The Importance of Meaningful Networking — Insights From Meetup’s Communications Director
Networking events are getting a much needed makeover. Gone are the days where you’re stuck in a dingy hotel room, mingling with someone you have nothing in common with. Instead, picture yourself connecting with someone who shares a similar passion in an awe-inspiring space. Now that’s an event we’d willingly attend.
Luckily, these types of “networking” events do exist thanks to Meetup, a platform that brings like-minded individuals together to do what they love in real life. We talked to Meetup’s first ever Communications Director, Kristin Hodgson, about their exciting new rebrand, and why in-person interactions are invaluable for career and community building. Kristin says, “If our online connections were the same as our in-person ones, our society would be flourishing right now.“
What makes a Meetup different than a traditional networking event, and why is it better?
When I think of a traditional networking event it brings to mind something stuffy and transactional. Meetups are really the opposite.The best way you can use Meetups to get ahead professionally is by showing up, talking, and taking the time to make a few genuine connections. At Meetups, there’s usually a real openness, and a real sense of collaboration — so it’s the perfect opportunity to learn from other people.
Most social networks connect you with people you already know. Meetup connects you to people you haven’t met yet, but who you should know because you share something important. And those people you meet could end up being your next hire, or your next boss, or your next investor, or just someone who offers friendly advice.
On a personal note, I learned about my previous two jobs (leading the web team for Teach For America, and working as a content strategist at Digitas) while attending Meetups, so can honestly say that the decision to join a Meetup, RSVP, and show up changed the course of my career more than once!
Even with the abundance of technology and ways for people to chat online, why do you think in-person connections are important?
The tools available to connect people are really incredible. I love Slack and Google Hangout as much as the next person. But the warmth and feeling of belonging you get when you’re in person with the right group of people — I’ve never experienced that online. There’s a lot of talk about a loneliness epidemic in the country. If our online connections were the same as our in-person ones, our society would be flourishing right now.
What’s the most popular type of Meetup you see on the platform?
Meetups are as varied and interesting as the people who run them, but of course we do have some categories of Meetups that are more popular including Career and Business and Tech Meetups. It’s probably self-evident why these groups attract so many members, but to spell it out — if you’re planning a career change, if you want to learn to code, if you want advice to make your small business more successful, getting support from other people who are pursuing the same thing is the best way to get ahead. These Meetups become an important avenue for people to learn a new skill, hear a new perspective, and make valuable connections.
People are often curious about the biggest Meetups, but the average Meetup size is about 10. If you’ve found the right 10 people, that’s all you need.
How do people typically find a space for their Meetups?
Meetup organizers are very resourceful. (I say this from experience — I organized a tech Meetup from 2007-2010 and had to solve exactly this kind of logistical challenge myself!) Typically, people ask other organizers, check out where similar Meetups are being scheduled, and do research to explore their options. If an organizer finds a space that’s just right, it’s absolutely a key factor in making their group successful.
What advice do you have for someone who’s a first time Meetup organizer? What’s the best way to promote your Meetup?
A lot of what I’d recommend comes down to communication. Welcoming new members, being responsive to questions, and setting expectations about what to expect at the Meetup all make a big difference. These small, personal touches put people at ease, and makes it more likely that people will show up.
There are many ways to promote your Meetup. You can put up signs locally, or use your social media accounts. It’s worth noting that the Meetup platform does a lot of the work for you, too. We charge organizers a subscription fee to run a group on Meetup — and the primary value we deliver is that we promote Meetup groups to members who are likely to join.
Very exciting that you just launched an app and rebrand — what sparked the change?
When we took a close look at the product, you really had to squint to find that distinctive Meetuppy spirit. It was a big missed opportunity, and we couldn’t rectify it until we developed a visual language.
We hired the renowned firm Sagmeister & Walsh to help us create that visual language, which includes the bright color palette, the duotone photo treatment, and a set of unique photos created for each of Meetup’s categories (featuring Meetup members as models). And then we reimagined the Meetup app to unlock the best of Meetup by connecting more of our members to the right groups for them, the groups that will help them come alive. That means a more personalized, immersive app experience that exposes what you’ve been missing.
Working with Meetup’s new branding —from the new logo to the colors to the category photos— breathes new energy into our work, and really captures the spirit of Meetup.
I can’t leave the house without: Coffee
The first thing I do when I wake up: Wrestle my dog for the covers.
What’s your favorite Meetup you’ve attended? Some of the best Meetups are really specific and really niche — because that means everyone in attendance is totally in their element. My best Meetup experience was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It was a group for technologists who love art and museums, using 3D scanners and printers to replicate some of the sculptures in the collection. It was such a novel way to interact with a museum, and fun to do it with other people who enjoyed it as much as I did.
When I’m not working, you can find me: Exploring the Hudson Valley (just north of New York City) with my husband and daughter – hikes, restaurants, historic houses, playground scouting.
Community is: An overused word, but that doesn’t make it any less essential in practice.
Life motto: The grass is greener where you water it. (I heard this on a podcast recently, but decided to adopt it as my life motto because it’s so true.)