A meetup with regular gatherings is good, but a tech meetup with a strong community is better for you. One example is the Bristol Meetup group umBristol, which we've covered before.
We look at ways to build a tech community, with examples from umBristol and what we are trying to achieve at Python Exeter
A Strong Meetup Community
The umBristoll group is built around Umbraco, a Content Management System built in .NET. But more important is the strong mix of social and learning, the community and friendships that have grown around their different events. This is reinforced by various twitter conversations and a slack channel where technical (and not so technical) issues are discussed.
This didn't happen from the start, but builds over time. You can start small with the suggestions here and add them in one at a time.
Having periodic meetups is essential, whether fortnightly, monthly or quarterly. When a new member signs up, they often sign-up to the next upcoming meetup. If none are available you have missed a chance to add them to the community. In Exeter both TechExeter and Data Science Exeter meet every two months and have the best numbers for tech meetups in the city.
It's face-to-face that you want members talking to the people around them, whether newcomers, regulars, speakers or organisers. There are a few ways to help this.
- An Open Environment. If people are welcomed and already talking then it's easier for others to get involved. Consider having a couple of organisers or regulars greeting people as they arrive. Asking name and what experience they have with the technology (or where they work) is an easy way of starting conversation.
- Time to Mingle. A short delay before talks to allow conversation or a social gathering afterwards are where your community will start to truly come alive. The umBristol meetup often meet before (and after) their meetup at a nearby pub.
- Food and Drink. Some meetups facilitate interaction with some food or drinks. This gives a place to gather and normally this is done before or after the main event. Many developers like pizza and the SQL South West always provide this.
The Irregular Meetups
Whether they can't make them or aren't sure, some members may by more interested in other meetups such as a pure social. These aren't focused on a talk or particular topic, but give a chance for talk about pet projects, problems at work or things outside of tech. At Python Exeter we've tried some coffee hour meetups during the day, which have been attended by some members who can't make evenings.
Then you can consider more unique meetups, such as a hackathon, a virtual reality demo or a visit to another meetup. UmBristol are very good at different events, with a wine-tasting and a bbq one summer. In Exeter one year we combined the Xmas Social and quiz of two different meetups and we will look to repeat this
Outside of the Meetups
Away from the meetups your community can still grow by encouraging ways for members to engage and discuss.
Here are some ideas.
- Get Feedback You can grow your community by getting the ideas of your members. This can be hard as many meetup attendees are happy just to turn up. Use the meetup emails, chat to them face-to-face, talk to them on twitter or in the comments of your meetups.
- Create a Social Forum Have somewhere members can join and discuss. A slack channel is perfect, but a Facebook or LinkedIn group can also work. UmBristol has a thriving slack channel and Python Exeter is growing one.
- A Public Presence. Having somewhere more open where others can see the meetup or organisers provides a face members and others can interact with. Twitter, Instagram and Place to Engage** Many members of umBristol are active on twitter and Python Exeter has regular twitter updates.
- Give Regular Updates Beyond meetup updates, it's good to have another way of engaging with members and giving them updates. umBristol has a website and TechExeter keeps it's own mailing list. These are also protection if anything ever happens to meetup.com!
- Engage the wider Community Lucky tech communities are supported by a friendly community, and this includes Python and Umbraco. Tap into the network of forums, blogs, podcasts, companies and other meetups to find speakers, support, publicity and new members. You may even find sponsorship to help with costs if that is of interest
- Take the Community with You If you are visiting a similar meetup in another city or going to a conference, ask your other meetup members if they are going or want to come along. In the Exeter Python we keep an eye out for local meetups in Plymouth or Bristol and opportunities at conferences such as PyCon UK in Cardiff.
Have a place to gather, have an event they can see, get them talking and engage with your members.
Here is some advice from Scott Heiferman, the founder of Meetup! And more advice from TechSpark based in Bristol.