By guest blogger Dante Martinez
One of the more frustrating issues you’ll deal with in running your meetup group is handling ‘no shows.’ You’ll put a lot of time and effort into researching, planning, and posting your events. Excitement will build as you begin to see the RSVPs coming in. Then disappointment strikes when a fair share of the RSVPs simply don’t show up for your event. Worse still, is when you’ve disappointed a venue by making a reservation for 16 people and having only 8 show up. ‘No shows’ are one of the most talked about issues on the Meetup Organizer forums. So, why do they happen and how do you handle them? I don’t have a 100% solution but I would like to share my thoughts on what’s worked and what hasn’t for my own groups.
Why are ‘no shows’ such a big problem? First, it’s just way too easy to hit ‘Yes’ when that new event email asks members if they will attend. When you announce an event, Meetup will then email your group (at least the members who have not disabled announcements) with a very brief blurb on your event. You may have spent a great deal of time writing up your event but members will only see the subject line and about 3 or 4 sentences from your write up. If you’re like me you’ve learned to fill the subject line with a catchy title and make your first three or four sentences count. After all you want to encourage members to attend your event, right? Just under those few sentences is a very tiny and light blue LEARN MORE link which you hope your members will click through to actually read the rest of your write up. Unfortunately there is a much bigger and RED button for ‘Yes’ where it says ‘Will you attend’. In analyzing my page lands (Google Analytics) this is where the vast majority of members click through to when they RSVP. So you have a member who saw a nice catchy event title, read three sentences, scanned the date and time, and clicked YES. In other words, they haven’t put much thought into whether they will really attend the event.
I’ve also recently realized that I may be making the problem worse! Many of my events, hikes in particular, have limits on the attendees. Most will fill up within a couple of hours. Members have noticed this and are now even quicker to RSVP Yes simply to hold their spot on the event. Many of these members will drop out at the last minute or simply not show up having decided to do something else that day.
So what can be done? I’ve come across many systems but none seem to work 100%. Once you’ve accepted that though you’ll want to take some steps to help decrease the number of ‘no shows’.
Many groups set policies to remove the member after ‘3 strikes’. Some groups use systems based on points. These can be effective for smaller groups when most events are posted by a single organizer. But these systems don’t scale very well. They depend crucially on attendance being taken and reported by your organizers, and they must have a strong discipline to take attendance and report it after the event. And even if they do there is currently no way to get a report or search for members that have violated your attendance policy.
After some trial and error here are the steps I took in 2011 which I believe have really helped significantly reduce our percentage of ‘no shows’.
- I tasked my Event Organizers with the responsibility to report. However, I did not set hard rules for reporting attendance. For some events (socials) we don’t mind ‘no shows’ and organizers are empowered to make that call.
- When an Event Organizer posts an event with limited spots they are also empowered to then remove members who have a history of not showing up. This is my stick if you will. Unfortunately this is additional work on the organizer who must click each profile and then check attendance history.
- If you’d like to offer a carrot you might consider a points or reward system based on the number of events members attend. In our case we give away some big prizes at our holiday party. Members get one ticket per event they attended. The key to this is that you must constantly communicate this to your members though. Carrots can help but you’re members have to know they’re working towards the prize by respecting your ‘no show’ policy.
- I published our policy on our About Us page and it is sent to all new members via the new member email that is sent out. I also repeat this policy in quarterly newsletters.
My organizers were quite happy to know they had control over attendance policies and could simply remove members with bad attendance history. My members have accepted a reasonable but not overly strict policy. Inevitably I get an email from the member after they’ve been removed. I have a canned response I send them that reminds them of our policy and I also show them their attendance history. This seems to get the point across fairly quickly and I have yet to have a repeat offender after they get this email.
Still, there are flaws in this system. If Event Organizers don’t report their attendance then we won’t catch those members with bad attendance. I’ve been working hard to encourage my organizers to report attendance. Peer pressure from other organizers can help!
I recently took two other steps which I hope will help even further. Meetup.com recently added a feature to delay the date & time your event opens up for RSVP. This allows you to post and Announce your event today but keep RSVPs closed until a future date. I plan to experiment using this feature on the theory that it will make members consider their RSVP before they click Yes. Secondly, at least for major events, I am experimenting with not using the announce message and instead crafting a custom email to announce those events. It’s a great deal of additional work but I’m hopeful to get more event information to my members and direct them to the event page instead of just directing them to RSVP Yes.
I’ll update everyone on the results from these new steps in a future posting.
And if any Meetup.com developers read this PLEASE give us a means of quickly seeing ‘no shows’ from the event page itself.
Dante is the Chief Organizer for Outdoor Club South and runs 15 chapters (with a lot of help!) on Meetup.com
See Dante Martinez’ Google+ profile here.