Jim Gibson - Publishing Partner, Online Media Today
By Jim Gibson - Publishing Partner, Online Media Today

We here at Online Media Today are constantly searching for unique ways to use the internet, more specifically, social media to build relationships with our readers as well as those who want to gather in more intimate settings to learn, share and network with folks who love everything about online marketing.

Enter Meetup.com.

Meetup Logo
As I am sure many of you are familiar with Meetup.com, I hope you'll indulge me for a moment while I share a bit of basic information about this service to those who are not aware of the popular community building site.

Although not new on the internet scene, Meetup.com has prospered as an online social networking site that facilitates real world group meetings in locations around the globe.  Founded in 2001 by the triumvirate (and you thought only Google's Brin, Schmidt and Page owned this moniker) of
Heiferman, Meeker and Kamali, Meetup was developed under the premise that the world wide web should focus more on localizing engagement activities.  Simply put, the web should foster the ability to merge online networking with off-line face-to-face meetings.

As one of the fastest growing social networks of the early 2000's, the company quickly earned their stripes as an effective grassroots support tool for a variety of political and fundraising group activities.  Most notable among Meetups early adopters were then Presidential candidate, Howard Dean, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards and the campaign re-election committee of President George W. Bush.

Since then, Meetup has evolved to include special interest topics ranging from book clubs to small business marketing strategies - and just about everything in between (among the most interesting we found was a group devoted to exploring how to "Use Golf as a Business Tool").   Meetup's main source of revenue comes from organizers who pay a nominal fee to have their groups listed.  Despite early criticisms, Meetup has continued to flourish while adding a great many features that aid in producing quality events, workshops and even less formal coffee-house meetings. 

As of today, Meetup boasts over 6.5 million members hosting over 72,000 groups with over 61 million RSVPs (and counting). 

After months of email marketing, social networking through Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn, we decided to give Meetup a whirl.  In the past, I'd attended a few Meetup group sessions on a variety of topics (entrepreneur, angel funding, SEO and Social Media)  in the Los Angeles area.  The one thing I noticed with each was they seemed to generate a lot of early buzz but most lost momentum and ended up dying on the vine shortly after they launched. 

In my opinion, this had more to do with what I call "the informality factor" than anything.  Most of the events I attended were lacking an organizational approach that helped  foster the type of meaningful engagement that encouraged people to keep coming back.  That really seemed odd to me since I later found after creating Online Media Today's Meetup Group that the service actually did so much to help facilitate a fantastically coordinated event. 

From free, highly localized exposure to the Meetup community and a well conceived RSVP management system to tools that accommodate the printing of name tags and table top cards, Meetup did what our website couldn't do.  Sure, we have an RSVP form on our site but everything beyond that was manually coordinated using excel spreadsheets, HTML generated email, follow up phone calls and hand printed registration materials.  To us, migrating over to Meetup was a no brainer.

In relatively short time,
Online Media Today's Meetup group has grown quickly and we've hosted the first of our regular monthly events using the service as a secondary marketing channel (note: we still use our email marketing and other social networking platforms).  February's online marketing workshop saw a tremendous uptick in attendee RSVPs, primarily due to Meetup.  Meetup alone helped to generate an additional 40 RSVPs to our educational workshop and early indications point to another successful March event participation. 

But before I get too far off track, I want to touch again on the informality factor.  What we've learned in our experience hosting events like ours is that people need to feel like  they are getting something out of their participation - especially where, in the big city, so much is competing for their attention, time and energy.  The last thing people will commit to with any regularity is an informal gathering devoid of any real coordination and management.  Sure, Meetup's design supports highly informal meetings (you don't even have to include your last name when registering),

Meetup Registration Form
but that doesn't mean you shouldn't work to create a series of professionally produced events.  The great thing is with Meetup's suite of helpful management tools, you can spend more time focusing on creating memorable events! 

Here are 10 tips to help you create great events through Meetup:

1. Find a Sponsor - Don't think your events are big enough to nab a sponsor?  Think again.  In this age of reduced marketing budgets, companies are looking to get creative in promoting their brand.  Sponsors don't necessarily have to give you money either.  Sponsors can provide meeting space, refreshments and among other things, free parking (in LA, a gold mine!).   We've been incredibly successful at finding sponsors by virtue of the fact that we bring in local business owners to our events.  Get creative.  You will be surprised how easy it is to get your next sponsor.

2. Designate Speakers - Are you a subject matter expert in the topic?  If not, do you know of someone who is?  There are literally thousands of people who are willing to speak on a given topic for free!  If you need to find someone quickly, use LinkedIn Groups to post speaker requests or just call a local company that specializes in your topic.  You can bet they'll send someone out post-haste.  Bottom line, designate a few speakers to share something about the topic you are creating your events around.  BUT, ABOVE ALL...   

3. Do NOT SELL! - People are tired of the old "bait and switch" or sales pitches disguised as free education.  If you are doing this, STOP RIGHT NOW!  This includes any speakers you bring in (see above).  Make it a point to reinforce your no selling policy to anyone who speaks at your events.  They want to be asked back so they should respect your policy.   I can hear some people now saying: "So if we can't sell then what are we there for?"  TO GIVE!  Giving comes in a lot of forms and may include tips, education, know how, self help and any other information that helps your audience to walk away with something of value (without having to open their wallet).   The mere fact that you are not "selling" to your audience creates the opportunity to deliver a positive experience while establishing you (or your company) as the go-to resource for what they need.   In short, they will remember you when the need arises for your product or service.  The bottom line is you have to be prepared to give in order to receive.   Trust me, if you continue to hard sell your audience, your only result will be turning more people away and more importantly, you'll assuredly create the wrong kind of buzz about your Meetup (or worse yet, your company!). 

4. Create an Agenda - An often overlooked and big "Of Course!" is creating an agenda for your meetings and events.  Agendas should clearly list your topics, speaker info,  meeting timeframes and organizer contact information.  They take only a second to create, help participants know what to expect, allow them to do their homework in advance and more importantly give your event that professional touch that helps to bolster your communications well beyond your event.

5. Send Email Reminders - Try to plan your event as far in advance as you can but also don't forget to send reminders periodically to keep your event fresh in people’s minds.  Folks get busy and often forget about events they signed up for weeks prior.  Sending friendly reminders helps to keep you in the forefront of their minds.  Also, don't just send reminders without giving them something of value or mention of something special about the upcoming event.  Let them know you've just written a blog post (include the link), tell them there is going to be a surprise guest at the event or there is a door prize for the first 20 arrivals (this is a great one since everyone here in Los Angeles is notoriously late.  If you are here in LA ya know what I am talkin' about) 

6. Print Name Tags  - Meetup offers this great service for free.  All you need are standard Avery Labels.  Use it!

7. Print the Attendee List - Again, Meetup offers this for free.  Nothing like a simple registration process to help give your meeting or event the credibility it deserves.  One thing to note - a biggie here - unless you are charging for your event, plan on about 15% of the RSVPs to no show.. it’s a fact.. unfortunately.  Try to encourage responsibility in your Meetup group by asking them to kindly un-RSVP if they know they won't be able to make it.  Fortunately, Meetup offers another great RSVP management feature whereby you can create a waiting list that automatically bumps people up to live if someone cancels. 

8. Allow Time for Networking - Not only allow time, but create a special time frame for a well coordinated power networking session.  There are many reasons people come to your events not the least of which is to network with others.  In this tough economy, you'll quickly realize that quite a few people come just for the networking. 

9. Share Your Presentations Environmentally - Not only does posting your presentation on sites like
Slideshare.net help the environment  (less paper) but it also gives your event or company the additional "link juice" - SEO talk - that helps to create more visibility for you online.

10. Follow Up - Just finished a great event and already thinking of next month?  Wait a minute there.. you forgot the most important ingredient for event management success: Follow Up.  Following up allows you to stay connected with your audience and, if done correctly, can provide meaningful information about how to improve your event the next time around.  Use, for example, polls (provided by Meetup) and group email to elicit feedback from your audience.

Honorable Mention: * create collateral to hand out at your meeting listing your Meetup group, social networks and SlideShare URLs * Take photos or shoot video at your events (interviews are great for video!) and upload them on your Meetup page, YouTube & Flickr accounts * Create event notices on sites like LinkedIn, FaceBook and
Mediapost.com   * Recruit people to join your Meetup group from other similar groups on Meetup

Admittedly, we are not the pros at Meetup quite yet.  But we have learned a lot from hosting events and have applied much of what we've learned over the years to how we use Meetup now and in the future.

We'd love to hear what you think about Meetup and if there are any areas we've overlooked in managing a great event.  Please take a moment and share your thoughts with us.


About the Author:

Jim Gibson is a certified search engine marketing professional and serial entrepreneur.  In addition to Online Media Today, Jim is a principal at GibSEM Group (http://www.gibsem.com) and has founded several internet properties including online Consumer directory, Service Omni, Inc. (http://www.serviceomni.com) and QuakeDog, Inc. (www.quakedog.com), a network marketing company focused on the sale of personal survival gear.  You can reach Jim at: jgibson@gibsem.com or follow him @GibSEM.
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Darius Johnson
3/3/2010 03:13:05 am

This is a great article! We are about to start doing seminars for our business and this came at just the right time.

Do you think you will ever go to strictly using Meetup to market your events?

Thanks
DJ

Reply
3/3/2010 03:18:20 am

Hi DJ

Thanks for your comments. You have an excellent question. We think Meetup is a great tool to help promote and build a following for our events but like anything you do in marketing, spreading out the message over different channels will no doubt maximize your reach. We use a variety of different methods to market our events; from email to social media to just good old local networking. Each of these areas combined has helped us grow our events month after month.

Thanks again for your thoughts!

Jim Gibson
@OMTMagazine

Reply
8/22/2012 07:28:02 pm

Your post is really good providing good information.. I liked it and enjoyed reading it.Keep sharing such important posts.

Reply
8/22/2012 07:29:08 pm

Great article ...Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting. I will be waiting for your next post.

Reply
8/23/2012 10:11:16 pm

I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned. I enjoyed every little bit part of it.
It contains truly information. I want to thank you for this informative read; I really appreciate sharing this great.

Reply
10/4/2012 10:06:37 am

Was just bored and thought I would post to say hello

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11/8/2012 01:24:55 am

Quality internet marketing and SEO optimization we can succeed in the market.

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5/30/2013 10:27:34 pm

Offer quality SEO services for your website

Reply
6/28/2013 01:13:28 am

For me it is still the best email marketing. Because so directly enter into communication with customers.

Reply
7/3/2013 12:27:45 am

Definitely should be considered advertising via e-mail

Reply
9/28/2013 07:29:30 pm

From year to year, online marketing has increased representation

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