Posted by Kelly Stewart

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do we have an HTML-like view of our descriptions, and many formatting options have been removed (this help post is no longer valid: Meetup says they did this so event descriptions look consistent across platforms–desktop to mobile to tablets–but did they have to go so far?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


Meetup turns 10 and we got a birthday present!

Today I received an email from Meetup HQ/CEO Scott Heiferman about the company reaching their diamond anniversary. For being one of the top 200 Meetup organizers in the world (based on total number of RSVPs) I got invited to their 10th birthday party! This is quite an honor, especially with 92,000 meetups in the world! Doubt I can make the party because it’s in NYC, but wanted to thank all Nashville Hiking Meetup members past and present, and also our great trip leaders who carry the torch every day.

It’s cool to think we are one of the top 200 meetups on earth!

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.


If you want to borrow my audience…

With running a meetup of over 4,500 members, I receive many requests to promote other organization’s events and fundraising initiatives. I get it. You want to borrow my audience.

Just keep several things in mind:

  • Your offer must be relevant to my audience.
  • Realize I have companies and organizations paying Nashville Hiking Meetup to be a sponsor. How would it look to give you free promotion? I’d be happy to send you a quote for becoming a sponsor.
  • If I decide to promote your efforts, make it easy on me by writing posts (email, Facebook, Twitter) in my voice and in the appropriate format. Don’t just attach a PDF press release that I have to extract content out of.


See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Age-limited events – Are they right for your meetup community?

“Seniors Only” by tobo, on Flickr

After several requests over the years, we here at Nashville Hiking Meetup have recently been posting events geared around commonalities between members. These mainly have been focused on members of a certain age range.

I started by posting a 20s/30s hike, about which I received comments such as “Are you a dating site now?” and “I’m no lawyer but I suspect this is a form of age discrimination…Wait until ACLU and AARP find out about you!”

Well, it’s not illegal, but it did get people stirred up.

The 20s/30s hike wasn’t extremely well attended compared to our typical event, but all that indicates to me is that our demographic skews older (which I knew already). All the more reason, to me, to post more 20s/30s hikes. We need to keep backfilling our membership with younger hikers so that our entire membership average age just doesn’t keep getting older.

Then I posted a 50 and older hike, and it quickly received record numbers of RSVPs. By all accounts the event was smashing. We’ve got another 50+ hike coming up this weekend and those RSVP numbers are gangbusters, and we’ve got a 40+ hike posted.

What’s interesting to me is that everyone grumbled when we posted a 20s/30s hike but loved when we posting the 50+ plus hike. I wonder if I had scheduled them in reverse (50+ first) what the reaction would have been.

After I announced the 40+ hike, one of my very active members posted on Facebook, “What is with these age related hikes..40+ 50+….doesn’t seem like a good idea to me to put restrictions on who should sign up and who shouldn’t….”

This started a polite debate. As a rebuttal I mentioned many accepted examples where institutions have carved out special groups and events based on commonalities*:

  • Churches have youth groups, singles only Bible studies, and married couples retreats
  • Chambers of commerce have junior chambers
  • The Nature Conservancy has a Gen-C (Generation Conservation) which is limited to members in their 20s to 40s
  • Heck, even Nashville Hiking Meetup regularly hosts New Members Hikes and no one seems to complain

Why does this practice happen? Because these are special interest groups, and sometimes, but not always, members with similar ages or life event experiences like to get together for events.

So what’s to be said about this exercise? The kerfuffle was over age-limiting events and I think age makes some people bristle more than another commonality. 

Lesson learned? Try out new event themes to keep things fresh. Maybe you’ll spark a debate in the process.

What are your lessons learned? Let me know in the comments.


* It’s also interesting that we were debating the merits of 4 events out of 1,354 total past and future events for Nashville Hiking Meetup. That’s .3%. Three out of one thousand.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Five customer service tips to save time and impress your online community

If you manage an online community, chances are you receive a healthy number of questions by email. Answer enough of these emails, and you realize that many of the questions are repeats. Some of the repeated questions I get from Nashville Hiking Meetup members are:

What should I bring for the hike?
Can I bring a guest to this event?
Will you post my favorite charity’s fundraising event?

My feeling is, if multiple members have the same question, then many more will have the exact query in the future. Here are five things you can do to limit your own pulling of hair and provide excellent customer service:

  1. Create a detailed About page for your community and pile everything you’ve learned over the years into that document. Update it regularly.
  2. Point to that page in your welcome email that is automatically sent to new members through the Meetup system and recommend folks read it thoroughly. (A few actually will!)
  3. When you receive an email where the question is answered in that About page you’ve so lovingly crafted, don’t be afraid to point people back to that page. I usually reply with a message such as: “Thank you for your question. This is actually answered in our About page. Take a look under ‘What Should I Wear/Pack/Bring on Hike Day?'” This will hopefully train your customers/members to look first before asking a question by email.
  4. Anticipate questions and attempt to answer the most common ones in the event postings themselves. We reduced the number of email questions substantially just by giving detailed information in all event postings such as hike distance, difficulty, estimated drive/hike time, whether dogs are allowed, etc.
  5. But my favorite method of customer service response is through Gmail’s canned responses (yet another reason Gmail is superior). After you enable Canned Responses in Labs, you have a new drop down menu when composing emails in order to save or re-used saved often-repeated email replies. Read more about Canned Responses here.
Here are some of the most frequent questions and my sample canned responses:

What should I bring for the hike?

That is a great question and one that is answered in our very informative About page here: Take a look under “What Should I Wear/Pack/Bring on Hike Day?”

Can I bring a guest to this event?

Usually, but not always, very popular hikes do not allow guests so that as many real members can get on board as possible. However, when it comes down to the day of, there are almost always a couple of spots free for guests. If your guest can deal with a last minute add, I would say keep in contact with me and ask up through the day before if guests will be allowed. You can almost count on your guest getting in the way things go.

I will add to that, the absolute ideal thing for me would be for you to have your friend sign up for the meetup themselves and add themselves to the wait list.

Will you post my favorite charity’s fundraising event?

Feel free to post items or events like this on our message board at Thanks!

How did you get that animation in the top left corner of your meetup?

That rotating graphic is an animated GIF file and is one of the very few animation file types that accepts. It’s a very standard graphic type, and many programs create that file type from a series of images you specify. I use Adobe ImageReady which came bundled with Photoshop. If you’re looking for something at no cost to create one, go to and search for “create animated gif from series of images” and see what you come up with.

Please remove me from the meetup.

You actually have to remove yourself from a group. Go here and log in and you should be able to click the appropriate link there to leave the group:

Thanks, and sorry to see you go!

Overall, stay positive. Try and answer every question with positive language. Instead of saying “sorry, that event is full,” you could reply with “there is a wait list for that popular event and I’d be happy to put you on that list.”

What are your favorite customer service tips? Let me know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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