Meetup changed the event description field (and I’m not happy)

On July 24, Meetup changed the formatting options in event descriptions. No longer do we have an HTML-like view of our descriptions, and many formatting options have been removed (this help post is no longer valid: Meetup says they did this so event descriptions look consistent across platforms–desktop to mobile to tablets–but did they have to go so far?

Today I discovered that the system also removes href tags when the destination site appears to compete with So, if you hyperlink text in your description to Facebook or Google Places, Meetup makes the decision to remove those tags.

I’ve worked hard over the years to differentiate my meetup from others out there. Earlier this year they removed much of the formatting options of the look and feel of my overall site. Display fonts are now exactly the same across all meetups. They reduced the size of the banner graphic.

Now my meetup looks essentially like all other meetups. Not cool.


Brand your events. You’ll be happy you did.

Nashville Hiking Meetup logoI joined Nashville Hiking Meetup in July of 2007. After several months of participating in hikes, leading hikes, and taking over the group in December of that year, someone suggested we have a social event at a bar or restaurant. Surprisingly enough I was skeptical. I said, "I know these people like to hike together, but will they like to socialize and drink a beer together?"

Boy, was I wrong.

We planned our first crowded barsocial event for January 6, 2008 at a local pub. Trip leader Seth had the brilliant idea (which I later learned was the idea of his then girlfriend and now wife Anna) to call it "Drink a Pint" which then morphed into "Drink a Pint Night" over time. People loved the event from day one.

Fast forward to modern times. We typically do one Drink a Pint Night per month now, attracting usually 100 people or more. Now members expect the "Pint Nights" (as most people call them now). By giving the regular event its own name, people identify with it and can refer to the mixer quickly as in, When is the next Pint Night?

Social events have become great way for current members to catch up with old friends, and new members to meet a few folks to realize we’re not crazy before they head out into the woods to hike or camp with us. Add a great brand name to your mixers and other events (and partner with other meetups in the area) and I bet you’ll have a winning combination. Furthermore, promise a venue you’ll bring X number of people into their establishment on a certain night, you’re bound to find a long term sponsor.

drinking beerNo, we’re not the only group in the world to use the event moniker “Drink a Pint Night” but it has stuck. I’m proud to say that our friends at Bowling Green Hiking Meetup have also taken on that brand.

Our pals at Tennessee Hiking Group do a great job at thinking up creative (although a little cutesy for my taste) titles for their events such as “Romancing the Stone: Standing Stone SP, Cooper Mountain Trail” and “Fiery Gizzard —> And we’re off to see the Gizzard…”

How have you branded your recurring events? Let us know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

Resources: Brand your events. You’ll be happy you did.

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Why set an attendee limit?

hiking groupsWhile running Nashville Hiking Meetup for over five years, one of the questions I hear most often is, “Why do you set attendee limits on hikes at public parks?” The short answer to this is, “Because we are responsible leaders.”

Usually, but not always, the hikes local to the city will allow more RSVPs because we all drive ourselves so we feel like the more the merrier. Regional hikes, such as those where we meet and carpool for one to two hours, will almost certainly have a limit simply because it’s more difficult to organize and keep a ton of people straight. Remember field trips as a kid? There was always a set student-to-teacher ratio to manage the juvenile herd. After all, more moving parts increases the chances for unpredictable deviations from the plan.

hiking groupsSometimes the hikes may be limited simply because of the impact on the trails or our agreement with partners we team with. Just as time is required for recovery after vigorous workouts, it takes time for a forest or trail to recover after dozens of hikers pass through in a given day.

The bottom line is, it’s difficult for our volunteer trip leaders to manage more than a certain number of hikers. In addition, we must remain respectful of other hikers out that same day who probably wouldn’t appreciate a large group of fifty (50) outdoor enthusiasts blowing by them, potentially disrupting their nature experience. Attendee limits are set in order to be responsible, safe, and respectful — not only to the environment, but to other hikers.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.


Guidelines for Members Uploading Photos to your Meetup

This post is an edited version of a message board posting on Nashville Hiking Meetup.

Your Meetup site is a great place to upload and share photos after events. There are a few things to think about before members upload every photo from your recent event, though. These guidelines can be shared with your membership:

  • Please pick the best photos you snapped to share on the meetup event; don’t just upload every one you took. If everyone uploads their 50 total photos from an event, just think how long it would take to look through an entire album? And your five photos of one cool wildflower is just too much when you add all the photos up.
  • As of this writing, the meetup site does not allow you to rotate images after you’ve uploaded them, so please do that on your hard drive ahead of time. I know; annoying.
  • Feel free to post links in photo comments to larger online albums such as Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, etc. A post such as “I’ve uploaded my entire album to my Flickr account here…” is totally fine.
  • Please do not upload blurry photos or images that turned out low quality.
  • Organizers have the full right and ability to delete photos that are inappropriate, low quality, repeats, etc.


See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Pet Peeves of a Meetup Leader

Most of our posts here focus on how you, as a group leader, can better run your Meetup or other community. I’m not one to complain normally, but I was recently having a conversation with Dante who runs several meetups under the umbrella Outdoor Club South (visit the Atlanta club here). We were chatting about some of our pet peeves as meetup leaders, so I thought I would vent a little. In no specific order:

  • Members emailing the organizer of a meetup and not mentioning the event they’re referring to. I get emails that say “Can I bring my dog to this hike” or “I’m not going to be able to make this event after all” with no mention of what event they are speaking of. We do an average of five events per week. Please, members, be specific about the meetup you’re talking about. It saves all the back and forth emails.
  • Members emailing me as the organizer about something that should instead go to the event host. Yes, I do say in my welcome emails and in my About Page that members can email me with any questions, but usually I have to forward on these questions to the event host himself. We’re pretty clear about who the host is for each event, so please save me a couple of minutes and contact him or her directly.
  • Members complaining about how many emails they receive. Hey, you can update your settings here and only get the emails that you want.
  • Members complaining that they didn’t receive notice about a new event posting. Did you turn your emails off? How would I let you know about a new event then?
  • Members complaining about an event that isn’t even ours. I know, most Meetup users are members of multiple groups and it might get confusing sometimes, but please make sure you’re referring to the right Meetup before complaining to a specific Meetup organizer.
  • Members complaining about an event or a park or a hike that they’re not even going to attend. A member once complained about how crowded a spot was and how overpriced the food was last time she visited that park. Is that really helpful?
  • No-shows on events that have an RSVP limit. Dante wrote about this here. I don’t care if you’re a no show on a social event, usually because the venue is very flexible and I don’t mind if we’re plus or minus ten percent on attendee count. It’s the limited event that we have to drive a couple hours to hike that I’m talking about.
  • Asking questions that are already answered in the event details. Please read every posting carefully before shooting off that email or posting your question on the event page.

What are your Meetup pet peeves, either as a member or leader? Let me know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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The 10 Tips on Choosing a Venue for Social Events

My group Nashville Hiking Meetup (and I’m sure many others) plans regular social events throughout the year in order to keep the group connected. Although we’re not a social group by definition, getting people together apart from our outdoor events is a key goal.

Social events have many benefits: existing members can re-connect with folks they may not have seen in a while, new members can get a feel for the group and meet existing members without having to take the leap on a long day hike with us, and a leader can use these events for making special announcements or giving awards.

Drink a Pint Night (September 2012) with Nashville Hiking Meetup at Sam’s in Nashville, TN by Reiner Venegas

But how do you choose a location? After several years of successful social events, we’ve learned a few things about picking a venue:

  1. Determine and document your basic requirements of any venue:
    • Number of people you generally have RSVP and whether you can fit comfortably in a venue.
    • Location or proximity to city center.
    • Parking or public transportation convenience.
    • Food and alcohol choices.
    • The image of a venue and how it matches your group. We’re a hiking and outdoor club so I don’t see us having a social at a swanky hotel.
  2. Figure out how much variety you want. You may meet at the same place every other month and alternate with a new place on those off months.
  3. Seek out unconventional locations. Not all socials need to happen at a restaurant or bar. We’ve had events at members’ homes, fitness clubs, car dealerships, and park picnic sites.
  4. Seek out new places by word-of-mouth. Ask other meetup leaders what venues have worked for them.
  5. Seek out places that may be willing to make you a deal. A brand new restaurant may be more likely to book your event in order to get the exposure. Also, monitor Groupon and other daily deal offers. This often indicates a willingness to get people in the door.
  6. For a restaurant or bar, book on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. These are typically the slowest nights and a manager is likely more willing to work with you.
  7. A large party sometimes scares the manager of a venue. Quite often they’ve been burned in the past (75 people promised and only 10 show up). Offer one of your previous venue contacts as a reference. I know this sounds unconventional—a manager calling a competitor—but quite often just making that offer will convince the manager you’re real.
  8. Create a short list of the best venues you’ve worked with including contact information and share this with your leadership team (in case you’re not available to run a social in the future).
  9. Locally owned restaurants and bars almost always have more flexibility in offering specials and discounts. If you can, avoid the chains who often have to “check with corporate” before they can give you a drink special, for instance.
  10. In very, very few cases, and only when you really want a venue, make a deposit guaranteeing sales. Risky, but will get noticed.

Tips for successful relationships with venues:

  • Communicate often with your contact at the venue.
  • Encourage your members to tip the wait staff (and tip well if appropriate). This is the best way to get welcomed back and get exceptional service the next time.
  • Scout the venue ahead of time if you’ve not been there and arrive early on the day of your event.
  • Afterward, follow up with the venue contact to communicate any problems. Don’t trash the venue on the social networks. Work out your issues directly with venue management first.
  • Follow up with the venue contact afterward to see if they’re happy. This may seem counterintuitive—you and your members as customers should be happy—but you won’t believe how far this goes to solidify a relationship. This is sort of like a reverse Yelp: “please give me a review of my group.”
  • Promote the venue before and after the event. Make clear mention of the establishment in your event posting, on Facebook and Twitter, and in any email you send to members.

What advice to you have on choosing locations for social events?


See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.


Adding value

By guest blogger Eve

Call me lazy.

It’s true: One of the reasons I like to do things with Meetups is that the leaders do some of the work for me. If it’s hiking, they scout the trail, and they figure out times and trains/carpools. If it’s eating, they find out about new restaurants, and they make the dinner reservations.

Hiking boots!

I went on a hike this past weekend that used mass transit to get us to the hike. However, this wasn’t a simple “get off the train and go,” as the park was a mile from any stop. The leader had spent a lot of time (including a scouting trip) to find the closest transit and then to find palatable routes to the park, minimizing road walking. Even if I had been willing, I don’t know the area well enough to have done that kind of planning. The group enabled me to see an area I thought was off-limits without a car. That is one reason I hike with a group.

But I see far too many Meetup events like this one:

You are responsible for your own travel to [out-of-town location]. You need to make your own reservations for the campground. You can choose the route you want to go; we will not hike together.

At that point, I scratch my head and ask, “Why I am hiking with a group?”

The key to your job as an organizer is in the name – organizer. That means it’s up to you to do more than pick a day and expect people to show up.

To be fair, an organizer can’t do everything. Nashville Hiking Meetup has held events at campgrounds without group sites, meaning that members had to book their own campsites. But NHM provides carpools and plans group outings for these events. For restaurant and movie meetups, it’s reasonable to expect members to buy their own food or tickets. And yes, given a map and an address, your members should be able to find their own way – to local events.

If you are asking your members to do much more than that, you are abdicating your responsibilities as an organizer. I know it’s a lot of work – I’ve done it. But that’s one advantage of having a deep leadership pool; you don’t have to do it every time.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a checklist of “the things a leader must organize on every event.” Events are too varied for that. As a general guideline, however, if the event is out of town or longer than a day, you should take some of the planning work out of the attendees’ hands. Arrange carpools (and let members opt out if they wish). Reserve a group site. Plan group activities. Give drivers turn-by-turn directions. Arrange group deals with a specific outfitter.

While many people use meetups to meet new people, the job of the organizer doesn’t stop with saying, “Come, meet cool people here at this time.” He or she has to add some additional value, and most of that value comes from the behind-the-scenes work of organizing and planning.


Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City. See Eve’s Google+ profile here.


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Read your event questions (and respond!)

By guest blogger Eve

It’s good practice, as any trip leader knows, to read and respond to questions posted about an event. But it’s also worth noting what kinds of questions people ask. Many of them are preventable with better event descriptions, and it’s easier on you to furnish that information up front than to go back and answer it piecemeal. Pay attention to what kind of questions are being asked in your meetup, and learn to answer many before they are asked.

Some people will ask questions because they didn’t read the description carefully. It’s irritating, but that’s human nature. Some questions are logistical and cannot reasonably be answered in advance. For example, here in New York City, it’s impractical for out-of-town events to have a central departure point in the city, so the comments sections are often full of people asking for rides and other people announcing they have cars. The third kind of question is the problem: Where are we meeting? What does CDT mean? Can you provide more details? All of these questions should have been answered in the initial event description.

What, precisely, goes in an description will vary by the kind of event: Nashville Hiking Meetup uses a difficulty rating system for hikes, but it wouldn’t make sense for a movie or dinner meetup to do that, or even for NHM to rate its annual picnic as “strenuous.” However, every event description should answer these basics:

  • When and where is the event? Be sure to include an address or map whenever possible. “When” means a start and an end time.
  • What are we doing? Hiking? Dinner? Happy hour? Stitch ‘n bitch?
  • Are all abbreviations explained? I’m not telling you to spell out “5 p.m. in Seattle, WA.” But your event description shouldn’t require a crack team of cryptologists to decipher, especially if it’s aimed at newer members.
  • Who can attend? Does it require experience? Is it for the leadership team only? Are little kids or significant others welcome? What about dogs?
  • What does it cost? Are there admission fees? Bar tab minimums? Do members need to pay up front? What’s the refund policy?
  • Who is leading it? While Meetup makes us answer this one, event organizers should make sure their profile page includes a recognizable picture and an up-to-date bio — not your life story, but enough information to establish that you know something about this activity.
  • And let’s not forget about a descriptive name of your event. That can make or break your attendance numbers.

There may be other questions specific to your activity – hikers want a trail map, movie-goers like a link to trailers, recreational sports enthusiasts want to know if they need to form their own teams. Don’t expect people posting events to remember all these items off the top of their head; even experienced event organizers can inadvertently leave a key detail out. It can be helpful to have one or more event description template for organizers to start from, tailored toward your meetup’s activities.

If you don’t include the basics, members will ask about them. Some will forget to come back and check out the answers. Others will give up reading halfway down the page of questions. And yet others will say, “I don’t trust that this guy knows what he’s doing. I’ll find another group.” You don’t have very long to capture your members’ attention; sell them on the event the first time they see it.


Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.


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The missing leader

By guest blogger Eve

One of my friends recently moved to a new city and has been using Meetup to try to meet people. Her experience with Meetup in her old town was very positive, but in her new city she’s had less success. And much of it is because of one person, who we’ll call the Super Organizer.

Super Organizer is a classic entrepreneur who loves to start meetups. That’s great, but the problems occur because he doesn’t delegate and relinquish control to assistant organizers, and one person can only do so much. It’s hard to run five meetups well. Who ends up dealing with problems? No one. While it’s disappointing to try a meetup and find it poorly run, it’s much more discouraging to find out that all the local meetups in your area of interest are poorly run.

I recognize there are many ways to successfully structure your meetup’s management. However, there are certain activities that the Meetup system only lets the organizer do, such as receiving money or kicking out members. Because of this, organizers can’t sit back and let meetups run themselves.

Ultimately, no matter what, members need to feel confident that issues they experience will be dealt with. They don’t necessarily know (or care) who is the organizer versus who is an assistant organize or an event organizer. They just want to know that events are well-run and that problems will be dealt with.

A good organizer does the following:

  • Attends events. You don’t have to be at everything. You should be able to evaluate the competencies of the rest of the leadership team. You should have a sense if a certain type of event or venue isn’t working.
  • Talks to a variety of people. Don’t just speak to the leadership team or your friends. Draw out new members or those who seem uncomfortable. Be available to people who are experiencing inappropriate behavior.
  • Counsels or removes people who are causing problems. This ranges from making sure event leaders are safety-minded to banning members whose behavior is inappropriate.

Notice what I didn’t say: An organizer does not have to plan or lead a single event. That can be delegated. What can’t be delegated is the overall role of quality control.


Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.



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Cautions for last-minute events

By guest blogger Eve

Slow Time in Wrist Watch on Dry LeafI woke up one morning and checked my email. “Last-minute event,” one message said, sent at 1:38 a.m. The event itself was to begin at 9 a.m.

Many groups have experimented successfully with last-minute events. Announce a weekend hike on Friday, or an after-work happy-hour that morning, and you’ll get some excited attendees without previous plans. It’s not a good idea to make all events last-minute – some of your members aren’t as plugged in, and others just aren’t spontaneous – but they’re a good way to fill in gaps in the schedule or attract a slightly different crowd.

There is a limit, though, on how far you can push it. Members need sufficient time to not only decide to go but to gear up and plan transportation. How much time is necessary will vary by the kind of event. It’s probably safe to announce that post-work happy-hour at 11 a.m. Events that require specific equipment or attire, or are farther away, should have a longer lead time. Also, take into account what time of day you are posting at: At 1:38 a.m., most of your members are asleep, and many of them will not wake up in time for that 9 a.m. event.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a policy on last-minute events. How close to the big day before an event must be labeled last-minute? What is the minimum lead required time to post last-minute events? This is especially important for Meetups that allow any member to post events. Remember, while a full calendar is nice, not all events are worth doing. Members will get frustrated if they never see event announcements until it’s too late.


Eve is an experienced trip leader with several meetups and is an Oregon/Tennessee transplant living and working in New York City.


Photo: Slow Time in Wrist Watch on Dry Leaf by, on Flickr