Category Archives: Membership

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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How to Handle No Shows on your Events

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.

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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.

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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: http://www.nashvillehiking.com/about/. 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 http://www.nashvillehiking.com/messages/boards/. 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 meetup.com 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 download.com 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: http://www.meetup.com/account/comm/

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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Fluctuating member numbers in your meetup

One of the metrics I track with Nashville Hiking Meetup is member growth rate. Every so often I go into my Google spreadsheet I’ve set up and enter my current number of members and a calculation shows me my member growth rate per day. I also estimate when I’ll hit a certain member milestone; for example, I can say by 11/30/2011 I’ll have 4,000 members.

At one point in the past, our growth rate was about 5 members per day. Right now it’s hovering at about 2.5 new members added per day.

But recently that number has dropped.

Why? Meetup has reinstated a policy where inactive and lost members get automatically removed. The email I receive from Meetup says something like:

Gern Blansten has not visited Meetup and all of their emails have been returned as “undeliverable” for at least 6 consecutive months.

And I like it. Although larger member numbers are typically a good thing, inactives put a drain on the “system.” You want your ratio of active members to inactive members to be higher and higher. Often I get the question, “Well, you have 3,800 members but how many actually show up for events?” Pruning off the dead weight helps the active numbers increase.

Plus, from Meetup’s standpoint, the fewer dead emails they send to, the lower their costs. Email service providers charge by the emails sent, and even if the company is using an internal system to send mail, dead email addresses sap precious IT bandwidth.

At one point in the past, Meetup was automatically removing these ghost members but turned off that feature globally. I’m happy it’s back.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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