In January of 2011, I started hosting a monthly MongoDB meetup. My employer, CustomInk, was looking for ways to become better known in the local DC technology market. We were also just getting started with our initial production deployment of MonogoDB. Having engineers from the area come to our office, get to know CustomInk, and share their experiences with using MongoDB was a great opportunity!
Having a good space for hosting these types of meetings is important. CustomInk has two different spaces that we can utilize. The Parlour is a very cozy sitting room that includes a fireplace. It’s suitable for a groups of up to 30 people. The Cafe is quite a bit larger, we can host up to 80 people there. We also have a very nice outdoor patio which could hold 80 people but planning weather-dependent meetings doesn’t feel like the right way to go. The patio is connected to both the Parlour and the Cafe so networking at the beginning of the meeting sometimes happens there.
The MongoDB group now includes over 250 members and the DevOps DC group is over 100. Based on our experience, I believe there are a number of things that you can do to grow and run a successful meetup group.
Consistent date, time, location
Having a consistent date, time, and location may be one of the most important things you can do. This allows members to plan their schedule and their commute. Finding the location of any meetup can be an anxiety-filled experience for some people. Is this the right building? Which floor is this meeting on? There’s comfort in knowing that next month’s meeting will happen in the same space as this month’s. You may feel it would be better to alternate locations. We’ve certainly had some requests for this in the groups we regularly host. Based on feedback from other groups and some of our own experience, this is a bad idea. We’ve seen or heard of too many members missing meetings because they went to the “other” location. For the MongoDB group, we meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 6:30. Pick a day and time that works best for you and stick with it.
A location that is easily accessible via public transportation is certainly desirable but may not always be feasible.
Encourage member participation
Once you’ve got everyone at your meetup it’s important that you make this a warm, welcoming place where members feel comfortable and are encouraged to participate. We ask attendees to introduce themselves, share a pick, and contribute during open discussions.
Register a twitter account
A twitter handle that matches your group is a great way to help promote your meetings and encourage attendance. I use @MongoDC and will frequently tweet about topics that our members are interested in. Of course, the primary use of the account is to announce upcoming meetings and speakers. However, I also use it for sharing MongoDB related news such as product releases and upcoming conferences. Additionally, we ask our members to share their twitter handle when they arrive. This allows me to put together a Twitter list of the people who attended (an idea I stole from the B’more on Rails group).
Feed the group
You’re probably scheduling your meetings right around the same time that most people would otherwise be eating dinner. CustomInk provides pizza, sodas, and beer for each meetup. Personally, I’m a bit of a beer lover so try to provide a unique offering at each meeting. This a good sponsorship opportunity for companies interested in reaching your group, too.
Give away FREE stuff
What’s a user group meeting without some sort of free swag? 10gen, the company behind MongoDB, is great about making sure I always have something to give away at the meetings. Quick reference cards, stickers, and coffee mugs are usually in ample supply. Occasionally, we’ll have a books, conference tickets or discounts, or other special swag that we can giveaway, too.
Provide free wifi to your attendees. It’s frustrating to go to a technical meeting without wifi.
Meetup.com has a lot of great tools to help you organize meetings, communicate with individual members or with the entire group, and more. Be sure to checkout the “Organizer Tips” available under the “Group Tools” menu. Create a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or anywhere else your members or potential members are going to be but always link back to the group’s page on meetup.com. Use the meetup site to post any presentations from your meetings. I also find it’s very helpful to summarize your meetings on the site. This gives attendees easy access to everything that happened and gives new members an idea about the content and quality of the meetings.
It might also be interesting to have a page on the Meetup site where your members can highlight their own open source contributions. Perhaps they’ve contributed to a MongoDB driver?
There are other sites that offer similar functionality to Meetup.com but I firmly believe Meetup.com is the best. It’s where many people go to look for interesting groups and the tools they provide are great.
Lately, I’ve been kicking around the idea of having a group library. Members and publisher could contribute books that the group might be interested in. Each book could be “borrowed” for up to a month. Have you had any experience with a user group that’s done this?
What suggestions do you have? Please leave a comment or get in touch with me.
In my next post, I’ll provide some suggestions on the agenda / format for each meeting.