An Open Letter to Meetup.com

An Open Letter to Meetup.com

Dear Meetup.com

We need to have a serious talk.

Many people, professional organizations, nonprofits, and other social endeavors rely on your service for a basic community-building tool that provides event planning, RSVP, member contact, and other services for a small price. (I should know - I use meetup to organize groups around caregiving, coworking, and Doctor Who). You're recovering from a recent service outage on your site, and although your acquisition by WeWork has led to further growth...you've also had some hiccups. (Like, in retrospect, adopting "Resist" groups as part of your philosophy.) But in short...

Meetup.com has way too many faults and issues, making it very hard on organizers to use your service. And worse, you rarely listen to Meetup organizers when they provide feedback, choosing to charge ahead rather than allow Meetup to become a truly effective community-building tool.

For example, customer service - when I received an e-mail from "Katie at Meetup" about a billing problem, I e-mailed her back with some information as well as my follow-up. Suffice it to say, I received an autoresponse that suggested articles that might "help" me solve my problem. After reaching out via Twitter, I was fortunate to get another employee to respond - an actual flesh and blood person. (Although I have to say that although your Twitter outreach is excellent, you might want to rethink how Meetup engages on Facebook. Too few posts and too many complaints about site functionality.

An example of Meetup's customer engagement

An example of Meetup's customer engagement

And speaking of site functionality and user experience - several years ago, you asked a few Meetup organizers (including myself) to beta test a new format for the site. We did, and we gave you honest feedback: we hated it. But you went ahead and implemented it, and the site is a mix of high-end "kewl" graphics that make it difficult for us to promote our events...and back end graphic interfaces that were out of date in the late 1990s. Even now, Meetup's web site seems built more for people to find "last minute" events (which make planning difficult) rather than build and engage a community. (Speaking from experience, two-thirds of my two largest Meetup groups have not attended a Meetup in the last two years, and purging them is a long, arduous process).

Although Meetup has some basic social media functionality (such as posting to Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin), the ability to generate a Facebook Event page from a Meetup event would be especially beneficial in driving traffic and membership to our Meetup site. After all, Eventbrite allows that, and they're free (with limitations). Sure, I could create an Eventbrite page for a Meetup event and then generate a Facebook Event...but if I'm attempting to drive traffic to a Meetup group, wouldn't it make more sense to streamline the process? And Meetup will sometimes send e-mails about upcoming events to members while organizers send similar e-mails; wouldn't it be wiser to give organizers a reason to further invest in Meetup? (People can join and use Meetup for free, and with your pricing system based on the number of members...well, we can't easily purge absent members, and so we're stuck paying for members who do not engage our community yet are unable or unwilling to leave).

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That's part of the problem that many organizers (including myself) see with Meetup.com - you ask organizers (who pay to use the service) for feedback, and then ignore our feedback. As paying users of Meetup, that behavior demonstrates poor customer service as well as a short-sighted approach to online and offline community building. Especially given the fact that Meetup "owns" a group's data - after all, trying to funnel an entire community through one platform should mean a greater willingness to empower organizers and users to engage more effectively.

I can see the counter-argument from some who are reading this open letter: "But Gordon, if Meetup is so ineffective and you're not reaching all of your members, why not switch?". Ironically, Meetup's philosophy of aggressively recruiting new members without any further incentive results in a passive audience who believes themselves to be reliant on the service. (I have asked my Meetup members about options; few are willing to switch over entirely). Besides, the point of investing in Meetup for many organizations is that the site alleviates and streamlines the work of online and offline community building...and with the service focusing more on entrepreneurship and community building as a business rather than a social function, Meetup is slowly becoming a relic. Soon, Meetup will be joining services like Friendster, MySpace, Prodigy and Compuserve as electronic communities that quickly became outdated and obsolete without acknowledging the needs of modern users.

I don't expect you to do anything, Meetup, and that's the sad thing...there's no vision, no discernable leadership, no other mission other than growth. For organizers like myself, the possibility of switching to another service is difficult but possible. But for those individuals who are seeking support, small organizations looking to build advocates, and nonprofit organizations looking to mobilize...your apathy and nonresponsiveness are particularly telling. And once you leave, they will be stuck.

Thanks for listening,
Gordon Dymowski
Chicago Now's One Cause At a Time

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