Getting involved in developer meet-ups is a common part of the developer advocate’s job. Often, that means working with existing meet-up groups. It can be tempting, though, to create your own meet-up groups.
However, running a good meet-up group takes a lot of effort and not all products are suited to having their own dedicated groups.
So, before you dive in, ask yourself:
- Do you have the content to sustain a recurring meet-up?
- Once someone has learnt the basics of your product, is there deeper learning to be had?
- Will people in your community give talks?
- Can you afford to bring speakers in from elsewhere?
- How likely is it that people will attend?
- Do you have enough time to build and sustain the group?
- Do you have a venue?
- What is the meet-up scene like in that city? Saturated? Or will local developers welcome your event?
- If you were on the other side, is this a meet-up that you’d attend?
- Would your group compete against an existing community?
- What is the opportunity cost: could you spend your time more effectively?
If you go ahead, you’re making a commitment to build and run a face to face community. That takes time, money and thought.
If you do go ahead with your own meet-up groups, you need to define their culture.
It’s fine to inform your thinking by taking the temperature of existing groups in your locality and/or technology community but don’t copy blindly. Do that and you’ll end up unthinkingly excluding people.
The culture of your group will decide who comes and who feels it isn’t for them. Where you meet, what food/drink you serve and your start/end times will influence who comes.
Your first duty in running a meet-up group is to create an environment in which people feel comfortable.
If you’re in North America or western Europe then beer and pizza are meet-up clichés. They have their place but consider that some people might not feel comfortable around alcohol.
In thinking about your group’s culture, bear in mind:
- start and end times
- location and venue
- food and drink, including presence of alcohol
- who you invite to speak
- a code of conduct.
If your meet-up takes place always at 7pm in a pub close to your office, you’ll naturally end up with attendees who like going to pubs and are available at that time near to your office. You’ll exclude people who legally can’t enter pubs or don’t like being around alcohol. You’ll exclude all those people who aren’t available at 7pm on a work day and who live nowhere near your office. That’s not to say you should never have alcohol or you should never meet in a pub: instead, find a balance.
Depending on your meet-up’s topic, getting people there is likely to be the hardest work.
The number of people who show up is a result of a few of things:
- where you promote the meet-up
- how engaged you are with existing communities
- the content you’re offering.
Putting the hard work in to make those connections with communities is one thing that can pay off and you should totally do it. It’s all about attending their meet-ups, talking to them at conferences, hanging out in the right IRC or Slack channels, and posting on the relevant mailing lists.
Depending on the city, you might also use meetup.com. It’ll cost you a small subscription fee but it will publicise your group to local people who have expressed an interest in similar topics.
Having people say that they’ll come is just the first step. Again depending on city, a fairly constant percentage of those people will fail to show up each time. In London it’s between 40% and 50%. You’ll learn the attrition rate of your group but at first it can be a frustrating gamble when choosing venue size, how many drinks to buy and so on.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to get people to come to your meet-up if you have compelling content.
Depending on where your team is located, at first you’ll probably be able to draw on people from your own company: engineers working on the product, pre-sales people, other devrel people and so on.
Pretty quickly you’ll hit one or both of the following problems:
- you’ll run out of colleagues who have interesting things to say
- your attendees will wonder why you can’t get anyone else to talk on your behalf.
Endorsements from someone without skin in the game mean a tonne more than anything your colleagues can say. So, go out and find your product’s users and get them to talk about what they’ve done. You might also find people who build something complimentary and can talk about that product alongside your own.
Hitch your wagon to a star
This is a pretty good plan for anyone trying to punch above their weight in terms of awareness, whether it’s at meet-ups or elsewhere. Find the tech of the moment (maybe it’s Docker or machine learning) and contrive ways to have that tech feature in your meet-ups.
It’s what the team behind the mobile database Realm.io did. They spoke and wrote about the Swift programming language at just the moment that people were looking to learn about Swift.
So, find that tech that people want to learn about and programme your meet-ups to feature it while, of course, making sure to show it in the context of your own product.
Whatever strategy you choose for meet-ups — run your own or support existing groups — bear in mind that building in-person communities take time and hard work. If you’re not entirely convinced they’re the right thing for you then consider what else you could do with that time.