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 Meetup.com 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 Meetup.com.
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.