I posted here on January 5 that I was going to start two local meetups and document the process. Time for an update! Warning: it’s a little long, but it goes fast. :)
I started with the Tybee Island WordPress Meetup Group in the sleepy vacation community where I live. There are a lot of WordPress sites among local businesses, but most have traditionally been managed by a firm and I would consider the WP community here to be more on the beginner end of the spectrum. That said, it’s as enthusiastic as any of the most insidery cliques at the big WordCamps, and I have high hopes for its progression.
For a venue, I picked the Tybee Island Social Club, a restaurant/bar in the middle of the island that’s good for groups and has free wifi. The meetup was planned to be a social get-together where whoever showed up could meet the others and we could find out what everyone’s interests and skill levels were, so there wasn’t any need for a venue with a projector or private area.
I scheduled the first meetup for January 11, a little less than a week after I created the group and announced it. I figured I’d be lucky if even one or two people showed up, since I knew I didn’t have time to really publicize it though local channels, and Meetup.com sends a note about new meetups to people in the area 3 days after you create your group, so there wouldn’t be much notice.
On the day of the meetup, I posted to the Facebook wall of the venue that we’d be meeting there that night and anyone was welcome to join in. I also posted to the wall of the Tybee Times, an online-only collection of local happenings. In the meetup description on meetup.com I posted that I would be wearing a WordPress shirt (sometimes it seems those are all I have) and would have my laptop covered with WordPress stickers open on the table. I sat at a table right by the front door and got there extra early so I could feed Morgan dinner there before the meetup.
To my surprise, a person joined the group every day or so, having heard about it from someone or found it via search. I emailed two people I know in Tybee that are new to WordPress to encourage them to join. By the day of the meetup there were 9 members; I couldn’t believe it!
The First Meetup
Around 7, meetup time, I noticed a group forming in the back of the restaurant. It was the group! They hadn’t seen me sitting to the left of the door and had just gone and pushed some tables together. A total of 12 people showed up!
Lesson: Set up shop in forward-facing gazepath from the door if possible. Have sign or table tent to catch the eye.
What followed was a combination of mini-group chats, roundtable introductions, showing each other on laptops what currents sites were and talking about the changes people want to make, and talking about local and regional events. I helped one member download the WordPress iPhone app and make a mobile post using Quick Photo. About half the group had bought tickets to WordCamp Atlanta, and everyone was excited by the idea of putting together a small WordCamp in Tybee sometime right before tourist season hit in full force.
The people who came weren’t all beginners, as I’d expected. About half were beginners, mostly small business owners using or hoping to use WordPress to power their business site. Another couple were advanced users and/or developers who came over from Savannah, and there were a few intermediate users.
Interestingly, it was the beginners who’d all signed up for WCATL (Diane had been waiting for one to happen since we moved her site to WordPress last year in exchange for core meetup cottage rentals), and some expressed concern that they might not know enough to follow the WC presentations. I agreed to do a beginners’ tutorial before WCATL to get the vocabulary down and be comfortable with the posting process.
We discussed what kind of format our meetups should take. People were interested in running free classes at some point, possibly through the library, and having our meetups be a mix of social (read: drinking, Tybee’s pastime), coworking, and mini-presentations sometimes. We agreed that once a month was the right timing for regular meetups, and that we could do separate events for things like classes.
Everyone paid their own tab for food/drink, and I handed out WordPress buttons to anyone who wanted one. Unfortunately the wifi died near the end, which also meant no one could pay with credit cards, so we stuck around and chatted while we waited for the manual charge slips to be created.
The meetup was given good ratings on meetup.com (only about half of attendees had been members ahead of time).
The Second Meetup
The second meetup was the beginners’ session we planned at the first meetup. For venue we met at Diane’s house, where it would be quieter. We did it as a potluck — I was busy working on 3.4 scope/schedule and dev chat, so I brought a bottle of prosecco I had at home and a box of chocolate-covered Krispy Kremes that Morgan had decided she didn’t like. Diane made chili and people brought appetizers. My MOM joined this meetup. Not an acronym. My actual mother.
After we ate, we started with the basic intro to WP stuff. Got everyone posting and uploading an image, understanding the difference between posts and pages (it may just be time for us to rename Posts in the main nav to Blog, and have Posts be the subitem — though I know Jaquith hates that idea and will fight it to the death, it would save 15 minutes of instruction that happens with almost every new user), knowing the difference between categories and tags and how to use each, and using the mobile apps for iPhone and Android (except Diane, whose seemed to be hitting a weird bug).
Belinda was also able to help people get things going, so the two of us made sure everyone was keeping up. The evening eventually devolved into more of a social gathering with occasional meandering back to WordPress, but everyone had a great time and learned at least a couple of things.
As mentioned earlier, 5 or 6 people are heading to WC Atlanta next week, and our meetup group members are going to try and meet up there for coffee or lunch or something one day. We’ll return to regular meetups later in February and will pick a regular recurring day of the month. At that point I was thinking of taking out a small ad in the Tybee Breeze to get the word out, putting up flyers at the library and whatnot.
I started later with the Savannah WordPress Meetup Group. When I was at WordCamp Birmingham I decided it was time to get Savannah started. I initially planned the first meetup for Feb 1, thinking having a couple of weeks of lead time would mean a bigger turnout, but then I thought of the WP philosophies: Shipping is a feature. Don’t wait for perfection, launch and iterate. With that in mind, I went ahead and set the 1st meetup for January 24, about a week and a half from the group’s formation.
I wanted to use ThincSavannah, the co-working space I belong to. I have a low-level membership that allows me to work there up to 40 hours per month during normal business hours of 9-5 during the week. In addition I get 8 hours per month of conference room rental time. The space has two large open co-working spaces as well as a couple of conference rooms, and is located in a great location right downtown overlooking Ellis Square and near the Whitaker Street Parking Garage.
I approached the owners to ask if it could be made to work, since technically I wasn’t supposed to be accessing the space at all hours, but our meetups would be in the evening. They wanted to host us (they host several tech-related events), but their offer was a reduced rate on conference room rentals. I told them I appreciated the offer, but since I didn’t want to incur expenses for the meetup, I would just see if I could get free space from SCAD (they hosted WordCamp Savannah 2010 as a venue sponsor) even though I thought ThincSavannah was the better venue philosophically. They said they’d discuss it further. The offer they came back with was to let me use my hours for the actual space rentals, but for me to put down a deposit (about the same price as a month’s membership) against any potential problems. I thought this was super reasonable, and happily paid the deposit. (Why do I have the cheapest membership that limits me to business hours? Because I want to have contact with the vibrant tech community in Savannah, but don’t want to commute 20 minutes each way every day, so twice a week is the max I can handle.)
Again I didn’t really publicize. I sent a tweet to Creative Coast, and ThincSavannah tweeted it, but that’s about it. I tweeted once from the old WordCamp Savannah account, and I tweeted from my personal account that I would be bringing tootsie rolls. :)
Join rate was slower than on Tybee. 6 or 7 had joined (including me) by the first meetup, and 5 showed up. Kevin Lawver, organizer of Refresh Savannah, told me via Twitter that it’s impossible to get people in Savannah to RSVP for things.
The First Meetup
We took the brand new ThincStudio room (the venue recently expanded), and all fit around one of the big (sustainable wood) tables. There was me, two pro WP consultants/devs, one advanced user/freelancer, and one newish blogger. I had a clipboard on the table to get people to sign in. This was good, because I could send an email to the two people who’d heard about it via Twitter and hadn’t joined the meetup.com group yet. My sign-in list had columns for name, member of group on meetup.com (y/n), and if not, email.
It was pretty great. If we’d had beer it would have been perfect. We went around and told each other how we use WordPress and what we were hoping to get out of the group. We discussed different types of meetups we could have and agreed on casual work-on-stuff/social meetups for now, with occasional special events (every 3 months or so) involving presentations or speakers, rather than that being the default. Savannah is meetup-heavy, and it took us a while to itemize all the other events we’d want to work around (Refresh, cSpot, LunchTank, Free Advice Fridays, Social Media Club, etc). We eventually picked the second Wednesday for regular evening meetups at 6pm (vs 7pm in Tybee, b/c there we need to give people to get home from work, while in Savannah we figure people will come while they are still downtown), and a lunch meetup the 4th Wednesday (so people with evening commitments could still participate).
We also discussed bringing WordCamp back to Savannah, with a focus on local speakers and possible unconference portions. The plan would be to decide the general program as a group, and to assign meetup group members topics to learn enough about to be able to do a session. If needed, I’ll connect people with some of the higher-profile WP community experts to ask/answer questions. We’d like to bring in one featured speaker per track from outside of town.
We talked about venues. The River Club, donated last time by SCAD, is no longer a SCAD property, so we thought about alternatives. WCSAV 2010 had about 185 attendees, and now that there are a bunch of people in Savannah using WP to make a living, we know it would be even more this time around. Caila thought she could hook us up with the Telfair theater since she works at the museum. We also thought we could do a fun, lo-fi WC right there at ThincSavannah. It would be crowded, people would have to scrounge for chairs, etc, but the old-time BarCamp vibe is something we all thought would be a positive thing. We agreed to keep talking about possibilities at future meetups. The possibility of doing something the same weekend as Tybee was seen as a good idea (one day in Tybee for blogger and beginning users, one day in Savannah for more experienced users and makers), but wasn’t gone into in detail.
Our next evening meetup (WordPress Workalong) is scheduled for February 8 (4 people said yes so far), and the lunch meetup (WordPress Brown Bag) is scheduled for February 22 (2 people so far). After I’m back from WCATL, I might put up flyers at a couple of coffeeshops, but a small meetup of people who know what they are doing is such a nice thing I’m not in any big rush to draw in all and sundry. I will probably do more outreach to the other tech groups, though.
So that’s it for the first round. I’ll post another update next month with the progress.
If you currently run a WordPress meetup or would like te start one in your city, please fill in the WordPress Meetup Group Survey and check out the post about our new meetups program. Catch you later!