Truth in advertising

By guest blogger Eve
Entry Level Help Wanted - Experience RequiredWe’ve all seen Meetups that simply function as advertisements for a commercial endeavor. But there are plenty of other Meetups that, with the best of intentions, don’t offer what they claim to. These fall into two categories: those that claim to offer a wider range of activities than they do, and those that claim to serve a wider range of skill levels than they do.

As an example of the former, I encountered a meetup recently that was called the, shall we say, Thai and Chinese Dinner Meetup. I never did make it to an event, because I kept waiting for a Thai dinner to appear in the all-Chinese calendar. By contrast, the meetups that purport to serve a wide range of expertise levels tend to state that in the “About Us” section rather than in the name. This is particularly common in sports and outdoor meetups.

I am sure these groups are run by leaders with great intentions, but it’s natural for leaders skew events to their own level of expertise and needs. Meetup organizing is a part-time but unpaid job, and even the most dedicated of leaders can struggle with planning and hosting events that meet the needs of all their members’ needs without sacrificing their own.

That’s why every Meetup group should periodically revisit its purpose, description, and name. Sometimes, the answer will be the change the name or description to reflect the group’s actual purpose. If a running meetup only organizes marathon training, its name should not be “All-Levels Running Meetup.” Here in New York City, there is a meetup for almost any interest that explicitly bills itself as advanced, hardcore, for experts, etc.

However, one reason many people turn to Meetup is to take up a new hobby. It is a lot less daunting to try kayaking with a meetup than it is to figure it out all on your own (and not to mention safer!). Meetups keep themselves strong and healthy by bringing in new members. Both individuals and meetups benefit from welcoming novices. Thus, for many groups, a better solution is to seek out additional assistant organizers or event hosts who can add what is currently missing. You might have those people in your group already. Recently, I was impressed when an organizer asked me to host some events he felt the meetup was currently failing to provide; it was a sign he was thinking about the group and recognizing its needs.

There is a risk in adding any new event hosts, so it’s a good idea to give them a short trial periods before handing over the keys to the store (that’s a topic for another post), but there’s an even bigger risk in ignoring a constituency your group claims to serve.

Make sure your meetup offers all the events and activities its name and description suggest. It’s better not to attract a member in the first place than to create a frustrated ex-member.

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

How to discourage attendance

By guest blogger Eve

Ever seen an event description like this one?

Yellow River kayak trip, July 18

Time and location: TBA

Note: This route is dangerous and should not be attempted by people without experience in class 5 rapids. If I don’t know you personally, please provide your credentials when you RSVP. This is NOT a baby-sitting group. If you can’t handle it, don’t sign up. I am not a professional guide and am not responsible for anyone who gets hurt or left behind.

Kelly has a great post about giving your event an informative name. Unfortunately, I’ve seen actual events with less information in the entire posting than in his suggested titles. The description above not only tells me nothing about the event, it actually uses more words telling me why I shouldn’t come to it.

In this case, there are some obvious technical questions that need to be answered: How many miles will we cover? Will there be a shuttle? What class are the rapids? Those alone, however, aren’t enough.

Remember, many people who join Meetups do so because they are new to the area. “Yellow River” may signal something very specific and spectacular to long-time locals, but it means nothing to the rest of us. What is the closest town (so I can Google Map it)? Is this a mostly calm river with a few dangerous spots, or a nonstop thrill ride? Does it pass through beautiful old-growth forest? Was it listed in Kayaker’s Digest as a “Bucket List Trip”? In other words, why should I sign up for this event instead of the thousands of other things I could do?

Finally, once we add that information, there is still something off-putting about the language in this event. Many Meetup groups host events that require skill or experience, and it’s only prudent to warn your members of that. But if you aren’t willing to actually lead the event, why have you signed up to do just that? Why would I want to spend my afternoon with someone who won’t notice if I drown? This language doesn’t just frighten away nervous newbies. It also scares away skilled, experienced potential members who want to conduct their chosen hobby in an atmosphere of safety.

Put yourself in the shoes of the newbie. Welcome your potential participants with descriptive, informative, and friendly titles and text.

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

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.

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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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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.

Questions?

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: 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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Using Pinterest to Promote Your Meetup or online group

Pinterest Logo

Pinterest, the visual social bookmarking site, seems to be everywhere in the blogs and industry articles. TechCrunch just reported that Pinterest has become the fastest independent site in the U.S. to hit 10 million unique visitors in one month.

But I’ve seen plenty of comments from my friends on Facebook such as “I don’t understand Pinterest. What’s the big deal?” I have to admit, I was scratching my head for several weeks after joining the beta, thinking it just a pretty scrapbook for girls.

Until…my friend Hippie Dave posted a message on Nashville Hiking Meetup’s discussion board saying “I think you should make a ‘best of NHM’ photo album so that people can stop by the site and see the most beautiful photos from time to time.” His point was, he loves looking at our event photos but doesn’t want to sit through an album of 250 photos taken at just one event (We average 5 events per week. Do the math.).

It’s a great idea, though, since I’ve said for years that our event photos and videos have likely been the second best promoter of Nashville Hiking Meetup behind word of mouth.

Yes, this could be accomplished on the Meetup site itself. Create a new photo album, call it “Best Of,” scour the thousands of photos that members have uploaded over the years, copy the image URLs or download the image file, and re-upload the images to my Best Of. Then monitor the uploads on a regular basis and repeat the process for each future event.

There are many issues with this model:

  • Duplicate files on the meetup site. Server space is cheap but not free. Somebody’s paying for it even if it’s not me directly.
  • How would visitors actually find this photo album? There’s no way to feature a specific photo album on the main page.
  • If I want to “own” the Best Of album, how do I keep members from accidentally adding photos?
  • How does an “internal” photo album promote the meetup to the outside world?
  • We have a lot of great videos. How can we feature those, too?
  • Yet another thing for me to manage? How much time is this going to take per week?

Enter Pinterest

In a matter of seconds, I created a Hiking Tennessee pinboard, and began adding content to it.

Pinterest board that indirectly promotes Nashville Hiking Meetup

Seconds after that, a few of my followers on Pinterest had re-pinned, or essentially shared (or liked), images and videos from my new board. This could catch on.

One of the most valuable features of pinning content is that the pins point back to your original post or source page. So if someone wants to click through, they are taken to our meetup page or to our YouTube page or Flickr page; wherever the original media is posted. Marketers love this feature because it ideally leads the visitor to a conversion page: make a purchase, become a member, sign up for an email newsletter, “like” my Facebook page, etc.

Pinterest is also so stripped down of features that it’s easy to get started. I love the “Pin it” button that you can drag to your browser’s tool bar to pin anything while you’re browsing the web. (Note, I’ve had some compatibility issues between the “Pin it” button and Chrome. It won’t find compatible media on some pages so I just switch over to Firefox temporarily.)

Instant “Best of” album

I’ll be very interested to see, in Google Analytics, how many referral visitors Pinterest ends up sending to Nashville Hiking Meetup. Just a handful so far, but stay tuned.

Create your own greatest hits pinboard and post a link to it in the comments section.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Five ways to Recycle Content to Promote your Group on Social Networks

I love the connections that I’ve created between my main meetup site and outside networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr (and I don’t necessarily mean technology connections). I used to lament that if I wasn’t able to post on the social tubes about a new event on my meetup, then I didn’t have anything to “talk” about.

That all changed when it dawned on me that I have tons of content that can be recycled or reused. Over the years members have uploaded thousands of photos to Nashville Hiking Meetup. Why not post some of the favorites from the past to Facebook or Twitter? I’ve posted almost 60 videos to our YouTube channel. They may not be new to me but with us adding 2.4 members per day on average to Nashville Hiking Meetup, those older videos are new to many people.

Here are five ways to reuse or recycle content:

  1. Post a photo of the day on your Facebook page. Simply grab a photo’s URL from Meetup.com or Flickr or wherever and post it on the social networks. As an extra added bonus, be sure to credit the photographer.
  2. Post video clips from YouTube from your previous events. If you’re not already shooting and uploading short videos (under two minutes is my recommendation) then definitely start shooting or ask one of your members to help you out.
  3. Post links to newsworthy items on your Twitter or Facebook. I set up Google Alerts to email me when certain keywords are found in news articles, press releases, etc. If I think the story would be relevant to my members, I’ll post the URL on our social pages along with my comment on the article.
  4. Automate postings using a tool such as RSS Graffiti, which continuously monitors any RSS or Atom feed and will post anything new to your walls.
  5. Create a publishing schedule and “pre-post” items out in the future using a product such as RavenTools. I love Raven because I can schedule posts days or weeks ahead and I know even if I’m away from my computer the social networks still get fed.

What are some of your ideas for recycling content in order to feed the social networks? Let me know in the comments.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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What’s in a name?

The name of your event matters…a lot.

Quite often the NAME field is the only information that gets passed along to batch emails, site scrapers, and especially your own calendar of events. It’s the first thing potential members see and make a decision about. Treat the event name as if it were a subject line of an email.

So, a hiking event named “Radnor Lake” says nothing about the trek other than the location. People will make quick decisions solely based on the event name. Put as much information into the event name as possible without being obnoxious.

Instead of “Radnor Lake,” an event name such as “Radnor Lake – 5 mile moderate hike near Nashville” speaks volumes and will get you more participants.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.