How Not to Mess Up a Community Meetup

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

I wrote a long answer on Quora last night to the question, “How do I manage a meetup group?” I didn’t mean for it to come out so long, but I realized that a lot of work goes into managing offline meetup and special interest groups.

When I started managing two meetup groups this year, I was pretty sure I was going to mess everything up. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I’ll be honest. My big takeaway is that you just have to swallow your fears and do it. You may be worried that no one will show up or that you’ll run out of things to talk about or that a panelist will fall through. Whatever.  Just do it anyway. Meetups are ripe for serendipity and intimacy, more so than large events. So set your goals around making deep connections rather than worrying about the size of the event.

If you want to get started leading your own group, be it a book club or a branded community meetup, start by organizing things around the obvious chronological subsets: before, during, and after.

Before (or, how not to mess up the organization of your meetup group):

  • Have regular meetups. I know that seems obvious, but how many groups out there had one meeting and never met again? From my anecdotal evidence scouring Meetup.com, I’d say at least 20%.
  • Find a co-organizer. This will keep you accountable and will keep ideas flowing. I work with the lovely Lucy Bartlett on San Francisco Community Managers. I work with the amazing Dan Gailey for SF Hacker News.
  • Write a clear and concise mission statement. What’s your purpose? What would you ideal meetup look like? This will give people a reason to care.
  • Promote through sites other than Meetup or don’t organize through Meetup.com at all. There are many reasons why I discourage new groups from organizing on Meetup.com. It’s a good place to get initial distribution, but a terrible place to engage and continue conversations online. I suggest trying a combination of Facebook groups, Eventbrite, and promoting on local event blogs like UpOut.
  • RSVPs are highest usually in the 24-48 hours leading up to Meetups, so make sure to push the event on social then.
  • About a week before, message a few key people you REALLY want there. Tell them how much it would mean to you that they show up and what you think they can get out of it — networking, helping others, being seen as a thought leader.

At the event:

  • Make your rounds. Make it a point to at least say hello to everyone there.
  • Take photos. People love photos.
  • Take video if you can, especially for content that educates and informs the group. This content will entice new people to come to future meetups.
  • Name tags, cheesy, but they help.

After the event:

  • Share photos on Facebook or the Meetup group (or both!). Ask people to tag themselves.
  • Write up a blog post if you’ll be blogging.
  • Follow up with attendees for feedback. Maybe offer them some freebies via email or invite them to the next event right then and there.
  • Ask them to share with a friend.
  • Always be selling: tell everyone you meet about the group if they’re interested in what you’re interested in.

It’s a lot of work to organize meetups, but well worth the effort. Also, keep in mind you might not feel like you’re a leader, but people will see you as such for organizing these. So make sure to be on your best behavior, open, and welcoming.

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