he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me.”


Dwyer, C. (2007) ‘Digital Relationships in the “MySpace” Generation: Results from a Qualitative Study’ Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences VOL 1, pages 317-326

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday

Rogers, C. (1980). A Way of Being, Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Social with a capital $

This week as part of my MA Social Media course we have been looking at the notion of social capital – what it is, whether it actually exists at all and if so what bearing this has for social media.

This alone is a sizeable task and something that I have been writing notes on all week but we have also been asked to consider who are ‘social media capitalists’.

It’s late, I’m tired and my brain isn’t working too well so I think I need to break this into bite-sized chunks…

First of all a definition of social capital:

This largely depends on your point of view and so tends to be highly questionable. However, as a theoretical viewpoint social capital operates on the assumption that,

Social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.

Putnam, Robert. (2000), “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” (Simon and Schuster).

I have previously alluded to the fact that it seems a lot of grandiose statements made about the advent of social media are simply old ideas wearing new clothes (or carrying the latest gadgets). For example in my previous post I talked about social media being the modern incarnation of telling stories round a campfire.

Similarly, as Portes claims,

Some theorists have questioned whether ‘social capital’ is, indeed, little more than a new term for an old idea, namely that civic and community involvement can have positive consequences for individuals and society more generally

Portes,1998: 2

So my first point is that I’m not sure whether social media is a ‘new movement’ or simply a new set of tools that allow age-old human behaviour to be played out on-line.

And if we take this point and apply it with what we are concerned with here I can see two diametrically opposed positions in the consideration of any concept of social media capitalism…

The first is that it is an empowering force that enables people to group together and help themselves. The second, that it is a mechanism of control that promotes individualism and hands the keys of power to a detached ruling elite – not exactly a new paradigm just the digital interpretation of an old one.


Harnessing Social Capital with Digital Tools

Social Media are the digital tools that can harness social capital whilst simultaneously have the power to convert social capital to economic capital. This means they can equally be used to liberate or enslave depending on how the user (corporate, individual, shared-interest group, etc) chooses to use them.

And the paradoxes don’t end there – on the one hand social media is fiercely individualistic, encouraging people into narcissistic practices of presenting a digital profile to the world. On the other hand it offers collaboration, a sense of shared experience and an opportunity to precipitate social change.

It can sit in these two seemingly polar positions quite simply because the common denominator is people and people are motivated by different things. Social media is an extension of self, albeit digital self. If you are naturally self-interested this will shape the way you use social media. If you are socially motivated, this will nurture your online behaviour.

The likes of the social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook will use their platforms to further their own means – they are multi-billion dollar corporations that behave like multi-billion dollar corporations. Why would they do or be expected to do anything else?

The bigger, and for me more interesting question is about the root behaviour of people – how will they choose to use these platforms?

So is social media truly social or does it just bring together lots and lots of individuals all managing their own profile, all building their own micro-celebrity empires.

The simple answer is that the social web is whatever the person interacting with it decides they want it to be. You can choose to be aware of the motives of whoever you are communicating with online – are they trying to persuade, befriend, sell, gain approval, build reputation? Or you can be oblivious to it and just use it to chat with your mates.

Similarly you can use it to promote your business, market your products or just as easily to form  a group around an issue you care about then organise; mobilise and overthrow the ruling elite (well, at least give them a damn good piece of your mind in a quintessentially British stiff upper lip, non revolutionary way!)

Social media allows all and a myriad of other things to happen. Surprise, surprise, it’s a bit like the off-line world, should that come as any great shock?

If there is real silver lining in all this it seems that currently social media does in some ways level the playing field. Anyone from individuals (unknown or celebrity), shared-interest groups, social enterprises, small businesses, large corporations can share the same space and largely at the same cost (at least at an entry-level). So maybe right now we can all build capital and all be social media capitalists – if that’s what we choose to be.

In days gone by people like Lord Alan Sugar built a business empire from nothing using a traditional sales model and an incredible work ethic. Already we have social media capitalists like Zuckerberg sitting on fortunes that dwarf the Lord Sugars of this world. Similarly we have examples where lives have been enriched by the generation of social capital.

Again nothing has changed because whether individual or social the common factor is people. Social Media could offer an opportunity to build social capital (we keep hearing about the Big Society) however, it may only be a matter of time before the race to dominate social media puts control firmly in the hands of the old world order.

Dear Andrew Marr…

Following recent comments made by BBC journalist, Andrew Marr, we were asked to come up with a suitable response to refute his statement in the form of a letter. Seems an antiquated form of communication but here goes…

Dear Andrew Marr,

We felt compelled to write to you in light of your recent comments on bloggers in an attempt to explore your viewpoint, motivation and hopefully to persuade you that not all of us are angry, ranting, social misfits.

It is our intention to do this by considering the cultural aspect of new media, what may have motivated you to make these comments and also to look at some examples that may present an alternative view of blogging as a force for social change. By the end, we hope that you may have changed your position or at the very least be better informed.

Firstly, let’s look at the cultural aspect of social media and how it compares to that of the traditional media set to which you belong.

Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning. The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery, writing themselves into the land. The growing society is there, yet it is also made and remade in every individual mind.

Williams, (l989a) Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism

You are from a time-honoured tradition of stable, measured disclosure. Your reporting relies on robust journalistic principles, well researched and presented. It is true that this may be a far cry from the potential anarchic or, heartfelt viewpoints of so-called ‘citizen journalists’ but yours too is but a single perspective, however well researched and balanced, a view that cannot be completely free from subjective bias.

A key difference between an article written by you and that of a blogger is that there is little opportunity to challenge your statements, explore your arguments in detail and arrive at a consensus – it is a one way communication. The beauty of social media, is that it is collaborative in its nature, allowing the exploration of an idea. Ultimately the reader will still arrive at their own conclusions but in the case of the blog they have often also taken part in the debate.

It is this participative nature of the social web that sets it apart. Whilst traditional media offers a certain safety for the reporter – there are rules and conventions that have to be followed – it can also be limiting, often closing down the debate rather than stimulating it.

And perhaps the advent of blogging offers a new model for journalism; it seems people are no longer content to be mere bystanders, passively receiving their news in traditional formats. Indeed, perhaps distribution is now just as important as reporting – why else would more conventional forms of media be jumping on the new media bandwagon?

More and more producers use social media to encourage participation (you can Tweet during BBC Question Time). In the case of readers, there has always been a ‘right to reply’ but blogging offers something more. Indeed it is more often the case that citizen journalists are not only contributing to but actually breaking big news stories.

As online journalist, Paul Bradshaw notes (on his blog we might add),

The blogs of September 11; the camcorder images from the Asian tsunami; the mobile phone images of July 7; the Facebook pages of Virginia Tech. If you needed to read about any of these major events, you could do so – if you wished – without opening a newspaper or watching TV.

The fact is blogging offers something different from conventional journalism, not something inferior, just different and it’s those differences that should be celebrated rather than berated,

In fact, that’s precisely the beauty of them. In the old days, if the Guardian or Telegraph rejected our rantings, the world would probably never hear them. Now we have created our own medium to get our brilliant insights out there. And of course some blogs may be true, and some may even nod to objectivity and balance, but the blogosphere would be a sadly diminished place if every view expressed had to be balanced, fact-checked, sub-edited and all those other peculiarities of good journalism. In other words, blogs work to a separate set of rules.

The irony is that it’s often fans of the blogosphere who end up balking at its extremes and calling for new ways to regulate the web or separate out responsible, accurate blogs from the irresponsible ones – a major preoccupation for those who care about science or public health.

But these calls take us full circle, to why we need something called journalism – perhaps now more than ever. Regulating and policing the blogosphere would kill everything that is good about it. We should simply accept that there is the blogosphere, and there is journalism, and the more sound and fury on the blogosphere, the more need for journalism to do its job – to select, verify, correct, edit, analyse, balance and all those old-fashioned things that journalists are trained to do.

Fiona Fox, BBC College of Journalism blog

So what led you to make these comments? Is it about a need to have control in an environment where you perceive there to be none or perhaps it is control of the agenda that you fear losing. With no editors or sub-editors to ensure the strictest ethical standards are maintained how can you bring order to this chaos? But wait, what about sites like Wikipedia or Metafilter?

Although Wikipedia is based on an openly editable model that anyone can access, it is moderated. Information remains only if “it fits within Wikipedia’s policies, including being verifiable against a published reliable source.”

Similarly, Metafilter members discuss and share web content. They are permitted to make one post to the front page per day, which must feature at least one link. The website is moderated and posts which do not meet the community’s standards for quality are removed and authors banned. This practice of self-policing ensures a high level of quality is maintained.

You may wonder what relevance all this has to your comments about bloggers. Well, what we are trying to establish here is the social context of the web as well as the power it has. And maybe therein lies the point – perhaps your comments are a quite deliberate ploy to strategically carve out a web presence following a realisation that, online your light doesn’t shine too brightly.

As a journalist you live in the relative comfort of the ‘corporate’ model of news delivery. Grasping at the web in this way has exposed a naivety, a clumsiness in your understanding and navigation of the online world.  You are Leadbeater’s external actor – trying to make the space fit your experience, trying to bend the environment to your own will.

The web will encourage us to see everyone as a potential participant in the creation of collaborate solutions through largely self-organizing networks. But that will only come to pass if we can organize our shared intelligence ourselves.

Leadbeater, We Think, Profile 2008, Ch 1, p 8

Leadbeater’s web is ‘a messy place’, lacking the formality and structure with which you are comfortable. However, it is naive to think that you can change that or simply become a part of it by marking out your territory with choice comments that give you a foothold on Google.

Instead you should endeavour to join the conversation, offer your valuable opinion and insight and encourage a debate in the true spirit of the ‘We Think’ paradigm. Far from snubbing what you think to be a new medium that threatens the media status quo you should look to embrace what is actually a very ancient practice. For social media harks (or indeed hacks) back to practices of the ancient campfire, of stories told and retold and of lessons learned.

Common platforms and peer-to-peer working allows innovation to emerge from a community. Communities of innovation are all the rage on the web but once again, they are very old. Community and conversation is the root of creativity.

Leadbeater, We Think, Profile 2008, Ch 1, pp 15

So what of professionalism and research ethics?’ we hear you cry. Let us point you towards the excellent work of Darabi, a contemporary in the sense that she writes for the New York Times, yet part of the new revolution in the sense that she blogs on social media strategy.

Hers is not the anonymous “spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.” By her own admission “She is constantly aware of her followers on Twitter, she researches and knows her audience.”

Say you’re an author, a book aficionado. Most [of your followers] have tagged music as a passion. You might want to throw them a bone about your favorite song. There are a lot of Venn diagram overlaps in this community. It’s to your advantage to be as much as part of a community as possible which means engaging with people’s interests.

I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience, Alice E. Marwick and Danah Boyd Page 13

The article describes the effort required in researching an audience, something so important that Darabi’s company has even developed a tool to assist the process, Twittersheep.

And the reach of micro-blogging doesn’t end there. From multi-national corporations to sole traders business is bolstering its web presence through blogs, micro blogs and other social media applications. If business is the new rock and roll, the social web is fast becoming the drum to which it beats.

Hopefully by now we are all agreed that there is a place for blogging but what of those angry people you mentioned?

We would say that whilst angry people do exist, it would be wrong to mistake passion or belief for anger. Blogging provides an opportunity to bring people together around themes that they care about rather than the ones that are perceived to be ‘newsworthy’ by a relative minority. This, as mentioned, often shapes the debate and crosses over into mainstream news providing professional like you with your bread and butter.

[The] more connected we are, the easier it is for small groups to cause enormous disruptions, by spreading viruses real or virtual. The web enables small dispersed groups to collaborate in ways that were previously impossible. That might be great for the small community that trades car parts for old Citroens, or for those who want to play poker against one another.

Leadbeater, We Think, Profile 2008, pp. 5

Yet it goes far beyond hobbies and games. This kind of participation can be a huge driver of social change. This was evident in the MAC/Rodarte controversy where comments and discussions on blogs actually reshaped the  entire corporate campaign of a global retailer.

US cosmetic giant MAC (part of the Este Lauder group) used the impoverished Mexican city of Juarez as the inspiration for their new collection.

This enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the female residents of a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world where many of the victims were women and children. The result of an internet backlash was that the collection was ultimately cancelled – no mean feat for a small disorganised group of bloggers.

And there are plenty of similar examples of how small groups with a shared interest have captured the imagination of the world through their blogs, wikis and social networking.

However in case the views of a the socially inadequate fall on deaf ears, perhaps the only way you will ever change your opinion is by listening to the views of your contemporaries.

What’s most dismaying about Marr’s broadside is that he’s evidently still labouring under the unbelievably outdated notion of bloggers as anti-social geeks. The reality is quite the opposite. Blogging is infinitely more “social” than writing for the print press, for the simple reason that it’s not over when you click publish.

Luke Lewis, deputy editor, NME writing in the Telegraph

What a shame. Marr has given in to the very things he protests against – irrational attacks based on little or no fact; over-emotive one-sided vitriol and ultimately an immaturity which does neither him nor the BBC any credit as media organisations look to align themselves (and they must!) with social media and evolving channels of communication.

Will Sturgeon, the media blog

To those of us who spend our time reading and contributing to the blogosphere, this attack on our skin condition and relationship status hit home hard. But wiping aside the tears, I feel that Mr Marr doesn’t really know what he was talking about.

A blog is just a format for writing in the same way that a review or a feature article is a format. Blogs just happen to be well suited to the internet – and to the experience of reading on a computer. They are personal, yes, opinionated – often, but good blogs tend to deal deals with one particular topic in a clear way with regular updates and they are often bang on time because they can be published easily. Blogs can be a very useful source of information, and the personal character fits with the experience of reading on a computer – a one-person, one-screen interaction which works with a more conversational tone. Blogs can also be funny, enjoyable and interesting – it’s possible.

Anna Leach, The Independent writing on Shiny Shiny

In the hope that some of this has sunk in we leave you, once more, with Leadbeater.

As the web shapes and colours many more aspects of our lives, it will provide us with a new way of thinking, a set of reflexes for how we should organise ourselves. For the generations growing up with social-networking sites, multiplayer computer games, free software and virtual worlds, the reflexes learned on the web will shape the rest of their lives: they will look for information themselves and expect and welcome opportunities to participate, collaborate, share and work with their peers. The web will slowly reframe how we see the more material aspects of our lives fitting together.

Leadbeater, We Think, Profile 2008, Ch 1, pp 7,8

And so if it does turn out to be the case that we can organise our shared intelligence ourselves, and if you don’t want to take part in the dialogue of collaboration, where does that leave you Andrew Marr?

Yours sincerely,

BCU Social Media group

Social Media – a Win/Win?

Here’s another first – this week my studies took me to Hyperlocal Govcamp – an oddly-named ‘unconference.’ For those of you not familiar with the term, here is the gospel according to Wikipedia…

“An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centred on a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.”

Wikipedia goes on to describe the history of this type of event and its close association with 1930s science fiction conventions and the ‘geek community’.

I must admit my predisposition prior to going was that this would be an event firmly rooted in geekdom but being an open-minded kind of guy, not to mention curious about the format and the subject matter, I went along anyway.

Just in case you hadn’t worked it out the ‘Gov’ element refers to the public sector, the rest alludes to digital communication and social media. So put it all together and basically what we are talking about is how public services can be delivered to citizens via innovative digital channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Surprisingly (and in contrast to my preconceived ideas), the event wasn’t the geek convention I’d imagined. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to meet lots of people who, like myself, are still feeling their way through this brave new world of social media and were simply there to find out a bit more and join the discussion.

Social Media is still in its infancy generally, so at a government level it is barely recognised. Yet there was a real buzz about the event and a genuine excitement that this phenomenon could be put to good use in terms of empowering citizens by providing access to a whole range of public services. This might seem like a liberal-pluralist pipe dream right out of a Clay Shirky lecture but there were some really positive examples of how new technologies and approaches are being used.

The session on Social Media Surgeries offered an interesting discussion confidently facilitated by Gavin Wray and Nick Booth of Podnosh.

The premise of these surgeries is fairly simple – to bring together a ‘surgeon’ – someone who knows enough about using social media tools and someone else (usually a community group, charity or local citizen) with a need that would benefit from learning those skills. Sounds expensive, but surprisingly the whole session is delivered for free.

A noble principle indeed but is the whole notion purely altruistic or is there a commercial perspective here? As social media students, looking at the subject in a professional context we were keen to explore whether gallant philanthropy and commercial benefit were, in this context, mutually exclusive.

It seems that quite often the most interesting discussions take place in the corridors and today was no different. So, armed with a Flip camera and some hastily prepared questions, fellow BCU Social Media student, Natalie Minter (@NatMinter), and I set out to learn more…

Here Nick describes how the surgery ethos demonstrates the Freemium model. This works by offering basic Web services, or a basic downloadable digital product, for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features.

This notion supports Covey’s ‘Six Paradigms of Human Interaction’ in that it creates a situation conducive to a Win/Win strategy,

“Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win/Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying. With a Win/Win solution, all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan. Win/Win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena. Most people tend to think in terms of dichotomies: strong or weak, hardball or softball, win or lose. But that kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed. It’s based on power and position rather than on principle. Win/Win is based on the paradigm that there is plenty for everybody, that one person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others.

Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative. It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way”

-The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1999

The huge advantage of deploying such a model in this context is that it focuses on generating social capital by giving people and organisations the power to reach out to their communities and help themselves. The spin-off is that it also creates the opportunity for a financial return on investment; by providing an environment where learning, design, testing and even marketing of potential new products can take place.

Add in the power of the web to connect people and spread ideas, and Covey’s model is amplified exponentially.  Furthermore, with the possibility of significant cost savings as more and more people seek to solve their own problems rather than wait for a state derived intervention, it’s easy to see why a relatively small but determined number of people within government and business alike are becoming increasingly excited at all that social media has to offer.