An Introduction To Promoting Meetups

“If you build it, they will come.”

No quote has done more of a disservice than this Field of Dreams quote. There are more startups, meetups, and corn field baseball diamonds that lay unused and empty because their creators thought that if they just built something great, people would naturally find their way to it.

There’s a lot of noise out there, and even quality products need to find a way to cut through it. When the Battlestar Galactica miniseries and television reboot launched, there were commercials and teasers, but also volunteer street teams at malls and 500,000 sampler DVDs given out to fans for promotion. Uber and Lyft give out tens of thousands of dollars of free rides in every new city they launch in. Taco Bell sent a ““Tacodactyl” to deliver tacos to the homes of Youtube vloggers (it’s debatable if Dorito Tacos is a “quality product,” but the PR stunt was fantastic).

Your meetup is no different. There are a lot of things competing for your potential attendee’s time. Family, work, sports, book club, repainting the shed… not to mention other meetups. Future attendees not only have to hear about you, but they have to decide that their time is better spent with you than with their family, or at a different event, or sleeping, on any of the other things they typically do.

I’ve seen many meetups fail simply because no one knew they existed. Actually, no I haven’t. Because I never saw them. Which is exactly the problem. But I have seen Meetup organizers who will spend a huge amount of time on their events to have only a few people show up. They’ll run the event three or four times… but attendance stays small, the organizer loses interest, and then shuts it down.

There’s an entire discipline called “marketing.” You certainly don’t have to be a professional marketer to make a successful event, but there are definitely things you can learn to better promote your event. Between my experiences running ongoing public events like the Hacker News Meetup, one-off public events like 30+ Startup Weekend events, and smaller, invite only events like the Seattle Meta-Meetup, I’ve noticed that event promotion tends to fall into four main buckets.

These four buckets are the main topics I want to cover in my next few blog posts: Style of Promotion, Initial Promotion, Ongoing Promotion, and Piggybacking.

In Style of Promotion we’re going to talk about whether you want to focus on primarily word of mouth marketing, or go for lots of press and a big show. Initial Promotion will talk about how you’re going to promote the very first event and get those early adopters, while in Ongoing Promotion we’ll discuss more sustainable methods of attracting new attendees over the course of months or years. And finally, Piggybacking is a tactic for using partners like speakers and venues to widen your reach.

By understanding these concepts, you can be much more intentional about your promotional strategy for your meetup, which will lead to a much higher degree of success.

I walked out of my hotel yesterday, and on to the set of Arab Idol. Which definitely explains the singing I heard from the room next to mine all night…

Written on January 11, 2013