'Oh this was the night' of the last Lancaster Social of 2014. I started to write my feelings just after the event but didn't publish them until now. why you might ask. Well I wanted to finish the year with the rest of the organisers and plan 2015, so I left this post until we had our festive meeting and organisation session for 2015. I thought I would share them on the Shadowcat Blog as we are involved as both individuals and an organisation so this seems the best place for this post.
The Lancaster Social was a new venture that originated in a conversation late in 2013 at the end of the then Tweet-Ups. It was decided that they had fulfilled a role and it was time to develop or evolve and from that the Lancaster Social was born.
The idea of the Lancaster Social is to gather together as many people into a physical space who might only ever otherwise interact socially in either an online context or not at all. The (rather noble) ambition was to extend it into as many areas of the social spectrum as possible.
I thought I might, since I have been involved with the core mechanics of the event from the start, reflect a little on what I thought we got right and what we can do to make this a better event. Before I do so I would love to say that I am grateful for the work that all the organisers have put into the Lancaster Social and to the generous hosts who gave us room to meet in. I have listed those that I could at the end of the article.
So I think this splits into two nicely defined sections, the things we liked and the things we could have done better or maybe need to try next. I dislike listing things as 'wrong'. This is a social interaction and an experiment, we cannot really do wrong there were just elements we tried. The organisers are also open to suggestions and to try different ways of running or hosting the event, so if there are elements people want to see added, changed or removed they are keen to discuss this in an open forum.
So let's start with the things that I think we like.
What did we like?
One of the guiding principles, I think one of my major inputs, is the idea that there is no (or at least significantly low) barrier to entry. Without wandering too far from the point into a discussion of how there is a collective understanding that professional events cost, and the higher the cost the greater the end value, we chose to have no charge for registering on the website or attending an event.
I like that we were able to keep the events free to attend, and I hope that this didn't make people think they had less value because of that. The organisers have decided to open up the event to sponsorship to allow future events to have more on offer while still being free to attend.
In 2015 the organisers are set to re-use some of these venues but may also add or change one venue to try and find the best mix for the attendees.
Organisers are committed
The event organisers run the Lancaster Social as volunteers. There is no profit or exchange of goods or services for the hard work put in. They deserve a heartfelt thanks for managing to put in the time and effort to make this event successful.
The Social operates under an open ethos that allows for anyone to contribute their time to helping out. If you would like to help on further events then you should contact the organisers. We as a group are keen to involve people in both the social events and the shape they take. We try to take the best suggestions from people and incorporate them. We have done trials of ideas in the meetings to see how they work with the format. So please feel free to approach us with an idea.
Website is accessible
There is a 'free to market yourself on' website that also contains details about the socials, ethos and organisation. A lot of work has been undertaken by Sharon Jackson and Shadowcat Systems to bring this site to everyone. You can register yourself or your business on the site for no cost.
When we run an event Sharon is usually sat at a table ready to sign people up to make it easy for people to join.
Presentations were all fun
Each of the socials had a presenter who gave some more insight on a particular topic. I spoke about using Magisto for making small and fun movies; Sharon Jackson gave an entertaining presentation on mobile file sharing and Jane Binion gave an insight into using LinkedIn professionally.
There was also a Q&A session at each event which helped answer people's questions.
We felt that this format:
- 20 minute presentation slot
- Closing speech and call to action
Gave the best balance for everyone. It is a relaxed evening, the networking periods give enough time for people to make new connections; the presentation and Q&A are purposefully short, 20 minutes including any audience participation, to keep them light and easily digestible; and the opening and closing statements are quick and simple. The whole evening is meant to be relaxed and we only use the rigour of this format to ensure that the evening has pace and presents value.
What can we do better?
Not enough promotion
The organising team for Lancaster Social did a great job of getting the events running smoothly and consistently. That said I am not sure that they managed to hit enough of a promotional swing. I wish I had the answers for what needs to be done and I am sure there will be even more discussion about this topic.
At the end of our year we decided that we would make sure we reach out to the previous attendees as well as trying to find new people, the momentum of pushing out the news to new people should be matched with attempting to get a consistent audience as well.
Message needs to be simpler
I like the ethos of the Social, as said I was part of the original discussions about it. However I think too much emphasis, or at least words, are used on it. The message needs to be simpler and maybe the ethics moved to a page of their own. This may help with the promotion.
I think that this may be my single biggest problem, I am often too wordy and passionate about principles. However there is also nothing wrong with having a strong, but still malleable and debatable, central sense of ethics.
Need more advocacy in different social groups - not just business
The socials have managed to hit a lot of the business communities and been represented by them, however I do not think that enough of the other community groups were involved. I am not sure if this is a message issue or if there needs to be more advocacy targeted directly at them.
We are part of a larger social mix at the start of 2015, with the inter-networking event with ESTA and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. Hopefully we can spread our message at that point.
Needs more commitment from attendees, increase participation reward
I also feel that there should be some reward for increased participation. I don't mean an exalted position or financial gain, just some notice. This may answer the issue of returning participation. Some of the people only attend one event, and while it was known this would happen how that is addressed isn't so clear.
There is already a movement to increase awareness that businesses should feel free to bring their banners, advertisements, business cards etc., and if they want to so can other groups. This is about a social sharing of who you are and what you do.
Organisers need slightly more cohesive communication strategy
This ties into the line about promotion, the website and participation. I guess it is tautology to say it again but I am mostly trying to say there should probably be a process document that shows this strategy so that what works can be kept/repeated and what doesn't can be changed/dropped.
Again at our first year end we spoke about the need for shared, living, documentation so that we can make this effort more cohesive.
List of names to keep in touch
There is no one resource of attendees and organisers that is available (by choice) so that people can try and contact someone they briefly met or heard and it was requested by a couple of different people so it may be a good idea to have a register of interest that is separate to a huge page all to yourself.
I know there are a number of ways that most of us can be reached these days but it can be confusing if we use different identities, or nicknames, across different social systems. I would imagine that a voluntary list with:
- Organisation (if relevant)
- Twitter ID
- Facebook Page (if relevant)
- LinkedIn ID
- Google+ ID
would suffice. This could probably fit on a single line and be organised alphabetically (by either first name or surname) to make it easy for people to scan.
There have been a number of people who have made the Lancaster Social's happen. I am not able to recall every single one, and I have listed many below. But whoever they are I send my heartfelt thanks. There is a big thanks to all the hosts, White Cross Business Park, Lancaster and Morecambe College and Atkinsons: The Priory Hall.
So a big thanks to:
Jane Binion (Jane's Social Media) - @janebinion
Michael Hallam (Small Green Consultancy) - @lancasterESTA
Claire Jackson (Shadowcat Systems) - @shadowcat_clj
Sharon Jackson (Bay Web Designs) - @baywebdesigns
Jack Knight (Knight Time Creations) - @knighttimecreations
Ian Norton (Shadowcat Systems) - @idnorton
Ian Steele (Atkinsons Coffee Shop, The Hall, The Music Room) - @coffeehopper
Sarah Thornton (Backroom Sam) - @backroomsam
2015 and Beyond
So the first year for the Lancaster Social ends and we are now looking forward to 2015. We have already planned the shape of the year and the talks and focus we wish to take in our quest to involve, connect and share knowledge amongst the communities in the Lancaster, Morecambe and district.
Twenty fifteen will have a cohesive theme running throughout the three presentations we have planned and will be of benefit to everyone. Once again I would love if you could share information about the event or perhaps join us at The Chapel, White Cross on 14th January 2015 at 17:00-19:00. If you sign up using Eventbrite we can keep you up to date and have a good idea of the number of attendees.
 Oh, this is the night, it's a beautiful night, And we call it bella notte , Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes , On this lovely bella notte.
 Okay we could have done lots of things wrong if we tried, I meant generally we were testing the waters in a moderate and sensible manner not asking people to skydive on a badger.
 A whole host of caveats come with this as I am one of the organisers so can generally speak for them, I am not claiming this to be a definitive assessment. The other organisers will have their own thoughts and feelings as well.
 Or should that be that the organisers should be committed?