|How to Grow a Shire to Kingdom Size in Under Two Years
[04/11/2010] [Collin the Red]
In the world of Geek fun, Amtgard is one of the best. You have skills needed for combat, arts, cooking, and writing. It is not so hardcore, so injuries are less prevalent than in other heavy combat groups using acronyms that shall remain nameless. Finally, we get out from in front of a computer, put down the dice, shelve the books, and get some sun (or at least fresh air.) Amtgard costs for the player are low and the return on investment for the individual is great. The fact you can have a costume and a basic weapon for about $20 is one of Amtgard’s greatest assets to recruiting new players. So, why do we not have 50-60 players at every land and people flocking to events from all walks of life? Why is the only mainstream movie reference we can cite and non-Amtgardians recognizing “Role Models”? Simply put, because the non-Amtgardians do not know what they are missing. Meetup, with its 6.1 million members in 45,000 cities, gets the word out better than word of mouth and better than a flyer on the gamer board at the local comic shop. However, it is not a standalone solution.
Today we will discuss Meetup.com, an online grassroots-style social networking tool whose main purpose is to connect local individuals with common interests and have them actually step away from the computer, leave their homes, and “Meetup” face to face. Meetup.com is a powerful tool that can help Amtgard lands grow in both members and public recognition.
Today’s Meetup is a grassroots tool for bringing people together. You can search based on interest and location to find others near you with similar interest. Like any web search, you need to be intelligent in your searches. If you want Mountain biking, and you type “Biking” you may get mountain biking or motorcycles or an outdoor adventures group. Each Meetup group can submit up to fifteen topics, so if a group wants to attract members of various interests, they might list those interests for their Meetup group. Example: for Thor’s Refuge not only did we list “Amtgard” and “LARP” as a topics, we also listed: "Fencing, Archery and Medieval weapons," "Cosplay," "Pirates," "Medieval, Fantasy," "Costume Making," "Boffer," "Roleplayers," "Renaissance Faire," and "Sword Fighting." But thinking outside the box we added: "Outdoor activities," "Outdoor Recreation," and "Social Networking." These additional topics bring in a wider variety of player. While most Amtgard players have a high “Geek” score, there are those in Amtgard that like the combat, the outside play, and just having people whose company they enjoy. So, why do you want these low “Geek” scoring individuals? To promote Amtgard.
Meetup sites by themselves are not the solution. Meetup has built in tools to help promote the site and thereby your land. Those tools include business cards, Craigslist post generator, e-mail invites using your Yahoo or G-Mail address book, widgets for putting tags on webpages or on Facebook or in e-mails, and even flyers with tear-off tags to be put on comic book store’s gamer boards. Just having a site and not utilizing these included features is a waste of time and money. Sure, you may get a few new players, but the thing that drives the numbers up is you and your fellow players pushing this information out to others. Always carry the business cards with you. I do this, and anytime I see someone in a shirt that screams “Geek” or “RenFaire” or other fringe group, I give him or her one of my cards. Place the flyers not only at gaming store or comic stores, but also in libraries, restaurants, army surplus, fabric, and sporting goods stores. Finally, e-mail local TV, radio, and papers to get them to do little puff pieces on your group, have the group volunteer at local events, enter in local parades, and always conduct yourselves in such a manner that you will attract new people, not repel them. This is how you grow both in membership and name recognition.
A free method to abuse Meetup.com is to get on the "Waiting List" for various topics including "Amtgard." In each of these listings, give group contact information, like other sites or time and location. This is free, and Meetup does not seem to care what you put there. Character count is limited so be succinct. This does not have the visibility that a normal Meetup group has, but if someone is looking for Amtgard or LARPing, they should find you if you are on the right lists. Another free method is to join other groups of similar interest to Amtgard such as RenFaire groups, D&D, LARPs, etc. In those groups, you can recruit members by posting on their message boards. Furthermore, by attending their events, you can talk to those members you feel would be a good addition to your land.
Now for the downside of Meetup. I have mentioned the work aspect, but there is a financial downside as well. The normal rate for Meetup.com is $19 per month per Account. Before you say, “crap, that’s a lot of dough!”, that is the base price. It goes down from there. If you pay three months at a time, it's $45.00. For six months, it's only $72, i.e. $12 per month. With the new Co-Organizer feature, you can have one account and have up to three Meetup sites and each one has its own Co-Organizer. Thus you can share the costs with two other lands and thereby bringing you land’s cost to a paltry $4 per month. For the cost of a Venti Cappuccino at Starbucks (or a popcorn at the movies) once a month, you could have a Meetup site for your group.
But wait, there’s more! You get some powerful, user friendly, tools with the site. So, even if you are a Kingdom with hundreds of members and do not want to recruit any more people, Meetup has benefits for your land, too. First off, the calendar is viewable as both a standard calendar grid and as a list of upcoming events. The calendar is interactive, allowing even non-organizers to be made hosts of events and have events recur as often as needed. You can place notes for items not needing a full event notification, and e-mail reminders are auto-generated based on preferences of the event host and the individual members. There is a built in message board, not as powerful as E-Sam but nice for those without an inner-land communication center. A mailing list feature where sending messages can be open to any member or limited to only Organizers. This e-mail is secure as well. Unless you give out your e-mail address, others will need to e-mail though Meetup to contact you. A simple setting can make it impossible for anyone but a group organizer of a group to which you belong to contact you. In addition, there is a photo album feature that allows 50 photos to be loaded with two click of a mouse. Photo file sizes are limited, but who needs more than 10Mb for each photo? The limit is 100 photos per album, but after exceeding 100 albums, I have yet to find the upper limit. Additionally, the last major tool: a file sharing system. Any member can upload a file for others to view. Organizers can delete or edit, but depending on the settings used, anyone, members, or only organizers can read the file. This is a great way to share out the rulebook, corpora, or a flyer to be used for an upcoming event.
This is a lot of information, yet only the tip of the iceberg. Every feature has various settings so the group can function in the way the Organizer wants. Every month more features come out to make this tool better. The “Co-Organizer” was a recent change that makes multi-land use of a single account much more manageable. In addition, the auto-repeat on any Meetup makes fighter practice and Arts & Science Night scheduling even easier. I will leave you with one last suggestion: make it your own. Play with the features, make your “About” page pop, utilize the tools, and fill your calendar. What makes any Meetup group successful is two things: members and meetings. More members online means more people are likely to check it out. More activities in your calendar means more opportunities for the window shoppers to show up in person to your land.
If there are questions, I can be contacted through Meetup.com the E-Sam forums,or on CAAmtgard.com. I'll try to either answer your questions myself or help you find the solution you need. For those looking for a promo code, I will post it on E-Sam when I get one.
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