In her Aging With Geekitude series, self-professed “recovering technophobe” Erica Manfred writes about her adventures with technology and shares what she’s learned as she navigates the not-so-scary waters.
Last winter I wrote about how I got an instant social life through Meetup.com while I was snowbirding in Florida. Then I moved to Florida — in the summer, when the snowbirds were all gone. Instant loneliness. It’s really rough to move to a new place where you don’t know anyone. So I took my own advice and logged on to Meetup.com to see if I could make some new friends among the full-timers.
Just in case you haven’t heard of it, Meetup.com is a huge online network of local offline groups that meet all over the country and the world. The Meetup website makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands that already meeting up in their town or city.
The result of my Meetup search? I’ve joined some groups that meet near my new home and I’ve started a couple of my own, too.
Starting your own meetup is a great way not only to meet new people, but also to become an instant VIP. Meetup organizers are the stars of their groups—everyone vies for your attention at your meetups. I’m the one who makes all the decisions about where to go, what to do, who to admit. Since I’m a bit of a control freak, the role suits me.
How to Start a Successful Meetup Group
- It’s easy to start a meetup. It’s not so easy to keep it going and get new members. I’m notified about new groups every day by Meetup.com, but most disappear before they get off the ground. So, before I go into the nuts and bolts of using the Meetup.com site, here are some tips on what how to start a Meetup that will attract and retain members.
- Pick a subject that you’re passionate about, be it gardening, birdwatching or antiquing. Remember, you’re starting the meetup to meet like-minded people.
- Pick your niche carefully. Go to Meetup.com and search for groups within 50 miles of your area to make sure that you’re not competing with a bunch of similar groups. For instance, I love movies and books, but there already were a lot of those types of meetups in my area. However, I noticed that none of the movie meetups went to art films, a genre I appreciate, so I started an Indie and Foreign Film meetup. There were also many writers’ meetups, but none for professional writers, so I started one of those as well. Both are thriving. Someone in my area recently started a local social meetup called Kibbitz, Kvetch and Kvell, for 55+ Jewish women. That got an enormous response here in South Florida.
- Come up with a catchy name if you can. Whoever came up with Kibbitz, Kvetch and Kvell was on to something.
- Meet regularly at the same time and place. People are creatures of habit and they grow used to the schedule. I schedule a movie and dinner every Sunday at an art film theater that has a restaurant onsite. About eight to 12 people attend my meetups, which is the perfect number for a movie discussion over dinner. Because I’m the only person my age I know who likes to go see horror films, I also belong to a Horror and Sci Fi Film meetup, which schedules films at least once a week with dinner before the film. I’m the oldest person in the group by 30 years, but since we have something in common to talk about, I don’t feel so much like a fish out of water, plus mingling with younger people keeps me in touch with the millennial zeitgeist.
- Make sure your meetup has a social aspect. One local organizer here just has movie meetups with no get-together before or after. She’s lucky to have two people show up. The whole point is to share your interests. I often schedule a movie that I’m not dying to see just because I know it will be fodder for a great post-movie discussion.
The Nuts and Bolts
Read this page on the Meetup site before you start your group. Go through all the links to get a sense of the process. Meetup.com also provides this help page. The first page will walk you through starting your meetup, the help page has numerous links to all aspects of the process.
Be aware that there is no phone support. You’re on your own, and the site can be confusing. If you’re not web savvy, set up your group with help from a friend who is. However, if you know how to navigate your Facebook settings or do online banking and (unlike me) you actually read all the information on the help page, you should be in good shape. The site does let you post a question on the Ask An Organizer page and get a personalized answer. This is the only type of support they offer.
5 Tips for Starting a Meetup Group
- On the setup page, you’re asked which “interest” categories fit your new Meetup group, and the site lets you choose among hundreds of categories, such as “seniors, French, gardening, books.” Choose as many categories as possible that relate to your group in any way. That’s how you’ll get members. Meetup sends notices about your new group to anyone whose listed interests match your group’s description.
- Provide an intriguing, lively group description. The examples that Meetup provides are helpful.
- Pick a convenient place that’s easy to get to and where you can spend at least a couple of hours. This can be the most difficult aspect, because finding public venues for meetups, unless you’re eating at a restaurant, is difficult. Panera is popular, because it lets groups sit for hours without ordering.
- Schedule a few meetups a couple of months out and post them all at once. If someone visits the site, you want them to find something they want to sign up for. When I’m looking for things to do, I check upcoming films on Meetup and schedule at least a month in advance.
- Don’t charge dues at least at first. Meetup.com has all kinds of dues options, probably because they get a cut of the profits. But you want people to find out what the Meetup is like before you charge them. Meetup.com has an option to charge after a free month. I charge a nominal fee of $5 a year to defray the Meetup.com organizer dues of an outrageous $180 per year (after the free three-month trial) that entitles me to organize three meetups. If your Meetup is is successful, that $5-a-head fee will let you recoup your outlay.
Good luck with your first meetup. After all, where else can you become an instant head honcho of your own little corner of the Internet?