Monday, June 01, 2009

A brief guide to Social Media in Stoke-on-Trent

So, I was asked to write something to sum up Stoke-on-Trent's social media 'scene'. Tempted as I was to respond "Hey! Stoke is messy! Back off with your straightjackets and your simplification agendas!", I understand that a clean link makes life easier. And since my idea for Andrew Stott is at number 7 (7!) in the ideas list, we'd better start presenting our tame, helpful side. Let us begin.

Social networks are a good way to access Stoke. Physically, the place doesn't make a lot of sense. Mentally it's a bit, well, tired and emotional. Stoke *is* messy - and by the way, when I say Stoke I might be talking about the city itself, North Staffordshire, the Potteries or just Burslem (though probably not Fenton), and I will give no explanation - but with a willingness to spend a bit of time in the conversation, Google and some good social connectors, you can find just about anything you're looking for here. It'll be an adventure.

The pioneers
When I landed back in the city four years ago, there were very few local websites, but a couple of them remain rich resources: and Creative Stoke. Although the original site doesn't seem to be up any more, Mindblogging was a great early UK (Early. In 2006. I know, what were we doing?) example of digital mentoring for specific groups. D'Log's other site,, sadly didn't survive the housing clearance, while Mike Wolfe's blog abruptly ceases in May 2005 but still remains live, an early example of consistent, engaging blogging - something that we're all now trying to persuade elected representatives to do more of.

Local Edition, now an ex-newspaper, still has many of the best pieces of writing and art you'll find online (I can say that, I edited it) about northern Stoke, while Stoke Sounds, a spin-off that took on a life of its own, is one of the best centres of writing and photography on our brilliant music scene. By the way, if you have a bit of time and some speakers, start a tour here of Stoke musicians and bands on Myspace - you won't be disappointed.

The bloggers
David Elks, the Evening Sentinel's Jo Geary, has helpfully compiled a list of blogs which I won't try to surpass and pitsnpots also has a list of a few more of the political ones.

The Tweeters

Stoke has a vibrant and growing Twitter scene and its early adopters were all involved in making sure Stoke had its own Twestival. Oh, is that me at number one? I hadn't noticed...

Digital communities
Facebook, though not big enough in Stoke user numbers to warrant having its own network or advertisements, is nevertheless keeping people from the Potteries in touch. We even have our own gifts app, a dialect group and a man paying tribute to Tunstall.

Flickr's Stoke group has been running for several years and is very active, with over 200 members, regular meetups and a collection of thousands of amazing photographs.

Though only going since late 2008, Blurb Online has amassed over 300 members and is a great showcase for the area's creative talent. It has also become a centre of organisation for Wasted Space amongst other cunning schemes and a very well-stocked events section. And because creative social websites are like buzzes, you won't want to miss Culturing Stuff, started by the evil geniuses behind Sex Up Stoke and Shop Caretakers.

Real-life gathering points

Bitjam has been running since 2006 and is always drawing in new people to get involved in its mixture of music, art and creative expression which is quite unlike anything you'd expect to find at the Rigger.

Talking Shop and Head Talk are regular gatherings for artists and other creatives - both are very welcoming and friendly.

We have a fledgling Ruby on Rails School meeting on Tuesdays at Beslem in Queen Street, when people can make it, it also has an email list for remote participation.

Some Fridays at 11 we have a social media cafe (OK, we call it that because we don't want to be left out, but it's just coffee on a Friday). Sometimes lots of us show up, sometimes nobody. Indeed, much like the remains of Burslem market (please buy your fruit and flowers there if you can). This article suggests we really should do a proper one.

Plenty of artists are now use blogs to add value to their work, such as Tomorrow Longton and Big Red Studio.

Though not directly digital, the Burslem Arts & Crafts Festival has a lot of creative workshops, photographers and musicians about and is well worth a visit.

And as this post was going to screen, I heard Keele University are having a Tweetup!

The campaigners
Online comment and blogging about local politics - the Sentinel and pitsnpots, I'm lookin' at you - have a passing resemblance to the boxing ring or bullfights of old, but that is not dissimilar to our real life arenas. Both sites have people working hard to maintain spaces where people can have their voices heard and enter into debates. Online networking and the connections made through discussion sites have, in my view (and it has been challenged) been instrumental in increasing the sense of empowerment and community expertise amongst those people who are active online. HAVOC and a string of Save our Schools websites (such as Save Trentham High) got the ball rolling and the Coachmakers Arms is gathering quite large numbers of signatures on its Number 10 petition.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the very best story about a social media campaign in Stoke (I await your challenges) is of Steve from Goldenhill whose friends whipped up a campaign to save his house.

What have I missed? Please leave a comment, Tweet using #followstoke or, you know, speak to me...


Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed, we at Keele are having a tweet up on June 8! There is a thriving Twitter community at the University and we are looking at ways to get more people involved in the coming academic year.

I think a North Staffordshire Social Media Cafe would be a brilliant idea - I would definitely come along if I could!

Hannah Hiles
Media & Communications Officer
Keele University

(@keeleuniversity on Twitter)

Nick Booth said...

Great piece of work.

Anonymous said...

Not specifically North Staffs -focussed, but my latest project might be classed as 'social media' in terms of 'socially-useful media' and being useful to folk at our three local universities (Staffs, Keele and MMU at Crewe). JURN is a free academic search-engine, now searching the content of over 3,000 titles in the arts and humanities. Only free or partly-free ejournals get into the index.