The website Meetup is a social network with a difference. Where most social networks are focused on online networking, Meetup was designed to help groups of people with similar interests meet up in the real world. We see huge potential when integrated into marketing campaigns.

Meetup is designed around communitiesGroups are put together based on physical location and common interests. They are, in effect, therefore, ready-made communities. This makes Meetup a good way to make contact with groups, already self-segregated and forming into a community, saving you quite a lot of work and community-building effort.

Meetup members expect to…well…meet. In person. Building online communities is a good start in any marketing campaign, especially one concentrating on content marketing . But we have commented before that online contact is no substitute for face-to-face human interaction. To build solid relationships, and particularly to take them beyond the initial contact, you need to meet people in person. Meetup facilitates that because of its focus on meeting in person.

You can use Meetup to network with other businessesMaking contact with other thought leaders in your field is good for both you and them. It helps you all to stay abreast with current thinking in the field, and also to share ideas and experience. Making contact in person facilitates interactions online, such as Twitter following and retweeting, and sharing blog posts.

Meetups should not be used for direct selling  Direct selling is a big turnoff. This means that if you are organising a meetup, it should not be about your business. Instead, you should focus on the shared interests of the group, and organise something that people will want to attend. It might, for example, be a breakfast meeting around a particular problem area or issue, or a workshop on a new regulation or piece of technology.

As with any other form of community building, Meetups will take effort. Communities need to be nurtured, and meetup groups are no exception. If you are going to run one, you will need to spend time building it up, posting about meetups, and replying to comments. If you are involved in someone else’s group, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on community and group activity to make sure you are up-to-date and not missing anything.

Use Meetup Statistics to monitor the health of your meetup group. Meetup offers a range of group statistics to help you monitor how you (and your group) are doing. These include numbers of new members, attendances, and total and active members. You can use these to test different ideas, such as different locations, or meeting days or times. For example, many organisers find that location makes a huge difference to attendance, but time of day could also contribute.

Don’t let the meetup group become ‘yours’: involve other people too. There is a danger with any group or community that it becomes focused around one specific person. While building personal relationships is good, you want a Meetup group to be business-led. Involve two or three other people, and make sure that you are all part of the planning process, and that you can all substitute for each other if necessary. That way, you won’t be tied by holidays or someone leaving the company.

Plan ahead so people can get events in their diaries. Spontaneity may be fun, but it can also be a problem in business. If you plan ahead—and that means about three events ahead—then your group can get things in their diary, and you will not be dependent on ‘last minute’ attendance. This will also give you plenty of time to organise speakers so that you are not always relying on the same people.

Build in both redundancy and outside interest to ensure that you always have speakers. It’s a good idea to plan to have more than one speaker at any meetup—three to six is ideal. First, that means that nobody has to do a huge amount of preparation, and second, it means that you won’t be left in the lurch if one of your speakers cancels at the last minute. Inviting external speakers adds interest for attendees.

Meetups are not standalone options. Yes, Meetup will send out invitations to your events, and yes, you could use just those. But many people don’t read standard emails. Sending your own invites, and also write-ups and thanks, and tweeting about your events, keeps people interested and more likely to attend.

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