My Experience In Running A WordPress Meetup

Jane Wells believes that 2012 will be the year of the WordPress Meetup. During her quest to put together two different meetups, she’ll be publishing her experiences that will hopefully turn into a Field Guide to Organizing a WordPress Meetup.

Thinking back to the days in which I helped co-organize a WordPress meetup group for North Eastern Ohio, I can give you my two cents on putting the group together. Back in 2009, I made the discovery that WordPress ninja, Brian Layman lived in my local area. At the time, he was employed with B5 Media doing some heavy development stuff. I managed to get in touch with him via Skype and discussed the idea of creating a WordPress meetup. After determining that this would be a good idea, we had to think of a location on where to host the event. He lived closer to Akron/Canton while I lived closer to Cleveland which prompted us to find a location that was inbetween. Previous to our discussion, Brian Layman had been working from a place called Office Space Coworking located within downtown Akron. Thanks to Brian’s connections, we were able to use this space to house our first meetup.

We decided to use as the place to house all of the information regarding the event because it was already well established. It was a third party site which didn’t require maintenance on our part and based on a couple of searches, there were already a number of WordPress meetups happening all over the country through the site. However, there were no results for North Eastern Ohio when it came to meetups which is another reason we chose

Once the group was created, Brian and I used our Twitter accounts and our websites to promote the event. This helped to get the groups first set of registered users. After the success of our first event, attendees helped us to spread the word. Due to space limitations, we couldn’t seat more than 30 people but none of the meetups approached that number. Sometimes, the meetup had 7 attendees while others had 16. Attendance was based on weather as well as other factors.

Speaking of attendance, this was by far the most complicated issue since I worked weird shifts at work and Brian was not available during the times when I was. We decided to shoot for the last Thursday of every month at 7PM. This way, the meeting was predictable and 7PM is still early enough to not be considered late. Since the meetups were generally around an hour or less, this worked out great.

That’s the short version of my experience with regards to running a WordPress meetup. If I had any advice for you, the first thing I’d do is check and see if a local meetup event already occurs in your area.

If not, gauge the interest level of such a meetup with folks in your area that you know are somewhat technology savvy. In my opinion, it’s better to get a meetup started with a nucleus of people who already understand WordPress than to start with a group of people who know nothing about it.

Certainly do your research when it comes to finding a location to house the meetup. I’d say this step is quite possibly the most difficult if you don’t know of any places off-hand. Make sure they can comfortably deal with 10-20 people without disturbing normal business.

Host your meetup with regularity so that I can memorize when it will be. Having it at different times on different days makes it more difficult to remember that the event is going to happen in the first place.

We debated on charging for the meetup to cover the cost of the meetup account but because it was through Office Space Coworking, we were able to control the account through them and therefor, didn’t have to pay. We kept the meetups free. If there were any drinks or snacks during the meetup, they were an out of pocket cost for Brian and I. In future meetups, I told Brian that if people want snacks or something to drink, they should just bring their own. That’s what we ended up doing.

Don’t limit your event to strictly the region your catering to. For example, while we encouraged those from North East Ohio to attend, we were grateful to have Kim Parsell from Newcomerstown, Ohio join us on a regular basis. We’re talking about a 70 mile, hour long drive. We also had the pleasure of having Jeff Lee from Norwalk, Ohio which is inbetween Cleveland and Toledo. Allowing those from far away to attend your meetup and giving them a good time will perhaps give them the inspiration to put together one of their own within their own neighborhood.

All in all, WordPress meetups in my opinion are like mini WordCamps but in some ways, much better. You get one on one time with people, can talk about anything you want regarding the software, forge new connections and bonds with other members of the community and at the end of the day, feel good about yourself after you helped a noob setup their first WordPress powered website. It’s these feelings and experiences which prompted me to go through helping to put together the North East Ohio WordPress meetup group. Unfortunately, things came up and I had to step away from attending these events but I’m hoping that in 2012, after a couple of things fall in line for me, I’ll be able to create and join these meetups.


8 responses to “My Experience In Running A WordPress Meetup”

  1. I just attended my first WP Seattle meetup last month and was very impressed with the organization and attendees. Turnout here seems quite high compared to what you experienced — 80 or so registrants on, with probably 50 of those actually showing up.

    The company I work with has sponsored food and drink at two meetups so far and will be doing so again next week. Sponsorships are a great way to provide some extras for attendees while keeping registration free and giving a local biz the opportunity to say a few words.

  2. The NEO WordPress meetup is my local meetup. There’s not much of a tech community where I live, so I have to travel to get my WordPress fix. ;)

    I hope to be able to attend more in 2012, once my life settles down a bit.

  3. Barry had mentioned the Seattle Meetup, which I am the organizer of. Although I would love to take the credit of such a robust and successful group, I just took over a couple of months ago, and was handed a great track record already : )

    The previous organizers had built a great community already and we just continue to grow. Our total membership is almost 700, but as Barry mentioned from his experience, we typically get between 80 and a 100+ signing up, but always have less who actually attend.

    I think the success of our group has been the flavor of it. We know that we will get from the very beginner to the seasoned developer showing up. So we try to choose our main presentations to appeal to all, but that can be a challenge sometimes. As a result, part of the meet up in spent in breakout groups: beginners, devsigners/advanced users, and developers. That has worked really well and each group does their own thing. And then of course we have time for networking as well.

    As far as covering costs, we are very lucky to have a venue, called TechStars which gives us the space at no cost. The space is good sized, and even with the limited amount of chairs, people are adaptable and make it work. We also provide pizza and beverages at each meet up as well through a sponsorship. As Barry said his company has done this for a couple of months and they find the value in it. When I took over, the previous organizer and I had a discussion on this. He was adamant about not charging, and I felt the same way. We felt the WordPress community is open and traditionally meet ups have been free. So we wanted to keep it this way.

    I have loved being part of the group before becoming the organizer, and love it even more. I drive 1.5 to 2 hours to get there, and since I live by the ferry on an island, I also need to stay the night in a hotel. But it’s so worth it for me. The connections and friendships I have made has been invaluable.

  4. Here in Liverpool we’ve been running a local group called SWIG for nearly a year now. Every month on the last Thursday, like yours.

    What we learned quickly was that a regular schedule and location is important. Then it’s all about promotion and making it interesting enough for all attendees. So we pitch our chat and talks at different levels and have Q&A sessions where more experienced experts can help out.

    Numbers wise we typically get 14 to 24 attendees.

    And now this month we have our first bigSWIG – which is a paid for event, a little like a WordCamp in that we have speakers, but without the WordCamp overhead. We have space for 120 people (at a squeeze) but will be happy if 60 or so attend. From the sales so far I expect is to easily make this. But it’s a heck of a change from free to paid for – you have to work harder on getting the right speakers, the venue, and the facilities.

    We’ll be streaming the event life as well, so you guys on t’other side of t’Atlantic can watch for free :-)

  5. As the organizer for the St. Louis WP Meetup and primary organizer for WordCamp St. Louis 2011, I can tell you that starting a meetup was an absolutely awesome experience. Without it, I wouldn’t have met Chip Bennett, who is now helping out as an extremely knowledgeable support guru with UpThemes and I wouldn’t have been able to put together the very first WordCamp St. Louis without the volunteers from our Meetup group.

    I have since moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and passed the torch to a local marketing/design agency and they’ve been running the Meetup successfully for months now. I have even gone back and visited the group and am proud to be able to say I was a part of that group.

    I am considering starting another WordPress Meetup (even though Dallas has one of the largest Meetup groups ever assembled) for the North DFW area (Frisco, Plano, McKinney) so if anyone is local, give me a holler!

  6. Thank you for this as I am in constant thinking of setting up a WordPress meetup for our area (Abbotsford Fraser Valley, BC) and the question in the back of the mind always is: who will be attending and what to discuss.
    I was fortunate enough to attend WordCamp in San Francisco, granted this was on a much larger scale, the format of multiple speaker always appealed to me.
    I guess step one is taking the jump!

  7. This was a really helpful article. I’m a co-organizer of Oahu Online Entrepreneurs in Hawaii. While we have a broader scope towards Internet marketing, WordPress is a popular topic.

    I can totally identify with the headaches of scheduling and organizing meetups. A couple of months ago, I went through the search for a new venue. Nearly impossible to achieve that ideal convergence of central location, free parking, good Wi-Fi, available seating, and coffee.

    One problem is trying to keep a balance between pros and newbies. If there are too many pros, the newbies feel intimidated. If there are too many newbies, no one is able to learn from each other.

    It’s a labor of love for me, though. The most common compliment we get is, “It’s so great to meet other people who are doing the same thing.” Blogging, programming, etc. can be lonely professions if you’re a solo freelancer based at home. The meetup is really valuable for meeting like-minded people and feeding off the collective energy of the group.

    I’ve also picked up tons of insider tips and resources I could never have discovered on my own. I take detailed notes and write recap reports on our “Discussions” page, and those things can end up really long. I’m constantly blown away by how generous the members are in sharing what they know.


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