In the high-tech heavy “Triangle” of North Carolina, there’s a large WordPress community that gathers in Raleigh, N.C. The Raleigh WordPress Meetup Group is headed up by Michael Torbert, creator of the All in One SEO plugin. He does custom WordPress development and plugins through Semper Fi Web Design.
“I knew a few people locally who were using WordPress, but not too many,” Michael says. “I figured there has to be a community out here, particularly with the big tech community.” Twelve people showed up for the first Raleigh meetup, mostly Michael’s friends, and it’s grown from there.
The group has over 500 members, though less than a hundred are regular or semi-regular attenders. They offer two meetings a month, a regular classroom format meetup and a social meetup specifically for networking. Their current location has a maximum of 40 people for the regular meetup and 20 for the social gathering. They usually max out both events.
“I enjoy seeing what other people are doing, even when they’re my competitors,” Michael says. “It’s nice to see interesting projects.”
Venues & Space
Finding an appropriate venue can be a challenge for meetups. The Raleigh group has met in restaurants, offices and co-working spaces. Smaller spaces mean setting limits on how many people can come, which has been difficult. Relying on RSVPs often means people don’t show up and then not as many people can attend.
Michael’s solution has been to charge a nominal fee. “For some reason you pay $5 and you’re going to show up,” he says. The money goes toward food and comes close to covering the cost of refreshments.
“You don’t want to charge for the meetup,” Michael says. “You don’t want to keep people away… but it works out to make sure the people who say they’ll show up actually do.”
“It’s hard to strike a good balance,” he adds.
Another continual challenge is finding speakers: “It used to always be me, but that gets tiring after a while,” Michael says.
Finding people from local businesses has also worked. They have a number of WordPress-based businesses in the area that have shared. They also had a local engineer from Red Hat talk about security.
He’s sent out emails asking for speakers and he’ll get a few responses.
“You start to build up a good list of regulars,” Michael says. “There’s usually someone always willing to talk about something.”
Sometimes if you get lots of new people eager to share it’s helpful to screen the talks to make sure everything is appropriate and useful. “Sometimes you’ll get people who shouldn’t be there,” Michael says. “Someone shouldn’t come in and do social media marketing or promoting themselves.”
Appealing to All Levels
One of the difficult challenges of hosting a meetup is trying to offer something for people at all levels. Most meetups have a mix of beginners and hardcore developers and it’s difficult to keep both groups happy.
“There’s no way you can cater to everybody,” Michael says. But the Raleigh group does try to make people feel included. They’ll occasionally do a code workshop and Q&A where people can bring in their questions. They’ll also do specific presentations for beginners.
Don’t Do It for Money
Costs for organizing a WordPress meetup can vary, but for Michael and the Raleigh group there’s food, Meetup.com costs and any venue costs.
“I’ve had a few people ask how I’m making money off this—well, I’m not,” says Michael. “If you’re wanting to do it to make yourself money, that’s not going to happen. Even if it does, that’s the wrong reason to do it.”
While Michael is a big name in the WordPress world (the All in One SEO plugin has been downloaded more than 12 million times), he’s careful not to take advantage of his role as an organizer.
“I try to keep my name out of it,” Michael says. “I figure all the money I put into it over the years, I deserve to be a sponsor. [But] we don’t get up and plug ourselves.”
Instead Michael does it for the community. His favorite memory from a WordPress meetup has little to do with WordPress. He recalls a Christmas social from last year when he just got to hang out with people. “Back in those days we didn’t do the monthly social, so it was fun talking with everybody instead of getting up and talking to everybody,” Michael says.