A few weeks ago, I spoke at the London Social Media group. Its leader, Jorgen Sundberg, asked what should a meet-up group be doing to develop a community?
The answer is to embrace proven community building techniques. I’d highly recommend the following:
1) Build relationships.
The organizer (and volunteers) must spend a lot of time building relationships with people that attend. Too many seem happy to let people drift in and out whilst they talk to their buddies. Meet and greet people at the door. Ask them questions, make them feel happy to be there. Don’t let people nervously drift in and stand in a corner. If you see someone standing alone, go and speak to them. See point 2.
2) Introduce individuals to each other.
You have to work hard to build those interactions between members. Interactions are the foundations of relationships (which are the foundations of the community). The more relationships you build, the stronger your community will be.
3) Name tags.
People need to identify each other, especially if they interact online first. If you’re holding an offline meeting for an online group, you have to easily be able to find the people you know (both offline and when you go back online). This is essential.
4) Rituals for newcomers.
You can ask them each to introduce themselves, but that’s boring and not very special. Give them a specific task, a unique item or ask them to tell them something specific about themselves (the Skull and Bones society used to ask all members to recount their entire sexual histories to the group – but you can pick whatever suits you). How about ask them to explain how they first became interested in the topic.
5) Joint activities.
Establish some means of joint activity within the group. Listening to a speaker for an hour is pretty dull. Why not let one person present a problem that others can solve? People can take it in turns, for example. Present a business problem and the group tries to solve it. Find something the group can feel they have achieved during that short space of time.
6) Have an ending.
Some meet-ups don’t seem to end, but just drift away when they get tired. It’s important to end the experience with a summary of what the group achieved (unambiguous closure principle) and future actions. By all means invite people to stay and chat, just make it clear that the group activities are over.
If all else fells, get a free bar. Your attendees are guaranteed to have fun.