There are some opportunities that come along in life which absolutely terrify you, yet you’d be completely, ridiculously foolish to turn them down.
For me, being asked to speak at WordCamp Europe was one of those opportunities.
It was scary – I nearly ran away with my headset already attached. But it was also fun, and I was proud of myself once it was over.
Below are the slides and transcript from my WordCamp Europe 2017 talk, “How we developed our local WordPress meetup”, which you can also watch over on WordPress.tv.
If you’d like to come to a future WordUp (WordPress meetup in Brighton) event, you can join us here on Meetup.
Slide 1: Hi my name is Alice Still – I’m going to take you on a whistle stop tour of why and how we grew and developed our local WordPress meetup in Brighton, UK.
Slide 2: I own a company called Unramble. I’m also the lead organiser of WordCamp Brighton and an co-organiser of our local WordPress meetups, called WordUp Brighton.
Slide 3: There are many different ways to contribute to WordPress – one of which is organising WordPress events, including local meetups and WordCamps.
But why would you choose to organise a WordPress meetup? There are lots of reasons and these are probably much the same reasons you had for attending WordCamp Europe.
Whether you contribute to building the WordPress community by organising events, or contribute to WordPress core, or accessibility, or themes, or any area of the WordPress project, I’m sure it always comes back to the fact you just really like doing it, you like giving back and you want to get involved.
In August 2016, we’d just about recovered from the first ever WordCamp Brighton. We were very happy with how it went, but not so happy with the number of speaker applications from people in Brighton.
Slide 4: It was a wake-up call that we should be engaging more local people. But how? We already had a local WordPress meetup group, WordUp, but we weren’t meeting regularly, and when we did it was often the same people who attended.
Our theory was, if we could somehow reach people who’d never attended WordUp, we’d increase awareness and eventually make a more diverse, and sustainable WordPress community in Brighton.
With more local involvement, it would be easier to find local speakers for WordCamp Brighton 2017.
Slide 5 (click image to expand): We needed to find the WordPress fans we hadn’t come across before. But if you keep doing the same thing, you can only expect the same result, right? So I figured, why not make a slightly silly, Twenty Sixteen-themed poster instead.
I admit, this poster isn’t my greatest work. But it reached people we hadn’t reached previously – local people who had no idea there was a WordPress meetup in Brighton.
Slide 6: We had 28 sign ups and 20-something people came along in August 2016 – most of whom had never attended a WordUp before.
There were lots of good conversations, new faces, and we gathered ideas for what to do at future events. In fact, it was so busy, I only remembered to take these two photos.
But it was also stressful. Beforehand we had a real worry that not enough people would show up. The venue was technically free, but they needed to make enough money off food and drinks to justify staying open late just for us.
But we weren’t doing this to sell food – we were doing it to grow a community.
Slide 7: So how could we maintain the successes of the August meetup, while removing some of those pressures? Everything was pointing to finding a new, regular venue.
By this stage though, we’d already investigated quite a few other options before the cafe. We’d previously met at a co-working space, but it wasn’t very welcoming and the area we were using was a bit small.
We had dabbled with using a pub, but they can be noisy and tricky for presentations. We felt ready for somewhere that could hold our growing numbers, while at the same time, it would be nice to not worry if numbers varied.
In August 2016, I also happened to start working from a bigger co-working space called Eagle Labs. I knew they were keen to support local groups, so I floated the idea with the manager of holding our WordPress meetup there. He said yes.
Suddenly everything became much easier.
Slide 8: We didn’t need to have a certain number of people attend to make it worthwhile for the venue. And they helped us promote the meetup through their own marketing channels. In return, we make sure they know we’re very grateful, we include them in the sponsors section on meetup.com and tweet our thanks regularly.
Our venue is one of the main reasons our meetup works so well. It gives us the freedom to try out new things without worrying about numbers or costs.
If you aren’t lucky enough to get a donated venue like ours, there’s now a solution for that. You can apply to WordPress Community Support to cover the costs. I’ll share a link to the application form at the end of this presentation.
So we finally had the venue sorted, but as we were meeting in the evening, around dinner time, we knew people would also need to eat. One of the original WordUp organisers, David Lockie, owns a thriving local agency called Pragmatic. They were very quick to offer to donate dinner and drinks, which they’ve been doing every month since.
It’s a cost effective way for them to sponsor locally, and all our meetup attendees love them for it. Again, we include them in the sponsors section on meetup.com and regularly tweet our thanks.
Now that we had a venue, food and drinks sponsored, we could focus on reaching even further beyond our usual network and draw in more new people to WordUp thorough marketing.
Slide 9: Bearing in mind, all the WordUp organisers have day jobs, we need to be selective about how we spend our time on marketing.
Every WordPress meetup can get a free Meetup account, which is very useful. Using this, we passively build up a list of people who are interested in WordPress.
Then, every month, as early as possible, we publish an event on Meetup, which gets sent to this entire list of over 300 people.
We also rely a lot on Twitter, promoting every meetup, tweeting during the meetups with photos, and using our own hashtag.
The organisers, attendees and our sponsors regularly retweet and promote our events on Twitter. There’s also a local organisation called Wired Sussex who kindly tweet out all our events and share them on their website.
We also use Twitter to call for speakers and share general news and updates. Twitter is fast to use and reaches a wide audience more efficiently than other channels like Facebook and LinkedIn. But there’s no reason not to use other social media channels to reach more people, if you have time.
We also promote through word of mouth. And we engage with other local meetups and influencers to further promote without too much effort.
And finally, we have a WordPress website. Full disclosure: we’re terrible with keeping this updated. It’s on the to do list and once we sort it out, it’s going to have information about what we do, when we meet, contact details, and blog posts about each event.
Ultimately, the aim of all our marketing is to ensure we continue reaching a wide and diverse audience, and avoid becoming exclusive.
Slide 10: After all this, do we even have a successful meetup?
The thing is, there are lots of ways to define and measure success…
Slide 11: If we’re defining it by the cost to sponsor per attendee, yes, we usually do pretty well. Our meetups are often well attended, plus we have good online engagement.
Numbers are good in some ways because it means we’re reaching more people – but it’s not just about numbers.
Slide 12: If you get even a few more people engaged, interested or comfortable in this space – you have a successful meetup.
For us, success is when a fellow organiser comes to the rescue.
Or when a professional beekeeper called Neil moves from using Joomla to WordPress and finds a place to come for advice and support.
Or when we organise a Get Speaking workshop and some of the attendees go on to apply to speak at a conference they didn’t think they could apply to.
Or when we see greater diversity among our members.
Or when we increase the number of local speaker applications to WordCamp Brighton.
To run a successful meetup, it’s handy to have something else aside from a venue, sponsors, marketing and attendees.
Slide 13: With resourcefulness, drive and a bit of imagination, you can keep a meetup group going and growing even when things go wrong.
My biggest tip is to make sure you have backup. Find at least one other person with gumption to help you organise.
That way you can spread the load, not take on everything yourself, keep your ideas fresh, and most importantly, make sure your meetup lasts into the future.
Slide 14: Here are some useful links. The Make WordPress Community for resources and information about organising a meetup.
You can find existing WordPress meetups – and if there isn’t one in your area, why not start one up?
And the venue approval form I mentioned earlier, where you can apply for funding if you can’t find a free venue for your meetup.
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