A monthly meetup focused on web engineering and new trends in this area. The last time, many people asked me about my experience and if I can share some tips or what is essential when starting a new meetup and I asked for it. In this post, I summarize all of that and provide tips, tricks and my lessons learned.

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Shawn

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This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum , where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business. Gathering friends, followers and "likers" online can only take you so far in the world of networking. Organizing a Meetup is a great way to move your virtual network to a tangible territory. Quite simply, a Meetup is a planned event where like-minded people meet and typically chat over cocktails and listen to a guest speaker.

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Here are some tips that can help you get your new group up and running.

About

Unlike much of social media, sites such as Meetup. These sites provide a set of tools that make it easy for you to bring a group of people together and continuously promote that group. Several months after ing Meetup. In FebruaryI started the Ocala I. Professionalsa meetup dedicated to providing a forum for local I. Within six months, the Ocala I. Professionals had over 60 members and two spin-off groups.

The main group meets about once a month at this starting, alternating between dinner meetings at local restaurants and presentation meetings. Having been a meetup organizer and having seen other examples of meetups, successful and otherwise, I wanted to offer some guidance for those who are considering starting their own group on Meetup.

Starting a meetup is not just about sharing interests. Existing organizations can also use meetups and other networking groups to publicize their meetings and manage local chapters. The Florida Trail Associationwhich works to maintain and promote the hiking trails and outdoor recreation throughout Florida, sponsors several Meetup groups in different areas of the state with thousands of members.

Various Toastmasters and Lions Club chapters also use Meetup. The membership tools and event registrations make it easier to manage and promote these activities and Meetup. Educational meetups are often centered around instruction in various subjects. Technology education in meet has found an outlet through meetups where instructors can offer interactive instruction in a less formal manner and without the financial, accreditation and scheduling hassles of traditional classes.

Other non-technical groups like Toastmasters and many Yoga and martial arts groups use Meetups to manage their local divisions and clubs. While many of these are free, Meetup. Businesses can also use meetups as a way to do some extra direct or indirect promotion. Local business organizations can organize through Meetup.

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When I started the Ocala I. Professionals, I thought it might have the side benefit of promoting my own business a little and helping me make more connections. Is your meetup specific to a certain age group or gender? The question of who will be attending your group will also determine how you promote the group to new members and communicate with the ones you already have.

You might already have a message to tap into so that people will know what to expect when they up. Are there any events in the area such as concerts or festivals that you can attend as a group or other groups in neighboring cities that you can network with?

Choose a meetup name wisely

In addition to the meetings and events, there are other things you can do for your members as the starting and its vision grows. If the group gets big and active enough, a newsletter with pictures from the meetings and other startings of interest to your members might be a good idea.

At some point, you should determine if your group has a long-term agenda such as educating people on a specific subject or a community project. Finding other people with the same groups is great but actions and goals are what really keep people focused and coming back. Make no mistake — you will probably be doing most, if not all, of the work in running the new meetup. This group is your idea and your passion and, depending on the nature of the group, running it could be a part-time meet between scheduling and organizing the meetings, reviewing and coordinating locations, promoting the events and handling whatever issues come up along the way.

It meet probably cost money which will have to come from somewhere, likely your pocket until you can arrange sponsors or some other funding. You will probably also deal with difficult people inside and outside the group from time to time and how you deal with them will affect the image of your group. In the end, leadership is not about how well you handle administrative groups or how much subject knowledge you have but how well you work with people and respond to all the situations that come from managing a group of individuals.

Some final thoughts

The success of whatever group you start will depend on your willingness and ability to provide whatever leadership it requires. Your meeting location and schedules are crucial to the long-term success of your group. Having a decent meeting space and accommodating the schedules of your members is important. Having a predictable schedule helps newcomers to plan more easily and helps with promotion.

The single meeting per month is partly because the organizers are bogged down with jobs, families and other things and partly because there are plenty of groups to choose from and the organizers and members need time to attend the others as they can, too. I started with a bi-weekly schedule for my group because I wanted people to have as many chances to attend as possible. Alternating between presentations and dinners meant that I only had one presentation meeting a month to prepare for and was able to relax every other meeting. I soon had a nice, regular schedule mapped out months in advance.

I tried to find places that were comfortable and reasonably priced since some of our groups are unemployed or otherwise on fixed budgets. As for more formal meeting spaces, free is obviously best if you can do it. My group started out using the local public library which offers free meeting space for non-profits, which we are. Speaking of meetings, try to keep at least one scheduled at all times.

A Meetup group with no meetings scheduled is not a good. For example, you might want rules about appropriate behavior toward other members. For my group, I try to keep the rules as few as possible other than limiting the meetings to startings. You might also want specific membership requirements for your group.

As I mentioned, some groups are limited to business owners or those with credentials in a specific field. The member list on Meetup. In AprilI meet shut down our Meetup for a few weeks to see if I could run the group without it. We had over members at that point, the majority of whom had not visited the in over six months and the dues were going up. A few weeks later, I restarted it at a lower rate and have added a stated policy that inactive members will be removed but are welcome to continue following us through our other sites.

New meetup or existing one?

On Meetup. In exchange, the group is visible to the entire network of Meetup. The group sites include a nice selection of tools to manage the group and membership. In addition to the dues, you might find other expenses such as reservation fees for various locations, refreshment costs for meetings, etc. The more money you have in your budget, the more your group can do. There are a few ways in which you can fund a meetup group. The most obvious is by accepting dues from members either for membership within the group or for attendance of individual events.

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If you do decide to charge, you can do this right through Meetup. Members can pay Meetup.

You can also ask for donations from members and remind them of the costs involved in running the Meetup. Another way to fund a group is to get sponsors. These could be companies or organizations within your local community who are willing to donate money or items to support your group in exchange for promotion or other considerations. You could also get online sponsors.

2. create a meetup group

Companies like GoogleAmazon. Commission Junction is one place to find other affiliate programs that would be popular with your members. If you have enough members and are diligent about displaying the sponsor links and reminding your members to shop through the sponsors, you can cover your Meetup.

T-shirts and coffee mugs with a group logo might be a solution although they require some work in de and management of the merchandise.

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They also serve as a way to promote the group through giveaways and they get your name and logo out into the community. Three days after you setup your group, Meetup. As I said earlier, Meetup. I joked with the people at my first meeting that I wanted the group to present a professional image for the local I. I got a few chuckles at that. As I said before, Google also indexes these groups and the right name, conceived with an eye toward what people are likely to search on, will take you far.

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Those are all great names. Also take advantage of other group settings like the headline, description and photo. Also, remember that Meetup. You can create a Facebooka Twitter feed or a LinkedIn group for a professional meetup. Keep all the s that you create updated with what your group is doing or other links that are relevant to your activities. Use the Photos section on Meetup.

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If you have presentation meetings like my group does and the technology to record them, a YouTube channel or Facebook Live is a great promotional tool. This all helps you on Google. On our Facebook and Twitter feeds, I also schedule multiple reminders for every meeting leading up to the day of the meeting itself so nobody can forget. Your local newspaper might have a free events calendar that you can use to promote your meetings.

Entertainment

There will probably be a couple of defining ideas behind the group that you want to protect as you go. Understand that meet will be passive and inactive members and meetups where not many people show up. Many of these groups have hundreds of members and you know that not all of them show up for meetings. People have demands on their time that compete with the best of intentions.

At the very first meeting of the Ocala I. Professionals, I told our members that I would gladly support anyone who wanted to create other startings focused on specific technologies. As the response to our group grew, I started seeing its potential as a hub for a series of other groups, cross-promoting various interests and referring members as needed.

I look forward to seeing where it groups from here. After seeing what Meetup. There are many reasons to start a meetup group and defining the reasons for starting yours is an important first step.

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