Below is a transcript of my talk from WordCamp Europe 2016 in which I talked about growing & developing your WordPress meetup. If you were there and just wanted the download of templates… the zip file is here.
There are two universal (and often unconscious) questions people ask themselves when deciding whether to join a community.
The first is ‘ARE they Like me?’
When someone is looking at a meetup page, or a website about a meetup group, the choice to attend an event will be influenced by whether what they see about your group seems as if it will ‘fit’ them.
The second question is ‘WILL they like me?’ And how they’re received when they come to your group, and how they’re integrated into the community will of course have a big impact on their decision to attend again.
So let’s have a brief look at how we can better answer those two questions and attract and keep awesome meetup members.
ARE they like Me?
I’m guessing that for the biggest majority of us our meetups are organised through meetup.com so the first opportunity we have to make an impression starts with our Meetup page. Of course, the same principles apply if you’re organising your meetup through Facebook, your own website or some other platform.
Generally the first port of call for someone checking out your meetup page is the About Us page
Your About Page is where you have the first opportunity to introduce your purpose or goal. This is where you put your mission statement and where you should be very clear about what you’re about.
Maybe it isn’t enough just to say “we’re a group about WordPress” there’s not much in that to really sell it to someone. If however, you say “we’re WordPress users who teach and learn from each other, who enjoy sharing knowledge, and who are passionate about encouraging others into WordPress and Open Source’” we’re introducing both the mission to advance WordPress but we’re also introducing the inclusive nature of the kinds of people who will be at an event.
Here’s Melbourne’s About page or introduction; this offers the broad strokes of the group which gives people the opportunity to look in a bit further if they wish, but gives them enough to know whether or not they want to make those first steps. They can link from there into our meetup custom pages where we’ve gone into a lot more detail.
Custom About pages on Meetup
This is the index for our custom pages – there’s an awful lot of information available on our meetup page. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of how meetup organise the information, but we don’t have a whole lot of control about it and have to trust that users who really want the info will find it.
We run 3 meetups a month, one for Users (people who don’t want to touch too much code), one for Developers, who want a lot more deeper, under the hood information, and a smaller local meetup where we adopted another local group who needed a bit more admin type support.
In our meetup extra pages we outline what each group offers in detail, gives some expectations around a Code of Conduct and links people up with the previous content and presentations and I have made available to download a lot of our pages as examples.
The second area you have available to make great impressions on people and to help answer that question ‘Are they like me?’ are your member profile pages.
On meetup you have an opportunity to ask people questions about themselves and while we often use those questions as organisers to help inform us as to what people want from the meetup, they’re also really valuable for people to get more information about the kind of members they’ll meet when they come to your meetup. So frame the questions which answers to both of those needs.
Of course, in wanting to stay as inclusive as possible, these are not a requirement to people joining the group, but for those who do answer (and we’ve found that most do) they give a great window to outsiders looking to come in.
We ask two questions – What would you like to learn about WordPress? and How are you currently using WordPress. The answers to this help us decide what we offer to the group in terms of content, but also provides answers for people looking who are wondering if they’re going to get the help/support/information they need.
Have a photo gallery that really helps showcase your events. This is a no brainer, and as I used a lot of international meetup groups to source images for this slideshow. It proved a really interesting insight into the kinds of pictures people put up of their meetup.
Honestly? they’re often poorly lit mobile phone photos. And I’m talking about our meetup here as much as anyone else’s.
I understand that for most of us we barely give it any thought, but for our group I’m planning to invite one of our members to bring his good camera along to one of our events so get some great ‘promo’ shots of the group for the top level photo gallery of the meetup page. And so we can put some nice ones on our website to show off more of the kind of people visitors are going to meet, and the kinds of things to expect when they attend.
Finally, the welcome email is a really great way of introducing your group to new members when they’ve taken the plunge and actually joined but have not yet attended an event. It is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourselves a bit more personally to new members.
I have to thank our team member Amelia who used some of her great content marketing knowledge to write the content for our pages and our welcome email, she’s great job of creating a really welcoming voice to people who’ve joined the group but are yet to come along to an event.
Here’s an example of the content. You can see it’s reiterating how the events work, gives details about the format and the timing, links the visitors up to the previous material and gives them a chance to get involved and/or take further action.
Once people have had the ARE they like me question? answered and they think they will be meeting with like minded people, they’ll have have decided to come along to your meetup… Your next challenge is how you answer that 2nd social need…
WILL they like me?
When was the last time you went somewhere for the first time? Do you remember how it feels to walk awkwardly into a room where you don’t know anyone? I believe that as organisers we need to stay in touch with that feeling. It makes us much better at identifying newcomers and introducing ourselves to them, and introducing them to others and making them feel important, valued, and welcome.
Facilitating a feeling of Welcome
I think that on the night of the event we need at least one social butterfly who meets and chats to everyone, who can spot a stranger from a distance and isn’t afraid to introduce themselves.
Now, I’m fully aware that this doesn’t always come naturally and it may not be something that comes naturally to you…. so this is where having a team running a meetup comes into play. Having a team member who’s a real connector can be a great asset in helping be the glue that brings people on and helps them stay connected. So if it’s not easy for you to be that person, identify someone in the group for whom it does come easy and encourage them into a role where they’re your meetup group’s ‘welcome wagon’.
One of the ways we have to help facilitate that welcome and to bring people together is to provide food and drink for a social time before we get into the meetup program itself.
For our two main metro meetups we start the evening with a half hour long social catchup and chit chat with pizza provided by a sponsor. This creates a great opportunity for people to get to know each other in a relaxed way. We also have time after the meetup to go for a drink at a local pub and while not everyone joins us for that, it has proven to be a really valuable space for people to forge some really great friendships and collaboration opportunities.
If we can create the environment and atmosphere that fosters that feeling in our members, our meetups will be warm and welcoming and will grow.
So, if it’s pizza and drinks, or just coffee and cake, there’s huge benefit in providing this social lubrication. How are we going to pay for it? Well, you can ask your members to make donations, or find a sponsor. We’ll talk about that in more detail a bit later.
So, now that you have a group humming along and all is going well… You’ve been running a meetup for a while, you have a committed core group of people who make others welcome and encourage participation on all levels and you’re trying to keep the momentum going… what are some of the keys to making that happen?
The first is have a great team. It can be a challenge to keep inspired if you’re an organising team of one. Organising with a group really helps spread the load and keep you motivated!!
Having a Great Team
The 5 people circled are our awesome WordPress Melbourne organising team. I know we’re incredibly lucky to have so many people who are excited and enthusiastic about WordPress in our area. We’ve become pretty close friends over the years. This has its benefits for our group, but it has its downfalls as well…
When you have a leadership group that is tight – it can be a challenge to be open to working with new people and if it’s currently working really well, the team may not be looking for opportunities to include other people. So one of the early challenges for the team is to hold on lightly to our responsibilities and to always be on the look out for enthusiastic people who might just need some gentle encouragement to also come aboard.
So how do you identify great team members and potential organisers?
- Team players are always around,
- They help without asking
- They may be the first to arrive and the last to leave
- They participate
- They may be keen to organise meetups around their area of interest in WordPress
Quality team members may not be the loudest most obvious person there, but the quiet achievers who are loyal and regular attendees are obviously getting a lot out of meetup and could be quietly encouraged to take more of an organising role. They may not put their hand up, but they may really be excited to be asked.
So keep your eyes on the group and encourage people to be involved. We’ve had a bit of change in the make up of our team of late, and as it happens we’ve had a couple of people in the group volunteer to help. So we included them in the latest organiser team meeting, without any obligation on their part, giving them a chance to to hang out, meet the organisers and decide if they wanted to join us.
When someone does volunteer? Don’t forget about them, take them at their word, and give them opportunities. And don’t forget, we want to give people as much opportunity as they want to take! Anyone can organise a meetup and can organise any kind of meetup, it doesn’t have to fit the format, timeline or structure of what we do normally. The WP community is inclusive and open and everyone is welcome to participate.
When it comes to meetup, one of the great things about having a great team is being able to spread the load at a practical level
For our Developer meetup we have set roles and share them around month by month.
Organising Speakers/Theme for the month
Being the host, introducing the speakers, doing the announcements
Organising the Pizza and the News slideshow
Cleaning up after supper
Managing those tasks and responsibilities happens with a few really useful tools.
- We have a Melbourne Organisers channel on the WP Australia Slack account, and a lot of our planning happens there where we keep everyone in the loop about where things are at for the month, what’s news and what’s coming up.
- We use Trello to manage our tasks, take notes of inspiration for events and presentations, and suggestions of people to invite to speak, and to keep track of what’s happening month to month.
- We use WordPress for our website (of course), Meetup for event planning and Twitter for marketing (though it’s becoming less well used of late and we may have to rethink our strategy there)
- We also use hangouts for online meetups and meetings – we actually have a small group of people in WordPress businesses who have a monthly virtual meetup to help support and inspire each other in business that has members attending from all over Australia.
Relationships with Sponsors
From the earliest days of our meetup our venues have been provided under sponsorship agreements. Initially these were venues like co-working spaces who provided their space free of charge in exchange for us talking about them and loving on them on social media. As business for them changed, we found ourselves paying for the venue and having to find sponsors who would cover that cost. Recently, after even that got too expensive we’ve had to go looking for new venues and new sponsorship arrangements.
It’s been a challenge… We looked at a bunch of options… University campuses, Bars/Pubs, Local community centres/venues. They all had their challenges… We found that university needed a connection at the venue, usually, we didn’t have that, and we wanted to meet at times that don’t work so well for the campus.
Bars and Pubs often have a minimum spend if you’re using their room, so it’s going to cost money, and as we try to steer away from venues that provide alcohol for the meetup, they didn’t seem viable either. Local community centres could have been viable but often are in regional suburbs and we were keen to be in an easily accessible, central place. We did find a local library that has fantastic facilities, and is affordable, but it wasn’t really easy to get to… so many issues!
Finally as we emailed the meetup group to let people know we were looking, and could they offer any suggestions, one of our members who’s a tenant at a new co working venue introduced us… so here we are again with a free venue. Central to the city, close to public transport and really workable. All of our needs met.. .and we could have saved a whole lot of hassle if we’d asked the group first!!
So, while the sponsorship arrangements may differ… either ‘in kind’ sponsorship like venue provision, or monetary sponsorship for payment of meetup fees, or pizza, the sponsorship relationship can be a little bit tricky to navigate, here are some tips on finding ‘good fit’ sponsorships that have a mutual benefit that’s even, rather than more in favour of one party than the other.
Here’s how you go about looking for sponsorship.
- It is often better to ask. The best fit sponsors aren’t always going to come to you – and if they do approach you, figure out what they’re selling before you blindly take their money… you need sponsors who understand WordPress not just who want a platform for peddling their goods or services.
- Approach sponsors with whom you have something in common or who would have a natural connection with your audience.
- Have a strong, professional sounding sponsorship email request or ‘sales document’ outlining what your group is about and why you’d be a strong fit for developing a sponsorship arrangement. If you look like you take it seriously, sponsors will take you seriously.
- If a sponsor decides to come on board, respect their branding in your website and your communications about them
- Keep in touch with your sponsor, send them pictures of your meetup, keep them up to date with how they’re helping you. Don’t just see them as a cash dispenser, build a relationship with them – as that relationship develops and continues, your mutual benefit grows with your group.
If you’re interested in a template for the kind of email that’s useful for approaching sponsors, it too is available in the download pack from the link on this slide.
If I may offer two words of caution about sponsorship – the first is Don’t let sponsorship change the nature of your group and if the things a sponsor wants from you starts to look like they’re making your meetup feel less like an Open Source and WordPress meetup, think very carefully about continuing. You have a culture to preserve, don’t let money get in the way of that.
Word of Caution number two. Sponsorship is not about making a profit for your group, it’s not about storing up resources, it’s not about providing high end, fancy spaces or food – it’s simply about having your needs met. Try and keep your needs modest so that your sponsorship needs aren’t exorbitant!
Keeping things Fresh
As with any regularly occurring event, it’s really easy to find what works and stick with it, to get into such a groove that your meetup becomes predictable… so it’s important for everyone, both organisers and attendees to keep things fresh.
There are a couple of ways to do that if your meetup thrives with a presentational format and you don’t want to move away too much from regular presentations.
- Target speakers you want to hear from… even if they’re outside of WordPress
- Set specific topic related events and specifically ask people to speak to those topics
- Have lightning talk events to allow for shorter formats to give people an opportunity to talk for the first time
- If people aren’t confident to speak, run workshops on creating presentations, and presenting successfully to give people the chance to improve their confidence in a safe place.
- Encourage diversity in the speakers you have, honestly? In a lot of cases minority representatives may not actively volunteer to speak, but may respond really well if you ask them directly so offer opportunities.
One of the meetups for our user group this month has been a clinic, a Question and Answer session where people could bring their own issues and find a more advanced user to help them out. This is a great opportunity for people to get help, but also for people who help to feel a bit more confident in their ability to to offer assistance in an safe environment. We’ve found that everybody learns something from the opportunity.
Workshop differ from clinics in that they offer teaching on a specific subject. They’re particularly great for groups where there are lots of new users who want to get to grips with WordPress and there’s some great information available over on make.WordPress.org in the way of curriculum for WordPress training.
We’ve also run workshops for users wanting to get set up to be able to contribute to core. So it isn’t just for users! Ask yourself, what does your group need? And see if a workshop could help a significant contingent of your group.
Meetup doesn’t have to happen in a co-working space or office, some of the most entertaining and fun events happen casually, without a presentation but over a good meal and a glass of wine. Some of the best meetups I’ve been to are small, low key, social events where the dominant topic of conversation was WordPress and there wasn’t a PowerPoint or Keynote slide in sight.
This is the WP bosses who are part of the Gold Coast meetup group who regularly have co-working days where some of their core team get together to work at each other’s homes or offices.
In Melbourne we had a similar recurring event called ‘Pants on Friday’ where we all left our home offices, put on pants and came to work together at a local co-working space. Funnily enough, we got plenty of work done, but it was great for everyone to have the chance to hang out, get support, or just plain have someone to hang out with instead of the cat, or the dog, or our virtual friends in Slack or Skype.
This is a picture of Melbourne’s first Contributor day which we held late last year. In the front table are the core contributors fixing bugs and adding patches, in the back are the two of us who were working on documentation and on the support forums.
Everyone can do something and a few hours on a weekend afternoon (in this case at a local library) is a low key, ‘easy to organise’ way to give back to the WordPress project.
There are about as many different kinds of meetups you can run as there are kinds of people using WordPress. This is the Women of WordPress from Orange County in California.
I believe there’s plenty of scope for other diverse meetups, Woo Commerce meetups, Polyglots groups, people who are interested in meeting around other areas of interest and diversity within the WordPress ecosystem. The only limit is the need to keep the culture of meetups in the WordPress space aligned with the 5 good-faith rules for meetups that are provided on the make.WordPress.org website.
House Parties/Beach Press
Finally, this is one of my favourites, we also run BeachPress where 10-15 of us take over a house at the beach for a long weekend of coffee and coding, and food.
Ironically, our Melbourne BeachPress events have all been held in the middle of winter, so while we’ve been at the beach we’ve barely ventured outside the house.
Honestly, it’s my view that the sky is the limit on what we could do in terms of meetups and events around WordPress that serve the greater community. We once ran an event called PressJam where we set up 4 multidisciplinary teams with 4 not for profit clients who needed websites, and we built them a site each in a weekend. A high pressure, highly entertaining event that did some real positive good in our community, and not just our WordPress community.
Really the only limits on what any of us can offer are our imagination and our resources to make something happen!
What are you waiting for?
Note: If you’re keen for the templates we’ve used for emails or about pages, they’re in a zip file here.