Online Group Organizers
by Mark Sivy
Why Would I Use One?
These web-based tools enable coordinators, leaders, and self-motivated individuals to create communities of volunteers, staff, or like-minded people that are organized and managed online, but who connect and interact in-person (or online for that matter). Organizing one of these events is an excellent way to establish yourself or an organization as the “go-to” expert in a given profession or business.
Online Group Options
There are several players in this field, but I find GroupSpaces, BigTent, and Meetup to be the most appealing. GroupSpaces offers free and paid plans, BigTent is free, and Meetup is paid only. Similar services are GroupLoop, SureToMeet, Wild Apricot, MemberClicks, and Meetin.org.
These providers and others offer a range of basic services that you would want to have such as calendars, file sharing, forums, RSVP’s, and public-facing webpages. Other options where many providers start to differ, and that you may want to consider as decision points, would be photo sharing, event specific services, social media links, subgroups, and file storage.
Setting Up Your Group
Even though each service is slightly different, here are some general points to consider in setting up your group:
- Select your area of interest and then do your research to find out what type of individuals might be interested in your group and what topics would attract them.
- Have a few photos ready, at least one of you and one that represents your group.
- Sign up with your service of choice and create a personal profile.
- Search around and see what type of activity is already happening within your area of interest. Search for keywords that relate to your field. Don’t let competing groups control your ambitions. Pursue your interests and be good at it.
- Consider that keywords or tags that describe what your group is about or hoping to accomplish.
- Craft a clear brief description that explains exactly your group’s purpose, giving potential members a clear idea of who should join and what to expect. If done well, the description will enable people to understand what type of community and conversations you hope to develop.
- Create the group, providing the location, name, description, etc.
- Select the pricing plan (if available).
To get more members to join, and if you think you’re ready, schedule your first meeting. Don’t immediately host this event, but rather plan for it to occur about a month after you start your group. Contact friends, associates, and organizations that you think might have an interest in the group. Announce it through your social media and networks.
The First Meeting
This means knowing when and where it will be. Usually this is at an open public space such as a coffee shop. Keep the first event simple, serving mainly for introductions and open conversation. Pay close attention, both analyzing the audience and learning individual interests. Make the members feel as a part of the process.
Usual Meeting Format
The members typically meet, network and talk over drinks and light snacks. In certain locations these can be provided through the group or in others they can be purchased onsite by the individual attendees. Often there is an invited guest speaker or a panel discussion to stimulate interest and attendance.
The place to meet will depend upon the size of the group. The key is to find someplace free. Most establishments that sell food and beverages will be open to hosting a group of people, but be sure they can provide a dedicated space. Based upon available capacity, set a limit to the number of people who say they will attend and then create a waiting list.
For the Meeting
The day of the meeting, contact the meeting venue to confirm their awareness and that they’re prepared. Bring an attendance list, sign-in sheets, blank name tags and markers. Have people put their name, company, and specialization or title on the name tags.
Ongoing Social Media Connections
In addition to maintaining communication through the online group service, other social media channels can be used to maintain community, networking, and conversations. The choice will depend upon the type of group, whether casual, professional, or somewhere in-between.
Typically there are costs associated with meetings and other operational expenses. These can be paid by the organizer, sponsors, membership dues, or event fees.
Getting sponsors is a way to help fund meetings and to make them more professional at times. Sponsors can come from within the membership, a local industry or a business.