Meetup 101: How do I grow membership?

March 07, 2014

In the first meetup post, I talked about broader ideas and general principles. Principles are necessary to establish a basis for action. Beyond principles, broader ideas are like assholes.

Everyone has one …

So, in this module, let's focus on what grows a meetup membership. As a reminder, we are strictly talking about headcount. Not engagement.

Growth Hacking

As in the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there are definite stages of growth.

When it comes to execution, I think many people - especially smart people - jump the gun. In fact, the prior post addressed starting with an end in mind. But, sequencing is very important in successfully launching and growing (a business, yourself, etc). And in this situation, we should stick to growing membership. That's the baseline. It isn't easy. I fail all the time.

Here are a few things you can do to grow membership, because they are directly correlated with new membership sign-up:

  1. Pick a good title and topic.
  2. Host meetups regularly.
  3. Cross-promote events.
  4. Offer diversity of format.
  5. Focus on quality.

Going Deeper

Why does it work? In particular, numbers 1 and 2 are no brainers, but here is the deeper explanation of why it works, so you can do more of it. It works because meetup itself is a marketing platform that helps random strangers see your events.

For example, users will get a weekly calendar suggesting events, or events their friends are attending. Or those searching passively by topic will see a catchy title and look further. So the point is that by using meetup to promote your ideas or events, you’re tapping into a pretty well-refined and extensive distribution channel.

So, meetup succeeds because even doing those very basic two things (the 20% in 80/20 rule) gets you more leads than 80% of time you might spending sharing word of mouth or posting on Facebook, or whatever.

Cross-promotion works for the same reason. For example, you can co-host a meetup with another meetup community in a related field. That automatically expands your distribution, and it is a leveraged channel (again, as opposed to you telling individuals). The old-world equivalent would be finding connectors and impresarios and asking for their help in promoting your events. Meetup as a platform and other communities as a platform largely replace those older techniques.

Your meetup should have a focus of purpose around the customers you serve, but diversity of format around that topic can expand the breadth of customers you capture. For example, let's say you teach JavaScript. You might do evening after-work events, but you would capture additional members if you are also able to offer mid-day lunch session or a weekend workshop.

Last, but not least, if your meetups suck, no one will show up. It goes back to the first post about having fun, having a purpose and all that good jazz.

What about Retention?

This is a really interesting topic to me. In business school, you learn that a value of a customer (and hence a business) is a function of recurring revenues and retention rate - those are key drivers of customer lifetime value. You try to maximize this CLV.

Or more simply, the idea is that it takes money to find customers (acquisition cost) and it costs you something to keep them (retention). Because it costs you something to get the customer, you don't want to lose them and then have to get them again. It eats into your bottom line. With free meetups, the same principles apply, but you might quantify the cost in terms of time or effort versus money.

I was watching a talk by Noah Kagan - he was asked by someone how much AppSumo spends on customer acquisition versus retention.

He said, it was a really good question. And then he said he spends none. None! I just about fell over. The MBA brain in me said he is full of shit. But, he had a point - Noah said that it is something he learned from Zuckerberg at Facebook: focus on growth - you can't optimize for customers leaving your service, so focus all your energies on growth. (Admittedly, focus on growth is what startups do by definition.) That's pretty mind blowing! At least I think so.

Oh, about assholes (and ideas). Everyone has one …

and it stinks.


My tribute to my favorite author.

Don't forget. Even if you run into a wall, keep looking up!

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