Lessons in digital media training for volunteers – by Amy Burton


This month I was given the chance to work with some of Diabetes UK’s volunteers at the Diabetes Scotland Volunteer conference. My workshop was around the theme of “Digital Media”. This was my first volunteer conference and the first time I have been able to run a digital media workshop or training session with volunteers.

Digital media covers a number of different things, most people think of digital media as social media sites and websites but it can be so much more. Digital media can include blogs, applications, online games, google adwords, search engine optimisation, pay per click and email.

Without volunteers we would not be able to provide anywhere near as much as support as we do for people living with diabetes. Digital media is a way to help share the work that volunteers and local groups do. So it made complete sense to run a session for volunteers to help them develop their digital skills.

My role as Digital Engagement Manager means I get to prepare and deliver sessions like these for our staff as well as our volunteers. These sessions are interactive and focus on what the room would like to know more about. Volunteers at the conference wrote their questions on post-it notes. Here are two of the questions – with the answers.

Any questions?

How do you use social media to get new members?

Social media can help you increase the reach of the messages you are sharing – it isn’t free though, it takes time to reach new people and you will have to post regularly to reach new people. Twitter is a really great way of reaching new people because you can use hashtags (which are ways of categorising your tweets, similar to how libraries sort books into sections). By using your local area as a hashtag you can reach people who are also searching for what is going on in the area.

Whilst I was up in Aberdeen I tweeted #Aberdeen to see where would be good visit, I got a tweet back from the Aberdeen visitor centre letting me know what I could do, I wasn’t following the account nor were they following me but they found my message under a search for #aberdeen. You can also ask members of your local group to share with friends and family on Facebook, depending on privacy settings of the individuals you may be able to track to see how far a post has reached. If you include a photo it tends to grab attention of people, do check you are okay to use the photo before posting online. If you are wanting to provide a lot of information which is available to see on a website make sure to include a link to the page. My top tip is as a final check to see if you think it would catch your attention and find it interesting, if you aren’t excited by the post, it may be time to rewrite and try again.

What can and can’t be put on Facebook?

I always remember two key bits of advice when it comes to deciding what should and shouldn’t be posted on social media.

  1. If you wouldn’t want your mum/dad/nan/boss/ to see it, don’t post it. Think about posting on social media as pasting something on a giant billboard for everyone to see.
  2. Don’t post after 8pm. Unless at an event, normally at this time in the evening you are at home relaxing and may not be in the right mind set for posting online as per point 1.

And there are perhaps questions that we can also ask:

What can we do to help develop digital skills in volunteers?

I am so thankful for the support that I have had from the digital charity community. That being said, I do not feel as a community we share with the volunteers in the sector about the learnings we have from running websites, social media channels or digital marketing campaigns. We should be sharing as much information about the best kind of digital activity so that volunteers can focus their time instead of arguing with mailing systems and website code or even trying to figure out why their group members aren’t seeing their posts.

Next steps

  1. Look at ways we can support volunteers by sharing what staff have learnt from digital content
  2. Create resources and sign post to information that volunteers can use to develop skills within local groups so that all the knowledge doesn’t just sit with a minority
  3. Figure out a way that local groups/volunteers can share what they are doing with staff so that staff can support and use the digital content being created

What did I learn from the workshop?
Our volunteers are incredible, they are already ahead of most people with the social media accounts they have set up. All are keen to make the most out of this “free” channel for communication and we can learn as much as we can from them as they can from members of staff. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more from the volunteers/local groups in Scotland on my social media feeds!

If you have any questions on digital media, please contact amy.burton@diabetes.org.uk or DigitalMediaTeam@diabetes.org.uk.

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