This post originally posted in the Cowichan Valley WordPress Meetup blog.
Attending a WordPress meetup takes time from doing what you love or what makes you money, so why bother? (The same goes for attending a WordCamp, which are really big, once-a-year meetups, but I’ll focus on meetups here.) And why do people bother organizing meetups, which take even more time and effort?
I’ve spent many years wondering about these questions. I’ve even wondered while in the process of doing them: “why am paying for a flight, taking a whole Saturday away from my family, and inconveniencing my wife, in order to go to a WordCamp?” Or “why am I putting all this effort into organizing a local WordPress meetup? And why should anyone even come?” For a long time my only rationale was “it seems most of the big names are doing it, and it feels like the right thing to do”. But I’ve recently realized some concrete benefits of attending a WordPress meetup.
The reasons boil down to the 5 things participating in a meetup get you: a better website, knowledge, reputation, friendships, and good karma.
At WordPress meetups, we talk primarily about using WordPress to build web sites. Many attendees have a website that they are building or maintaining, and they hope to get help in doing that. For example, maybe you’re using a WordPress website someone else built, and you’re dizzied by all the options and terms in WordPress. Or, worse yet, you started changing things and broke something, so you’d like help fixing it. Or, maybe you’re building a new website and you want to know how to make it look a certain way or do a certain thing. So you’re probably coming to a meetup to get answers to your immediate questions. That’s fine. (Just realize volunteers aren’t guaranteed to always be right, or available). At the Manchester, England, WordPress meetup they always dedicate the first part of their meetups to just answering questions and helping folks with their sites. If folks want to leave before they start presentations and other things, that’s fine, no hard feelings. They just want a little help, they don’t want to become full-on web developers.
However, this might not be the reason some people come. I, for one, mostly just help create and support plugins- I’m not usually building a particular website. So my motivation for attending is otherwise.
On a related note: a meetup is usually not an “introduction to WordPress” course, because many attendees are already fairly familiar with it. Instead, it’s an opportunity to continue learning about WordPress and share your experiences. It is supplemental to your own learning. If you’re just getting started you’re welcome to come and we’ll try to guide you to resources to help learn it, but you may want to consider taking a course (in-person or online).
Others come to a meetup primarily to learn, not necessarily because they’re looking for immediate help with something. They might use what they learn on a website, but they could also just be learning all they can in order to use it on future websites, to create products to sell to WordPress users, or to keep current on what’s new.
On the other hand, some people don’t really care to learn all they can about WordPress- they’re passionate about something else, so they only want to know what they need to get their website to work, and that’s it. That’s ok. And others feel like they already know everything they need to about WordPress, and the web, and entrepreneurship, so they don’t think they’re going to learn much. In some cases, they might be right- although teaching is an important part of learning. My next point addresses that.
For folks who feel they already know everything WordPress they need, they might be participating in the meetup to build their reputation. When you present at a WordPress meetup, it gives the idea that you know more than the average joe about it (presenters know that’s usually not true to begin with, but you do learn a lot in the process of presenting, so it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy). If you are an organizer of a WordPress meetup, that speaks a bit louder than just telling potential clients “I’m a WordPress expert”.
Can you build your reputation as an expert by building websites yourself, or as part of your day job? Sure. But it’s easier to start participating in a meetup than getting a job using WordPress. The only requirement is usually just to show up, no previous expertise required. Eg, you could help organize a meetup by presenting or helping to let members know when the next event is. The current organizers will probably be happy to have your contributions, whatever your experience.
Meetups are also better at building a reputation than commercial endeavours because they’re a bit more high profile. Because they’re not for profit, they get access to a lot more support from the community. WordCamp central pays to put them on meetup.com, meetups often get access to venues for free, companies will make donations to them just for the association, they get access to community resources like public message boards, and people are generally more likely to attend or spread the word if they know there are no strings attached.
When I spoke at WordCamp Seattle, my blog and twitter profile saw a significant spike in activity (relatively, I’m still no big deal, by any means). That’s because many of my tweets related to that big event, and so my name got attached to it, plus they basically retweeted everything I posted. Presenting at, organizing, or sponsoring a meetup will help build your reputation.
Some attendees of course really don’t care if they have a reputation in the WordPress world -WordPress is a relatively minor tool they use in their profession, they just want to know how to use it. That’s fine (we aren’t all going to become mechanics or chefs, similarly we aren’t all going to be known as WordPress experts). They don’t care what the world thinks of them, just what their friends and family think… I feel another segue coming on…
It’s easiest to make friends with people with similar interests, or those with whom you’ve undergone a traumatic event. Well, the folks at meetups are similarly interested in WordPress, and have probably endured their share of traumatic events with it (eg had a website broken because of an update, gotten hacked, or spent hours finding a missing semicolon). Plus, there’s a particular breed of person at WordPress events. From my experience they’re unusually friendly, helpful, and interesting.
Eg, I had a series of amusing encounters regarding presenting at WordCamp Seattle 2017.
- First, I contacted a fellow presenter, Devon DeLapp, asking if he’d like to practice our presentations with each other. We had never met before, but we spent several hours preparing with each other over Google Hangout anyway.
- For my WordCamp presentation, I prepared a silly video with another fellow WordPresser: Boone Gorges, a lead developer of BuddyPress. Likewise, we didn’t know each other, haven’t met in person, and actually haven’t even had a video call, and yet made a short film together.
- Lastly, after the presentation, for some reason I didn’t get my much-sought-after badge on WordPress.org. Mark Root-Wiley quickly fixed the situation and provided this amusing visual proof.
What’s more, there’s a unique mixture of nerds and supposedly-normal-people. That’s because WordPress is positioned as being particularly easy-to-learn, so most of the developers were once normal-people and usually learned programming or design on the side. And many of the normal people may one day find themselves learning a lot more code than they previously imagined. Sometimes nerds will think non-nerds are dumb for not knowing what a “domain name” is, and sometimes non-nerds with think the nerds lack social skills, but there’s a lot less of that in WordPress than what I’ve seen elsewhere. The WordPress community is generally a really friendly place.
Of course, many attendees have got all the friends they need, and while they’re friendly, that’s not why they come. There’s no obligation to go on any WordPress-buddies road trips or share meals or anything, but they may still find themselves making friends anyway. Especially if they’re doing the next item…
Many meetup attendees aren’t necessarily looking to improve their own website, or build their own knowledge, or boost their own reputation, or get tons of friends. Many come simply to help others: to improve others websites, share what they’ve learned, boost others reputations, and help others to have friends. Initially, this motivation is the most unclear. But it makes sense in terms of practical, non-spiritual karma. You don’t have to be Hindu to grasp the idea. Wikipedia says this about karma: “good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness.”
When I’ve helped answer someone else’s question about using the WordPress REST API, guess what? I’ve learned (usually because I hadn’t thought to ask their question, or hadn’t faced their problem before). When you teach something to others, you become aware of all the parts you actually don’t understand very well. In order to explain something very simply, you need to understand it very well. So teaching others fortifies your own understanding (and may actually be essential for any long-term retention). When you help improve someone else’s reputation, and they become successful, guess who they’ll credit? Probably themselves. But after that, they’ll put in a good word for you whenever they can. And what’s the best way to make friends? From my experience, by trying to be a friend to others.
So realize if you’re just coming out to help others, usually all that good karma will come back to you (even though that wasn’t your intention… it’s ironic, I know).
So, maybe you’ve previously attended a meetup looking to build one of those things. I’d suggest there’s more to be gained by trying to build one of the others. Eg, did you get answers to your questions about how to build a website, got it built, and then thought there was nothing more for you at a meetup? Maybe you could come and start looking for other things to learn for future endeavors. Feel like you’ve already learned everything there is about WordPress? Well, make a name for yourself by teaching to others. Gotten bored with just technical stuff? Maybe try to make some good friendships. Or simply don’t think there’s any benefit to you by going? Maybe try going just to help others, and you’ll just feel good (and maybe stumble upon other benefits too).
So that’s my list of things you get at a WordPress meetup.
Now, here’s a related, briefer list: things you should not expect to get at a meetup.
You won’t get paid for participating, presenting or organizing. No, money’s not evil. But we have extra trust at a meetup because it’s understood that we’re all there to improve ourselves and help others, not to make a buck.
Don’t come to a meetup in the hopes that you’ll sell your product to attendees, or get them as clients for whatever work you do. Those might be welcome side effects, but actively trying to sell something while at a meetup will turn people off you and the meetup. If they ask, feel free to tell them, but don’t start handing out flyers. It similarly destroys trust. (This point might be different for a WordCamp, I’m not sure. The situation is a bit different because sponsorship is pretty expensive and many employees travel a long way to attend them… so explicit salesmanship is a lot more commonplace.)
Just like developers shouldn’t go looking for clients at a meetup, the rest of us shouldn’t expect to get infinite free support at them, nor should we expect others to drop what their day jobs to help us design our website.
Although you get some free help at meetups, it’s limited. After the meetup, eventually, we want to return to the rest of our lives. So although we like helping others with their problems, if you’re asking too much and it’s starting to be onerous on us, eventually we can’t give any more free support or service. At that point, you should start looking to hire someone. Maybe there is someone you could hire from the meetup, but you could look on upwork.com or anywhere else, but you’re asking too much for free.
If you’re a sponsor of a meetup (eg you provided the venue, or website hosting, or pizza) does that mean you basically bought advertising? The answer here can vary from meetup-to-meetup, but basically: you bought getting your name mentioned in connection with the meetup, maybe put on the website, and maybe a one-sentence description of what you do. You don’t get the email addresses of everyone in the meetup, nor a 2-minute sales-pitch, or our undying loyalty.
You’re an unaffiliated person or organization who’s done something nice for the community, and the community will know about it, but you did not buy advertising.
One strange thing about a WordPress meetup is that many of the attendees are actually in direct competition: many make their livings by building websites, just the same as many other attendees!
I help build event registration plugins, and often collaborate online with developers from competing businesses in building WordPress.
This is a bit awkward when you have a mentality of scarcity; ie, every dollar they earn is a dollar you don’t. But when you think about it: although WordPress runs 29% of the Internet, there is still a whopping 71% it doesn’t. So if your contributions to WordPress make it run 1% more of the global market, both you and your competitors in WordPress benefit. Also, there’s a ton of the economy which basically has no web presence, or a very poor one. If they get online, then that makes the internet bigger, and will similarly benefit you, your WordPress competitors, and users of other web software. So with that mentality, you’re actually more partners than competitors.
So, if you contribute to your local meetup, or sponsor it, that doesn’t mean the meetup organizers have signed an agreement to not accept contributions or sponsorship from your competitors. So don’t give to the community in order to dig a pit for your competitors.
In fact, by helping build the WordPress ecosystem, you might help your competitors (and they can freeload on your contributions without giving back). So why would you bother? Because “a rising tide lifts all boats”, and although your contributions are free, they’re not anonymous. It’s not too hard for people to tell who’s the free-loaders and who’s the leaders.
Phew! That’s it. The five things you build by going to a meetup:
websites, knowledge, reputation, friendships and good karma.
Five things you won’t build: money, client list, unlimited free support and service, advertising, or a pit for your competitors.
Did I get it right? Lemme know in the comments.