Going local

Jon Bounds has put together a nice little site for guiding people around Birmingham. It’s wiki based, so anyone can get involved, and there is some nice Google Maps action going on there too. There’s quite a big group of social media savvy folk gathering in Brum, thanks to Nick Booth‘s Birmingham Bloggers meetups, and hopefully this group of people will be able to fill the site up with some great content. It is also the latest in a line of useful tools being built around Birmingham in the social web space – see BirminghamBloggers (put together by Paul Bradshaw) for example.

I attended the first Birmingham Bloggers meet but haven’t made one since – mainly because I have been tied up with other stuff, but its fair to say that I struggled to feel like I really belonged there. I work in Coventry, down the road from Brum, but live close to Kettering in Northamptonshire. What struck me at the meet was how strong a sense of geographical belonging was evident. It’s wonderful, but meant I kind of felt a bit excluded.

I’ve been thinking over the last week or so about how one can create local groups around topics of interest, and how this can tie in, or learn from, initiatives like Birmingham Bloggers, the Membership Project and the Tuttle Club.

I have no idea whether there is any appetite for any kind of social media meet in Kettering. I’ve looked around, and there is a Flickr group or two for Northamptonshire; and a county based Linux Users Group, within which there may well be a few bloggers. Perhaps something based on a larger area is more appropriate for less urban areas?

I’ve set up a few feeds to check for Kettering popping up in Flickr, Google Blog Search, del.icio.us and Technorati – it will be interesting to see exactly what starts to appear. Can anyone think of other ways of monitoring for this kind of stuff?

It doesn’t help that the local paper doesn’t provide an RSS feed; and while the borough Council does, it doesn’t actually work (at least for me, anyway).

So what are some of the things that might be needed to form a community around social media in a local context? Firstly a common tag which can be used to identify content, whether blog posts, photos in flickr, video on youtube, del.icio.us links etc. This has to be right and everyone clear on what the tag is – if people start using different tags then it’s going to be difficult to keep track of stuff. It’s probably also worthwhile created a hashtag for Twitter and other stuff like that – even if people aren’t using it straight away, it will be useful to have in place for the future.

The common tag is really the starting point of the community, because people can use it to follow conversations with their RSS readers. The second step is to create a hub where a lot of this content can be aggregated in one place. The easiest way of doing this is with a public personalised start page like those at Netvibes or Pageflakes. This gives some centre to the community, a single place for people to go and find out what the latest is.

Hopefully by this time people are talking to each other by leaving comments on blogs and other mediums, but the conversation is likely to be spread about and it might be difficult for people to feel completely involved. It’s probably time to arrange a face to face meeting, whether a few drinks in the pub or a photo  walk if there are lots of flickr fans about. How can this be organised though? It’s time for something to be built: maybe a wiki, or a Google Group mailing list or just a space on a social network that everyone is on. The latter is good because you can pick up new members easily, but not everyone will be on that network. I wonder, though, if putting this communication channel together should come earlier?

If the group starts to have some interesting discussions that are developing, it might be worth putting together a group blog as a focal point for others. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog about the group itself but about the issues that the group is interested in. As the group matures and other projects get started other stuff can be developed to meet the need, whether it be wikis or other collaborative environments like Basecamp.

So, the things to do to establish a local social media community (according to me) are:

  • Establish tags
  • Aggregate content
  • Communicate
  • Meet
  • Develop

I might try and put this into effect and see who else is about in Kettering or Northamptonshire who digs this stuff. If you pick up this post somehow and are interested, let me know.

Otherwise, what other thoughts do folk have on using social media to form local groups?

11 thoughts on “Going local”

  1. Interesting… somewhere along the line there has to be the question of meeting up and keeping the online conversation going off-line. The problem here comes from whether the virtual personality of each person involved is realised in the ‘real world’. If you see what I mean (in a very complicated way). If it is just information sharing – as in the Brum thing – then there is no need to meet offline, but if it is to develop or grow an idea, then it is essential – therein lies the rub. Not sure what to do about it though! I guess if the passion is generated to a frenzy point online, the a real life meet should have enough energy to get passed any awkwardness…

  2. The offline meets are pretty important for the Brum group, I think – there tends to be a lot of activity after each meeting! Almost like f2f meetings inspire ways of connecting online…

    I agree with you about difference between on and offline personality. I feel much more confident online, and Dave Briggs the blogger is better at putting his ideas forward than Dave Briggs the bloke.

    I think there is a considerable amount of potential in local groups organising themselves around social media. Think BBC closure of action networks, what fills the gap, Clay Shirky…

  3. @alex – Cambridge is about 40 minutes drive away so not too bad. I should imagine there is plenty of social media action going on there – maybe a good idea. I worry though that it would have the same result as the Brum bloggers thing, as I might not feel like I belong there either…

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