If some person starts waxing poetical to you about technology bringing about the end of in-person communication, just say “Meetup” to stop them in their tracks.
To plenty (if not all) of our readers, Meetup is not a new concept. Many a Silicon Valley startup has felt the warm and fuzzies about these events that bring together industry folks, or have otherwise created opportunities to socialize, face-to-face, with people who share common interests.
But though the New York-based company blew up across large U.S. cities, the website has spread its reach to 180 countries, with over 20 million members who see the value in turning online social networking opportunities to real life gatherings. And with good reason.
Companies, startups especially, have a lot to gain from hosting a meetup. Having an online presence is incredibly important but, as we’ve said before, to truly stand out companies must form some sort of a relationship with their audience. What better way to do that than by interacting with that audience in person?
Meetups give businesses a chance to bring personality, interest, and excitement to their brand, all while providing them with prospective clients and connections in the local community. Sounds amazing, right? But, as with most worthwhile ventures, good meetups don’t happen overnight.
To make sure you and your audience will be getting the most out of your event, we’ve created a list of ingredients that, put together, make for meetup success.
1. Decide on the Why
Why will people want to go to your event? That’s the very first question you have to answer, and it is key. You can’t expect for people to just show up because your startup is hosting a party and there’s free pizza. Okay, sure, there would probably still be a decent turn out, but it would have nothing to do with interest in your business.
We’ve spoken with Emil Mikhailov, founder at XIX.ai and creator of the popular AI Meetup Series (@SFAImeetup), and he confirmed that the number one thing people show up for is great content. Picking an interesting topic that’s going to generate interest in your industry will have people showing up, as will educational and/or networking opportunities.
Do some research on what your industry is currently talking about, and even check out the Meetup scene to find out what sort of events have been taking place, and which groups are either most engaged or most populated. Then, see if you can find a similarly interesting question or problem that has not yet been addressed, and from which you can carve out your own little Meetup niche. Doing so will provide enough value to an audience, and is bound to be a great topic for your group.
2. Pre-Event Group Organizing
Now don’t go skipping straight from group to event. In our experience as well as Mr. Mikhailov’s, promoting an event before reaching a substantial membership base is a Meetup no-no. Imagine getting a Facebook invite to a holiday party hosted by a friend’s friend’s friend who you hardly know, and only two other people are going. Definitely not a major selling point.
After you put your group’s page together–for which Meetup provides guidelines–picked the topics that are closely related to the group and paid the small fee for the service, it’s time to promote your page. Meetup will send alerts to those who’ve listed the topics you chose 72 hours after the creation of your group, but it would help if you also utilized any social media followings or email lists that you and your company’s employees have.
Let your membership grow, and use the time you have to carefully plan out what your event will consist of, before finally setting an event on the calendar.
3. Making Plans
Format, for example, is something you will have to decide on. Would you like a speaker panel set up, with a subsequent Q&A session? Would you like a more free-flowing conversation? Is hosting a workshop a better idea for you, or maybe a hackathon? It all depends on the type of content you’re going for, and the kind of connections you have.
In the meetup we hosted recently we decided on a panel of three speakers, Terry Whalen, Founder & CEO of Sum Digital, David Rodnitzky, Founder & CEO of 3Q Digital, and Salar Salahshoor, Founder & CEO of Only Sky. The panelists were successfully moderated by our very own Dan Ostrovsky, who later answered some questions. Prior to the main event, we also had a product demo setup and, yes, free pizza (along with other goodies like RTB-branded cookies).
Venue is another consideration. You’ll have to decide whether you’d like your event to happen at your office space, a bar, a restaurant, etc. This part of your planning may come to be the most technical, with considerations for how big or small the events is dictating how big you’ll need the space to be, what kind of supporting equipment you’ll need, liabilities.
If you’re lucky like us, your shared working space (shoutout to Sandbox Suites) will be more than happy to take this on.
4. Time to Promote
Once you’ve got the planning out of the way, you have a sufficiently large membership, and your event is set on the calendar, it’s time to get the word out. Eventbrite, Slack and Meetup itself are three great places link your event to, sell tickets on and obtain an email list of attendees (which will come in handy later).
You and your employees can also once again promote on the different social platforms for free, or you can choose to advertise on Facebook to the target audience of your choosing depending on your budget.
Know some people in the press? Reach out to any local publications or bloggers, newsletters like Startup Digest, even any relevant influencers.
Remember that if you’re just starting, the majority of your turnout will come from word of mouth. Keep your initial events free and welcoming to all, and be patient about monetization. Once you establish a firm following, turnouts will grow and so will potential for monetizing your events.
5. Show Time
On the day of the event, take any necessary steps to ensure a smooth and enjoyable time for all. Give yourself plenty of time to go over any speaker notes. Make sure the equipment is all there and ready (and be prepared for any technical malfunction), and decide on seating arrangements. Have someone by the door to confirm arrivals, perhaps with a sign-in sheet and/or name tags. Maybe even have some friendly dogs around to help break the ice.
Worked for us.
6. Reach Out
Thank you notes aren’t just for weddings or birthdays. Remember that list of attendees and their emails that you kept either on Eventbrite, another site or even on paper? Make sure to follow up with them by sending them a thank you email, inviting them to stay in touch or keep up with your startup’s latest changes and events.
That email, along with the branded gifts you potentially provided at your event, will go a long way towards maintaining familiarity and interest.
When a meetup is over, it isn’t really over. It’s just the start of planning your next one.
Have you ever hosted a meetup or been to a great one? What was your experience like? We’d love to read all about it in the comments section.