Using Meetup for Business Purposes
One lasting innovation of social media over the past decade or so is the meetup – an offline gathering of individuals spurred by a common interest who initially meet and interact with each other online. Meetup.com was largely responsible for this phenomenon, and while many social networking sites, such as Google and Yahoo, feature tools for offline meetings, Meetup.com remains the largest single facilitator of meetings, as well as the premier brands in the space. Its user base is significant and its social tools – desktop and mobile – have set the standard for “Meetups” across the net. With these factors in mind, Meetup.com can be used as very effective tool to accomplish a number of key strategic business objectives.
In this article, we will cover, 1) the history of Meetup.com, 2) the purpose of Meetup.com, 3) the benefits of Meetup.com, 4) setting up a Meetup.com account, 5) using Meetup.com for business, 6) key terms for Meetup.com usage, 7) best practices for Meetup.com, and 8) a case study of successful business usage of Meetup.com.
HISTORY OF MEETUP.COM
Meetup was founded in June of 2002 by Matt Meeker, Scott Heiferman, and Peter Kamali, but came to national attention, when an employee pushed Mr. Heifferman to meet with then-Vermont Governor Howard Dean to discuss how the Governor might make use of the site for his 2004 Presidential campaign. Governor Dean agreed to say, “Join your local Howard Dean Meetup,” after each speech, thus pushing the site into the forefront of online political organizing and national prominence. (The 44th President of the United States Barack Obama also used the site when he initially campaigned for U.S. Senator of Illinois around this time, which helped burnish Meetup’s brand).
Until 2005, Meetup.com had two significant problems: one, it was not profitable, and two, many of the meetups that were held were of low quality, which negatively affected the Meetup brand. Meetup had been free to the majority of organizers, while it pursued a number of potential revenue streams, such as charging venues for each person a Meetup brought them in new business. Each model failed until, in 2005, Heiferman and his team, inspired by firms such as eBay and Craigslist, decided to charge all meeting organizers a flat $19 a month; this would not only create a viable revenue stream, but also, presumably, weed out badly planned events. When the announcement was made, the firm lost 95% of its site activity. However, in the years since the announcement, the firm has become a profitable business and, Heiferman estimates that the percentage of quality Meetups has increased nearly 50%.
Today, there are over 19 million users of Meetup.com, who participate in nearly 175,000 different Meetup Groups in over 175 different countries. In April of 2013, Meetup.com surpassed 100 million RSVPs.
PURPOSE OF MEETUP.COM
Meetup.com’s primary purpose is to facilitate offline gatherings of individuals who have met online. These individuals are united online by a common offline interest. Common examples of Meetups include fitness groups, wine tasting groups, book clubs, tutorials, and discussion groups. Meetups can also be held for a variety of business purposes, such as product launches, networking events, product demonstrations and training, CSR events, and focus groups. Meetup’s website and mobile app facilitate audience building and event planning by providing users the ability to solicit others attendance at events.
For $19 a month, you receive access to Meetup.com’s Organizing platform which allows you to schedule the Meetup on a public or private calendar; add an event fee and take payments through Amazon Payments or PayPal; and set up RSVP information and/or a waiting list, as well as automatic reminders to attendees.
What It’s Like To Meetup
BENEFITS OF MEETUP.COM
Meetups can be used by individuals to organize offline gatherings of likeminded individuals for a common purpose, such as networking. Meetups can be used by firms to organize and/or participate in Meetups to engage current customers and/or potential customers in a much more significant manner than a simple Like or Follow. Because you will actually be meeting customers, target consumers and/or influencers in person, the brand impression you leave will be deeper and personal. You can use Meetups to gain consumer, product and brand insights, as well as increase your real-world visibility. You can also use them to launch products, hold trainings (which can strengthen brand loyalty), increase brand awareness through CSR events and other branded events, and generate sales leads. Profiles on Meetup.com can also enhance your online visibility in search results.
A mobile app feature, known as Messages, allows users to communicate with each other online extensively before sharing personal contact information. This was launched in August of 2014.
How to Use Meetup.com to Get Clients and Build a Social Life
SETTING UP A MEETUP.COM ACCOUNT
Setting up a Meetup account is a simple affair. First, visit www.meetup.com. You can sign up merely by entering your name and email address, or you can sign up by logging into your Facebook account and giving Meetup access to it. Keep in mind, if you go this route, that you will want the Facebook account to reflect your brand message and standards. Under “Settings,” fill out the fields completely, so that users can find you and learn about your brand. Use a logo for a photo, and connect your firm’s social profiles.
Before you create your Group, you should have some idea of its purpose and some details about your first Meetup. Then, login and click Start at the top. You will be directed to fill in where your group is located, and up to 15 topics that are relevant to the Group. After that fill in the Group name, Group description, What are members called? and Web address: form fields. Once you’ve done that, and paid the applicable fee for Organizer Dues (Meetup charges $45 for a three month term, and $72 for a six-month term, in addition to the flat annual rate of $19 per month), then you are ready to begin organizing Meetups.
USING MEETUP.COM FOR BUSINESS
Meetup.com can be harnessed quite effectively to achieve a number of strategic business objectives including extending reach and visibility, event management, recruitment, sales, and market research. It’s particularly effective with small businesses, and/or narrow markets, but can be used to achieve any of the aforementioned goals with a variety of different firms and industries.
Extending reach and visibility
Firms can take advantage of the user base on meetup.com to extend their reach. They can also target customers in their geographic area with Meetups designed to generate sales lead, increase awareness of the brand, and/or conduct market research.
Meetups can be especially effective in narrow markets and/or small markets. For example, a small software programming company might create a training Meetup for users of the software. They could use the trainings to gather product feedback and brand insights, deepen brand loyalty, and beta launch new versions of the software. Organizing these kinds of Meetups can also help you set your firm apart as a credible leader in the industry, making you a go-to resource for journalists. Volunteering to serve as a guest speaker at these kinds of Meetups can also increase your credibility. In a small market, a business owner might be a local fishing shop using Meetups to organize fishing trips to generate sales leads and increase brand awareness.
A business owner can also sponsor a Meetup. By providing direct financial support (cash), a venue, or other in-kind contributions, a sponsor can be highlighted on the Groups Sponsors page, and/or with the agreement of the Organizer, have branded signage and/or mentions at the event.
Large corporations can benefit from Meetups too by providing locally-based industry-related gatherings. For example, a national manufacturer of infant toys might host a parenting Meetup in several different cities, containing high concentrations of current customers and targeted consumers.
Meetup.com can also be used as an event management platform, particularly for firms that host multiple events as part of their core business/marketing strategy. Organizer tools, such as online payment acceptance, can be expensive to develop and maintain in-house, but come as a benefit of Organizer dues.
Meetups can also be used to recruit talent in a few ways. Firms and/or their recruiters can host and/or attend networking events in their industry that may attract talent they can recruit directly. For example, a recruiter can run a search for Meetups of a particular industry topic in a particular geographic area, then visit the page and look through the attendees, supplementing this initial query with a review of the attendees other Groups and Meetups attendee, as well as LinkedIn and other social networking profiles as necessary, to prescreen promising candidates. Firms can also use Meetups to Organize recruiting events expressly designed to fill openings.
Initiating new deals
Firms can also take advantage of industry networking and/or social Groups for B2B marketing and sales purposes. Business development (sales) staff may be able to mine events for decision-makers at other firms, meet them, and pitch their products and services to them at the Meetup itself or at a time in the future. They can host the Groups, and in doing so, present themselves as a credible industry voice, paving the way for deal making. They can also search the Meetup.com site for details about decision makers at key firm and use this business intelligence when approaching or negotiating with them.
Learning about market developments
Industry networking Groups are also a good way to obtain insights about new trends that may affect your industry. You can join Groups populated by users of your product or service to gain brand/product insights from those users directly. You can also host and organize Groups of influencers and innovators in your industry to learn what new projects are being developed and evaluated.
Some of the key terms critical to understand and using Meetup.com are:
- Groups: a local collection of like-minded Meetup users who plan and organize Meetups around a specific topic
- Organizers: Meetup users who plan and host Meetups. They pay Organizer dues to use
- Sponsors: individuals or businesses who provide direct or inkind contributions to a Meetup Group
BEST PRACTICES / CASE STUDY
Best practices for using Meetup.com has as much to do with perfecting offline event management skills as it does properly employing the sites online social media tools. Offline, you should:
- Make sure your Meetups are emotionally compelling and resonate with your attendees. Have fun, tug at the heartstrings, make them laugh. Creating positive memories they associate with your firm will build and deepen brand loyalty.
- Brand your Meetup, but don’t overdo it. Meetups shouldn’t be treated as formal marketing events like industry conventions or trade shows. Make sure your Sponsors don’t overload your Meetup attendees with advertising either.
- Take pictures of your events. Better yet, capture video. Use both to create excitement for upcoming videos. Let attendees know you are shooting them, and incorporate a media release statement into your registration materials that gives you the right to use their image in your print and digital marketing materials.
- Schedule Meetups consistently, with a diversity of speakers, in a variety of formats, and on an assortment of topics. Experiment and see what works, but try to settle on at least a consistent time and location to enhance the likelihood of repeat attendance.
- Allow attendees adequate time to RSVP.
- Make sure that you or your firm’s representative can represent the firm well through attire, product/service knowledge, and personality.
- Communicate as much detailed Meetup information as thoroughly as possible. Have a contingency plan (including how you will communicate that contingency) in case of a necessary cancellation. People showing up to a canceled event is not the kind of association you want attribute to your brand.
- Follow up for feedback on your Meetup from participants and act on insights. Pay attention to those who take the time to review your Meetup.
- Don’t be afraid to charge to offset expenses, especially if you are a small business. Those who pay are very likely to attend. And in cases where the interest involves exclusivity – such as luxury or elite gatherings, a high fee may denote value to members.
- Join a Public Relations Meetup Group and use what you learn to publicize your Group.
- Often forgotten, thank people for attending in person when possible, and online when necessary.
Online, you should:
- Incorporate photos into your Meetup Organizer profile.
- List your Group under fifteen topics – the max, to ensure maximum visibility.
- Write a clear description of what the Group is about and who can/should join, as well as what they should expect.
- Promote your Meetup through your other social media channels to grow membership. Share post-event photos and video on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
- Incorporate Meetup Speaker bios and online profiles onto your event page to increase the likelihood of high attendance.
- Attach handouts and worksheets to your Group and request that members bring them for use during your event. You save the paper and can incorporate branded messages on the materials. Do not overwhelm attendees with this branded material, but do not overlook this opportunity either.
- Follow your Meetup attendees online on their social networks after your Meetup and engage them to increase the likelihood they will participate in future Meetups.
A great example of a Meetup used to target a narrow market is New York City Gaming Monthly, started by serial entrepreneur Brad Hargreaves, founder of a number of gaming companies. From his blog, he discusses creating a Meetup Group to bring together game developers from a number of different industries in New York City, which he notes, has a siloed tech landscape. The Meetup began in 2009 at a bar in the Lower East Side and had between 55 and 75 attendees weekly for the first ten months. By experimenting with speakers, time, location, and themes, by the following year he was able to increase the number to over 90 and start to attract sponsors. Today the Group, now the New York City Games Forum, counts nearly 4,000 members, a wider variety of content, and regular sponsors. He’s been able to use it in his efforts to find the next big thing in gaming. It’s also gotten him PR –pieces from the likes of Business Insider and New York Convergence (much cheaper than a PR agency at $19 a month). Other gaming firms have been able to demo games with participants and offer training at cost (for revenue) and for free (to strengthen brand loyalty).