What do people talk about at social media surgeries?

Two people talking at central Birmingham social media surgery in Fazeley Studios
Photo by Kasper Sorenson

It’s almost a year now since I first went along to a social media surgery for voluntary and community groups in Birmingham. The surgeries are thriving and it’s great to see new surgeries sprouting in Lozells, Acocks Green and now Solihull.

One of the things I love about going along to these surgeries is that I never know who I’m going to meet or what topics will come up. The randomness is refreshing, it keeps me on my toes while meeting motivated folk who really want to improve their communities is good for the soul.

This social media lark is wide. Those coming along to the surgeries for advice may want to talk about anything from how to start a blog, attracting more readers to their website or making new contacts using the social web – and that’s just the start.

So, what really happens? What do we talk about?

Here’s a summary of a chat from a surgery in Fazeley Studios on 19th August between Esther Boyd, Paul Hadley and I.

Esther writes about environmental and sustainability issues on her Lighter Footprints blogs. Esther came along to the surgery with some specific questions (I hope my notes and memory are up to scratch – I’m writing this some time after the event):

  • How could keywords be used to increase ranking of Esther’s blog in search engines?
  • How could she get more comments on her posts?
  • How could she get more people to visit her blog?

Keywords and search engine rankings

Spending time worrying about the words to use in the keywords meta tag isn’t worth it. (There’s typically a keywords box you can fill out when writing a blog – we looked at this on Esther’s blog, which runs on Movable Type).

Google ignores the keywords meta tag in determining the order of its search results. Don’t just take my word for it though:

While Google ignores the keywords meta tag, this doesn’t mean that all search engines do the same. Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing may do their own thing. However, with Google being so dominant, there’s little point in spending much time on the keywords meta tag.

So that’s something you can forget about.

Is there anything to make sure you do to help your blog do well in search engine rankings?

Personally speaking, I regard much of SEO as an unwelcome diversion from the real job of writing good web content that other people might be interested in reading.

Whether you’re new to writing a blog or a veteran of the interwebs, the following basics hold true:

  1. Write interesting content, regularly
  2. Use appropriate, relevant keywords in the title of your post
  3. Use sub-headings in the body of your post
  4. Be a linker to other people’s sites

(I realise I don’t always practice what I preach; particularly writing regularly!)

Encouraging more comments

Esther was pleased that her posts attracted comments, such as this post on community recycling champions. She wanted to increase the number of comments.

The first thing we mentioned was for Esther to add replies to comments. When someone has taken the time to read the post and add a considered comment, adding a comment thanking that person shows that you’re listening.

Also, when Esther replies as the author, she has the opportunity to develop the discussion further. As well as reacting to the comments, she can lead the discussion into new areas.

On the technical side, we discussed some possible layout improvements to the blog.

There’s a list of recent comments on the home page’s sidebar, which demonstrates an active site and a nice community feel:

Screenshot of recent comments in sidebar of Esther's blog

However, the list of recent comments isn’t shown on any of the other page templates in Esther’s blog (post, search results or archived by category). Not all visitors will land on the blog via the home page. In fact, if the visitor is arriving via a web search, it’s more likely that person will land on a single post.

Changing the page layout to show recent comments on every page template is more complex as the blog layout is locked down in a pre-defined template. One for whoever runs the Birmingham Mail blogs.

Using Twitter to build a network

The last part of our chat came about through Esther asking how she could get more people to visit her blog.

We talked about social networking, specifically using Twitter and Facebook, to let other people know when Esther had written a new post or to highlight interesting comments.

While at the surgery, Esther:

  • Registered on Twitter (she’s @estherboyd)
  • Discovered people in her existing network who are already on Twitter
  • Updated her profile with a description and a link to her Lighter Footprints blog

Blimey, that feels like a lot after writing it down.

So, these are a few examples of the things people talk about at a social media surgery.

It could be something completely different next time.