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Meetup.com Marketing Strategy: Bridge the Engagement Gap

The following post was an entry by one of our spectacular finalists in our Awesome Engagement Strategies Contest. Finalists showcased their ideas, and whoever got the most traction (i.e. comments and social shares) within five days of publication was crowned the winner. Check out this post for the complete list of Engagement Strategies Contest finalists!

meetup-logoWhen I saw that Mirasee was having a contest for an Awesome Engagement Strategy, I knew that the work I did this summer was worth sharing.

What do I really do? Good Question!

Before I tell you about my engagement strategy, I’m going to tell you what I do and why I needed an engagement strategy in the first place.

I’m a Communications Advisor, Coach, Facilitator and Instructor who helps individuals and teams understand their workplace communication styles and behaviors. I do this through workshops and team-building sessions that are customized for each of my clients. The work I do helps them have fewer misunderstandings, stronger teamwork and more productivity.

I know that when people understand how and why misunderstandings occur, they can participate in developing strategies, goals and tactics to overcome them and move forward with less stress and more fun.

But… that’s not what I’m known for…

Most of my customers are in the public-sector (government) and academic-sector (university). I cherish those customers, but I’d like to have more private-sector (business) and not-for-profit customers, too. So, I go to small business networking events when my schedule permits, and volunteer my time in a couple of not-for-profit organizations.

I love learning new technologies and I use a lot of them to manage my business. I’m often asked to be the ‘techie’ guest speaker at luncheons or dinner meetings, and to do mini-workshops on the tools I’m using. It’s my way of giving back to the community and meeting people who may want to hire me for my presentation skills and interpersonal communications expertise.

But that’s not what happens.

For example, in June 2010 I gave a presentation at a women’s business luncheon on how I use HootSuite to manage my social media on the fly. After my presentation, a well-known consultant came over to thank me and to apologize for not hiring me as her social media strategist. I told her that was a good thing, because that’s not what I do, and she looked puzzled.

It was then I realized that people were very confused about how I actually earn my living! But what could I do?

I started a Meetup to bridge the gap

I went home from that meeting and started researching ways I could raise my profile as an interpersonal communications consultant, and have more opportunities to share my expertise in that area. At first, I thought I would book a conference room and market a series of workshops. But I realized that would be expensive… and I didn’t even know if people would be interested.

Next, I thought of the Social Media and WordPress user-groups I belong to and how the organizers  successfully bring people together to share what they know in a focused yet casual way: sometimes through group dialogue; sometimes through presentations from local experts.

And then it hit me! I could use the same tool they were using to organize their monthly events. I could use Meetup.com to create my own group… and I did!

Now, I didn’t know anything about Meetup.com marketing strategies when I started, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I knew that the worst thing that could happen was that I’d spend some time and a few dollars learning how to create a meetup, and if it didn’t work for me, I could still share what I’d learned with my entrepreneurial peers.

As a member of the technology user-group meetups, I already knew what the user experience was like. I’d received meetup invitations, done RSVPs and comments, and provided marketing blurbs when I was a guest speaker. But, I didn’t know anything about being a Meetup.com organizer or what types of tools they’d have to help me succeed with my own group.

meetupThe first thing I did was go to www.meetup.com and do a keyword search for communications within 25 miles of my city. I found 44 meetups, but none of them addressed interpersonal communications in the workplace. So I clicked the Start a Meetup Group on the top menu bar and followed the step-by-step instructions for starting my own group.

The folks at Meetup.com have such clear instructions that it only took my five minutes to create my own group. I used my company tagline and called it Communication Tools for the Workplace and wrote a description that included information on what I do, why I started the group, what types of things we’d do at the meetups and what types of people I hoped would join.

And people started joining!

Wow! What I didn’t realize, is that once a person starts a meetup, all Meetup.com members are notified that there’s a new group in their area. So, before I’d even thought about when my first meetup would be, I had nine members… and I didn’t know any of them!

I was excited.

This was exactly what I was looking for – people who were interested in learning about communications with me. I scheduled my first meetup with a limit of 12 people, and within one week there was a waiting list. After the first meetup, I schedule two more and they filled-up, too. I now have 36 members in my group and expect it to continue growing.

And I don’t have to do this on my own. The Meetup.com folks send me tips for running successful meetings, and follow-up regularly to see how I’m doing. After the meetups, attendees receive emails asking them to rate the meetup and provide comments and suggestions for the future. It’s like having my own event coordinator for $12/month.

The best thing for me is that my profile as a communications professional is growing in my community. And since I make most of my income doing individual coaching, team-building and teaching in the real-world (as opposed to online), this is a fabulous tool for engagement.

But wait… there’s more.

I had such a great experience setting up my own meetup that I’m teaching others how to do it, too.  I’m the VP of Roaring Women Ltd, and as a result of my success, we’ve decided to use Meetup.com to set up chapters across Canada and the USA. I already have 25 members there… and some of them have become my customers.

So what do you think? Is this an awesome engagement strategy, or what!

About Fiona Prince

Fiona Prince is a Communications Professional who helps people understand how and why misunderstandings happen so they can manage them well and get back to doing important things. You can find her at PrinceHeron Communications. www.princeheron.com

39 thoughts on “Meetup.com Marketing Strategy: Bridge the Engagement Gap

  1. I wanted to be the first person to comment on my post…to thank Danny, Megan and the team at Firepole Marketing for providing great information guidance on using solid business principles to succeed online as well as in the ‘real-world’.

    Since my post was accepted for this Awesome Engagement Strategy contest, my first meet-up has grown from 25 to 40 members; my Roaring Women meet-up has grown from 25 to 33 members; and I helped start a meet-up for Roaring Women in Nanaimo, BC (Just 90 minutesup-island from me ).

    I’m connecting with local people and building my face-to-face networks as well as my online ones.

    I look forward to reading and responding to your comments and questions. And remember, Danny is going to choose the best comment from the overall contest and give that person $100. 🙂

    • Hi Fiona, thank you for this strategy, agree with you it’s a great way to find people in your local community, I’ve just moved to another city and meetup was the first website I started to use for making connections.
      3 questions for you –
      1. why didn’t you first create your events in already exisiting group?
      2. Did I understand you correct that cost of groupis $12 per month?
      3. Are your events for free or not? DO you use them only for finding clients for your coaching? or some participants can take part only in your events and don’t work with you one-on-one?

      and last remark – here in Germany hosts are usually take 1 euro for participation to cover costs of meetup.

      • You’re very welcome, . Here are my answers to your questions.

        1. why didn’t you first create your events in already exisiting group?

        Since my purpose was to raise my profile in the community, starting my own group seemed to be a better option than joining other groups or offering myself as a guest speaker.

        I’ve been a guest speaker for many groups, but most of the time I’m sharing how I use technology to manage my business. Even though I take 5 minutes at the beginning of my presentation to tell people about my work, and provide examples, the technology is what they’ve come to hear me speak about. (I usually get a good audience!).

        2. Did I understand you correct that cost of group is $12 per month?
        Yes. I pay $72 every six month. Pricing may be based on location. The population of Victoria, BC is approximately 350,000 people.

        3. Are your events for free or not? DO you use them only for finding clients for your coaching? or some participants can take part only in your events and don’t work with you one-on-one?

        My first three events were free. Now, I am charging $10.00 to cover the cost of the site, handouts, etc. I hold the meet-ups in my home right now so my costs are low.

        I’m not actually looking for clients directly. I’m looking to engage in dialogue about interpersonal communications theories. The more I put my name out there on that topic, the more likely it is that people will think of me if their looking for someone to do interpersonal communications coaching in the workplace.

        Much of my work comes through referrals and word-of-mouth, so engagement is key for me. And, now I’m learning about engagement online 🙂

        Let me know if you have any more questions. I’ll be glad to answer them for you.

  2. Fiona, Congratulations! An excellent write-up about what you do and how you’ve successfully used meetup.com. I think meetup.com is an incredibly useful tool – I’ve just been elected to look after the publicity for a local computer club I belong to and already have thoughts about how meetup.com would really help to boost membership by creating awareness of the club in the local community.

    • Thanks Julia! From my experience so far, Meet-up a very cost effective tool for localized online publicity. Many of the people who’ve signed up for my meet-up indicate that they found it by searching through meet-up or from meet-up notifications

      Let me know what you do with meet-up for your computer club 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Carmen. Since social media was originally about getting social, meet-up kinda makes sense. Did you know that they have an app that let’s you post from your phone or tablet directly to meet-up sites you belong to? This is similar to tweeting and/or facebooking, but you’re communications are targeted to the members of the meet-up. 🙂

  3. Excellent post Fiona- this has really made me think of how to use meetup for my businesses. I wanted to ask, how did you go about finding a cost-effective venue for the meetups? Do you just meet up at a local bar or community center?

    • Thanks Victoria! Right now, I hold the meet-ups in my home and limit the registration to 16 people. I have run lunch and dinner meetings for Roaring Women for 3 years. Many restaurants here have rooms that you can use for free everyone orders a meal. And we have hotels that offer reasonable room rates if you have a dozen or more meals ordered.

      Where do you live, and would this option work for you?

  4. Fiona,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    You had a specific skill, yet your potential costumers didn’t even know what you did. You were walking around at meetings waiting to be picked, or hoping someone would know how awesome you were.
    “It was then I realized that people were very confused about how I actually earn my living! But what could I do?”
    I could see the light bulb go off in your head, when you realized you could use an existing entity, meetup.com to market yourself.
    “And then it hit me! I could use the same tool they were using to organize their monthly events. I could use Meetup.com to create my own group… and I did!”

    Your story is a reminder to me that we must stop waiting to be picked. We must step out of our comfort zones and tell people what we do. We have to create our own opportunities.
    Thank you again for sharing your story.

    • You’re very welcome, Pamela. You’re absolutely right about stepping out of our comfort zones. I actually don’t have trouble telling people what I do; but I never realized that they weren’t hearing me until that business luncheon in the summer. I am blessed with plenty of work (paid and volunteer), so that’s probably why I didn’t really notice. And, I wear many hats in my community, so it’s no wonder people are confused about what I really do.

      Meet-up is allowing me to advertise my expertise in a somewhat gentle way and it is drawing people to me who are also interested in interpersonal communications. I am meeting peers and building relationships with people I wouldn’t normally meet at networking or business events.

      How do you step out of your comfort zone?

  5. I love Meetup.com! I discovered the website when I moved to Arizona and met a lot of people through the website.

    Starting a meetup is a great idea. In fact, I while in Arizona I was a part of an artist/writer meetup and was asked to present a classes such as ‘how to market your art business’ and ‘how to start a blog.’ Most of the artists didn’t utilize social media or know how to use it.

    Hmm…. I’ll have to think of a way I could utilize Meetup for either my writing business, or a teen/parent life coaching business.

    Thanks for the great idea!

    • You’re very welcome, Amandah. If there are no Meetups in your area for writing or teen/parent life coaching, just start them! What’s the worst that could happen?

      One thing that I didn’t write about in my article is that each Meetup site has everything you need to build community between the live Meetups: pages for posting resources or and amazon store; discussion forums; polls; and, photo albums. You can email members directly, too.

      I haven’t initiate any online discussions yet, but now that I have 40 members, I will. It just makes sense to me to engage with people online who I have an excellent chance of meeting in-person.

      Let me know if you start a meetup. We can trade notes 🙂

  6. While I applaud your success either you have yet to experience any of the drawbacks to Meetup or you have not covered them in your article. I have been using Meetup.com since 2007. Last year I decided to create my own groups (I’ve had 7 different groups, but have cut it down to 3). Here’s some things I’d like to point out for anyone considering starting a Meetup.com group:

    – You can take over preexisting groups if an organizer steps down and the group is tagged with a topic you are interested in (you don’t already have to be a member of the group). Once the group organizer steps down Meetup.com emails everyone interested in that subject and tells them a group is available for grabs. This is a good way to get a group with hundreds of members.

    – Meetup.com groups are notorious for having a high no show rate. If you are not filtering those who join (you have the option of approving new members or letting anyone join the group), then you can quickly establish a group with lots of members who are inactive.

    – The typical Meetup.com group with over 1,000 members has only a .025 participation rate. That’s right if you have 1,000 members even if 40 people RSVP only 25 people may actually show up.

    – Groups with less than 500 members typically have a 25% participation rate. This is difficult for free events. I had one event with over 100 members, 25% RSVP’d and .05% actually showed up. Yep 5 people for a free event with enough food to feed 30 people.

    – Understand why people use Meetup.com. Most people either want to learn something new, meet someone new, or try something new. I’ve been to plenty of Meetup.com organized business networking events where everyone is more interested in selling themselves than understanding what’s being sold. If 9 people actually attended your first event, how many have you been able to convert into clients?

    – I live in NYC and the fee for running a group is $20 a month, I think it drops down to $12 if you pay for 1 year in advance. You can organize up to 3 groups.

    -The most popular Meetup groups are about food or drinking. Photography groups are also popular (especially if it involves shooting nudes). Speed dating ( meeting someone new + drinking).

    – Meetup also let’s you charge your members a membership fee or a fee per event.

    – Having an event is not enough of a reason to get people to actually physically Meetup and engage. Especially if your group is so niche that you generally do the same types of events. People will think, “Oh, I’ll work late tonight, but I’ll definitely go to the next one.” A year can easily go by before you actually meet half the people in your group. If you are running a social group then inactive members help you because it still looks like you have tons of members, but if your group does more than “free open bars”, then having rules in place about required engagement is essential. One group I have holds a 85% turnout rate for RSVP’s. We expect to have this at 95% within the next 2 months. Our members are told up front, if you don’t show your face within 4 months, then we’ll assume your needs have changed. We’ll send an email to make sure things are okay (so often people move, change jobs, have babies), but at some point, the inactive member has to be deleted.

    • Wow! Thanks for such an informative comment, Reagan. I live in a fairly small city– approximately 350,000 people. So my experience is much different than yours. When I started my meetup, there were 179 meetups within 50 miles. In New York, you probably have more than that in 50 blocks!

      I attended both universities and teach at one. I spent 15 years in the public-sector and have had my own consulting practice for 7 years. I do a fair amount of volunteer work which enables me to meet people from a variety of industries.

      For me, meetup is an interesting way to meet people who are interested in connecting with me based on the criteria I choose. And if they just join the group but don’t come to meetups, that’s okay too. Because if they’re talking with someone who needs some communications coaching or team building, they might think of me. 😉

  7. Fiona –

    I enjoyed your post. I DO think using Meetup.com is a terrific engagement strategy. A great way to: a) find out if there is an audience for what you offer; b) engage with your audience and build credibility; c) discover exactly what your audience needs; and d) let your audience know you have what they need. Also, since meetups can last forever -at least in theory – you have a terrific feedback loop, as well. Fantastic idea. I wish I’d thought of it. I WILL use it, however. Thank you.

    • You’re very welcome. You’ve described many of the reasons I started my meetup. So far, I’ve met some great people and gained some wonderful stories about interpersonal communications and intercultural communications that I can use in my classes and workshops.

      I’m going to start posting more content to the site so that the folks who aren’t able to make it to the meetups can still learn from me and think of me if they’re looking for communications training in the workplace.

      Also, I’m going to offer perks to other Meetups. That will also help to raise my online profile and my profile in my community. When I Googled “communication tools workplace”, my meetup was #13. Considering there were over 19 million results, that’s pretty amazing!

      I wish you lots of success starting your group.

  8. Fiona, very interesting post – I’m brand new to Meetups and looking forward to learning more from and with you in the coming months. 🙂

  9. Fiona,
    Great Post. Lots of information well presented as always. I feel like I have the information now to start-up a local group here in the SF Bay Area. I think the difference between your experience and Reagan’s is on the subject matter of the group and how you approach getting new members.
    As an adjunct feeder to my main work it seems very complimentary and a way to meet new folks and build engagement across all my segments of involvement.
    Thanks for a great post!

    • You’re very welcome, Paul. I’m so glad I managed to give enough information to help others start their own groups. I have to give Megan credit there. After I won this spot in the contest she sent me some questions to prompt me for more of the ‘how to’ details.

      I agree with your observation on the difference between Reagan’s and my experience. My meetups aren’t social or networking events. People come specifically to learn about interpersonal communications in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

      Also, I send out emails and encourage members to engage with me before the meetups so that the likelyhood of people not showing up is fairly slim. In a community like Victoria, people seem to honour their RSVPs more often than not.

  10. I really enjoyed your post and feel that the information is timely and useful. I do plan on using meet up myself. Thanks for all the info and the gentle motivation to get started!

  11. Fiona,
    I found it amusing that you specialize in avoiding communication breakdowns, yet you were experiencing one, yourself.
    I’m glad you posted this, though, and wonder: Does it also work to personally invite those you want to meet with, instead of letting the service do it for you? I mean, sort of direct the purpose and quality of the group?
    Thanks!

  12. Thanks for your comment, Katherine. Yes…it’s amusing, no doubt about it. But…just as communication is inevitable, so is miscommunication 😉

    Personally inviting people to join your meetup definitely works and is very important. Even if they don’t join, you’re showing them how much you enjoy or believe in what you do and that you have the self-confidence to start your own group.

    There are settings in meetup that allow organizers to make their groups public or private. So…you could actually set up an exclusive meetup. That would fit my purpose, but I could see it being an excellent way to create and manage a mastermind group.

    Is that what you were thinking of when you wrote ‘direct the purpose and quality of the group’?

  13. Fiona,
    Great article with a lot of practical, useful detail. Thank you for sharing your experience. You are a little far away, otherwise I would love to join you in person for one of your meet-up groups! 🙂

    • Hi Heidrun. Thanks for your comment. Yes…we are a bit far away from each other but I’m glad we manage to meet online with GoToMeeting. You and I usually talk about techie stuff, but I’ve been using GoTo to meet with folks in one of my LinkedIn groups to talk about interpersonal communications. In-person or online, being able to hear and/or see each other is so important to continued engagement. Email and blog posts can only take us so far.

  14. Meetup.com is a great tool, and I’ve been using it for over a year now to promote my crafting classes, crops and retreats. My group currently has 45 members. I also am a member of several *similar* groups in my area, and find that participating in the events held by other groups is a great way to promote my own!

  15. Thanks for sharing your experience with Meetup.com, Cindy. You’re right. Participating in other groups similar to ours will naturally promote our own. And what I love about this approach is that it comes from a place of abundance; there is enough business for everyone and when we share what we know with others, we all benefit.

    BTW. What are crops? I think of farming but I know that’s not what you meant 😉

  16. Ha ha…sorry Fiona! I’m so used to talking to others in my same industry that I forget and use jargon! Loosely defined, crops are scrapbooking parties. The term comes from “cropping” photographs to put them in our scrapbooks, however, it has evolved to mean any kind of paper-crafting when done in a social setting. My main business is organizing and promoting such events.

  17. Thanks Cindy. I thought it was something like scrapbooking but I didn’t want to assume anything.

    I just checked out your website. I like the clean layout and bright colours.

    I’m was amazed that this could be you ‘main business’ but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — my mother goes on Scrabble cruises all the time and someone must organize them 🙂

  18. Thanks for sharing another strategy for engaging with your audience, Fiona. I’m still assimilating all the possible avenues with which to build engagement. I’m planning a new site in the next month or two, and meetup.com looks like it makes sense for that.

    • Hi William,
      Thanks for your comment. I think Meet-up would be an excellent tool for you to raise your profile and meet the people who want the type of financial advice that you have to offer. It would be an excellent addition to your engagement toolkit!

  19. Excellent post, Fiona. I already belong to two meetup groups neither of which are associated with the meetings to which I go weekly or monthly. Both these organizations could use more members so I will mention meetup.com to the members and see if anyone there thinks it is worth exploring further. Thanks for the idea.

    • Thank you so much. It means a lot to me that this idea may help you increase membership in your organizations. Every couple of days, someone new joins my group. If there’s anything I can do to help you, let me know.

  20. What a wonderful stream of comments!

    I am a member of Fiona’s Workplace Communications Meet Up group, so I can tell you a bit about what it’s like from the “user” end of things. I’m a small business owner in Victoria, and I had heard of Fiona and actually did know what she does. I had joined Meet Up to find both business support and social groups, and I was absolutely delighted when I saw that Fiona had started a group! I signed up right away.

    I’m interested in communication strategies both in my business and generally. I’ve been to every session Fiona has offered, and I’ve enjoyed every one and learned something about communication at every one, and I will continue to make it a priority to attend. That’s what Meet Up has done for me, but what has it done for Fiona?

    Even though I was aware of her business, I would very likely never have become a client. The services she offers are not something I’m ever likely to need, just something I have an academic interest in. However, now that I’ve had experience of her skills, expertise, and teaching style, I will happily pay to attend further sessions, or to hear her speak or teach at other venues. She won’t ever make a pile of money off me directly. But — I talk about her a LOT to my clients, friends, and colleagues. I brought a guest to one of her Meet Ups, who also now talks about her. I have a much greater understanding of exactly what it is she does. Whenever and wherever I see a potential need for her services, I am able to recommend her, and to talk knowledgeably about what she has to offer, and to feel confident that I am referring my client, friend, or business associate to someone I know and trust, and whose skills I’ve witnessed first-hand. There are probably other companies in Victoria who do what Fiona does, but I don’t know about them and don’t care. When someone needs help with workplace communications, I will always think of Fiona.

    And isn’t that what “social marketing” is really all about?

    • Stephanie,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write this comment in such a public forum. I am humbled by your glowing testimonial of my knowledge skills and teaching style.

      (For anyone who’s wondering, I didn’t pay Stephanie to write this, or offer any additional incentives 🙂 )

      Stephanie, your experience validates the reason why I started the Meet-up and why I thought it was a good engagement strategy to share with others and to enter into this contest. You’re right that social-marketing is about building relationships and for business it’s a key factor in positioning yourself so that people think of you when they hear of someone who is looking for services that you offer.

      This week, I’ve received two calls for my coaching services from people I’ve never met. When I researched how we might be connected, I can see that we have mutual friends or acquaintances in LinkedIn, Meetup, Twitter, Google+ and/or my Facebook pages.

      It’s so easy for us to Google someone before we contact them…and if we don’t find who we’re looking for, or we don’t like what we see or read, we won’t reach out to contact that person without a very strong personal reference from a trusted friend or colleague.

      I see Meet-up as an excellent tool for bridging that gap and providing opportunities to meet people on my own terms, in an informal setting for focused conversation rather than in a traditional business networking session.

      This post was such a stretch for me — very far out of my comfort zone. I was surprised when I won a spot in this contest because I probably think of at least five articles a day on communications and business that I should post but because I do a lot in-person and via email, by the end of the day my articles remain in my head, recorded on my phone or in hand-written notes.

      You’re response, along with the others I’ve received these past five days have inspired me to follow through and write these articles to share on my website and blog. And, I’ll commit today to posting one new article a month to our Meet-up site. Thanks for your continued support Stephanie, and for being a part of my life in Victoria.

  21. I love Meetup.com! Whenever I move (and I move often), it’s the first place I go. It gives me a feel for what’s going on there. I’ve actually been the organizer for a number of meetups in places I’ve lived. The problem I find with Meetup is exactly what this post is about: engagement. Some Meetups meet once a week or once a month and that’s great. Others meet infrequently and never have a standing date. I usually don’t join a Meetup group if there are no upcoming Meetups. That’s a sign, for me, that the group is fairly inactive.

    • Thank you for your comment, Shannon! It’s nice to know that people are still reading my post 🙂 The problem isn’t with meetup.com…it’s with the follow through. It’s easy to set-up, and all the tools are there for you to build your meetup group, but just like with any organization, if you don’t engage with your members in-between the meetups they will find someone who does. After all, they joined so they could meet people.

      Whether you use meetup.com or just decide to start a group on your own or under a larger organization, you must connect with people to share what you have to offer (products, services, conversation, hobbies, etc.) and to learn from them, too.

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