On a Tuesday night, in the upstairs rooms of the Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock, Vermont, 17 members of nonprofit organizations from Woodstock, Killington, Plymouth, Chester, and other nearby towns gathered to meet with five “social media surgeons” who would help them learn more about social media.
The “Surgery” was a collaboration between Burlington NetSquared and the Vermont Digital Economy Project. In this type of workshop, people are grouped together by ability level with “surgeons,” so that each workshop attendee is able to receive some specialized attention from social media experts.
“One of the hardest things about running a workshop about social media and online tools,” said Rob Fish, the Digital Economy Project’s Nonprofit Advisor, “is that there are always a number of different ability levels in the same room, so no matter what you cover, somebody will be already know what you’re explaining, and somebody else will feel left behind. It’s a truly difficult balance. Social Media Surgeries address that with smaller, break-out groups.”
After initial introductions, each organization chose where they felt they would gain the most information. Some wanted help setting up a basic Facebook page, while others were interested in knowing more about the overall goals and strategy associated with social media. The most popular group was for “intermediate Facebook.”
“I learned a lot about how to use Facebook more professionally, and I think that I learned a lot of tricks about how to get people to come to our Facebook page and how to share information that my organization has,” said Sally Miller, of Sustainable Woodstock.
While tangible skills were learned by all, one of the biggest successes of the evening was to help people feel less intimidated around Social Media. “One of the most important things that I learned was not to be afraid of Facebook,” said Betsy Tonkin from the Plymouth Historical Society.
This type of understanding is exactly why Social Media Surgeries are helpful. “The purpose of Social Media Surgeries is to help people achieve small victories and breakthroughs in their understanding of social media,” said Amanda Levinson, the volunteer organizer of NetSquared’s Burlington chapter.
But it wasn’t just the participants who found the workshop valuable. The “surgeons” also found the experience eye-opening. As Levinson pointed out, “It’s actually quite humbling to try to explain the purpose of Twitter hashtags to someone who’s never really seen one before! And then when you start explaining how hashtags are trickling into our everyday written vernacular as well….well, you start to realize how much you take for granted if you work with these platforms every day, and how much it would sound like a foreign language if you didn’t. Social Media Surgeries give those of us who work with social media the opportunity to make a tangible difference in peoples’ understanding of a media that has revolutionized communication.”