I went along to last week’s #BeGoodBeSocial event at Edinburgh’s Melting Pot with a certain amount of apprehension. Since leaving the charity sector last year I’ve maintained a level of caution about getting too close to a world that occupied me, sometimes unhealthily, for over six years. I led Oxfam’s Digital Communications team (née Interactive Media) for four of those years, taking over the role shortly after Tim O’Reilly coined the term Web 2.0, YouTube was born, and at a time when Facebook’s main focus was college campuses rather than world domination. The scars I bear are for another post but it’s safe to say that there was a lot of flux, fuss and fallout over digital and social media during that period.
Attending #BeGoodBeSocial meant resurfacing questions that still reverberate in my head about how charities make appropriate use of digital tools, whether the often misplaced focus on numbers and media headlines had diminished any, and if those over-used words ‘engagement’ and ‘participation’ were really being embraced.
What a difference an evening makes.
Ross McCulloch (@thirdsectorlab) didn’t take nearly enough credit for creating an occasion that just worked. There was an informality that’s often missing at professional events; people turned up agenda-free to learn, to share, and to discuss, and that had a lot to do with how the evening was pitched in the weeks leading up to it.
Another masterstroke was in the choice of presenters – there can be a yawning sense of deja vu at events when person after person recounts their organisational ticklist of ‘things we’ve done’ but fails to give any additional context or insight. Here, however, were four very different, very compelling takes on being good and social:
- Martin Keane (@onekindmk) talked about the wide and varied techniques OneKind are using with social channels. It was excellent to hear a focus on reciprocity, a genuinely varied multi-channel strategy, and honesty about success measures – and (thank you!) another person daring to suggest Twitter might not be the direct route to audiences that some would have you believe.
- Steve Bridger (@stevebridger) offered a calm and considered guide to relationship-building that didn’t shy away from presenting tricky issues. There’s a real art to translating complex challenges into common-sense solutions, but Steve does so with aplomb and a very attractive slide deck. ‘Grow bigger ears’ was, for me, the phrase of the night.
- Snook (@wearesnook) were just a breath of fresh air. I missed their workshop but was given the elevator pitch version by Kirsty (@kirsty_joan): developing audience personas beyond the usual broad brushstrokes. Viva la revolution – not everyone uses Facebook the same way! Lauren (@redjotter), whose MacBook had sent the entire livestream into disarray, summarised what they do in a short and sweet presentation. Their people-centric and design-led approach to social change is inspiring.
- Rosie MacIntosh (who tweets from @oxfamscotland) finished things off with a presentation that would have given me a hernia in my previous role. But here are Oxfam Scotland facilitating a grassroots blogger network – allowing people to have a conversation about their shared values and interests – rather than storming in with a fixed agenda. Placing a value on engagement first and foremost is genuinely refreshing, and I loved the openness of it all.
So my outtake is one of positivity and very pleasant surprise: based on the evidence above there is not only some great work going on but also – more importantly – a sense of difficult questions being chewed over. Sitting in the pub afterwards (probably the oldest at the table, eek) it was really invigorating to hear people talking about all this stuff in a strategic, considered and experienced way. I want to slap myself for using the term ‘digital native’ but the gulf between those that actually *use* the tools as opposed to those who read a load of articles about why you should be using them is pretty massive.
Clearly the challenge remains in educating decision makers about what social media is and isn’t, and seeing beyond the more obvious headlines and trends. What I would observe – based on my own 18-month hiatus – is that events like this prove the debate is definitely going in the right direction.