In December of 2008 I had become the defacto search engineer for McClatchy Interactive. I wanted to meet other people who had more experience than me and hopefully had better ideas and perspectives. I quickly found Ashley Berman Hale’s Raleigh SEO meetup. I didn’t have any idea what to expect as I walked into the offices of Triangle Direct Media for the groups’ 7th meetup.
Ashley greeted me and welcomed everyone warmly. Within a few minutes she had us all telling who we were and why we came. It was a great ice breaker. Then out came the handouts. Chuck full of useful bullet points and links to more information. Ashley then talked for about 30 minutes about whatever was the subject that night, stopping to answer questions that popped up, and finally finishing up by taking more questions at the end.
I hung around a little while after and talked to someone else that I knew there, and noticed that a lot of other people also hung around after. It was already a pretty tight group that feed off Ashley’s energy and warmth. I knew I’d be back the next month.
The meetups continued to be rock-solid and eventually my chatty ways made Ashley ask me if I wanted to be her assistant organizer. I tried to side-step it, but she suckered me in with tales of great meetup fame and fortune that awaited (ok, not really).
Once I started helping Ashley, I realized that she put a lot of time into her meetup preparation. Each month required about 6-10 hours of prep time. She’s driven to help small business owners who just needed the straight story, no crazy black-hat stuff or learn more by paying. She answers questions from members between meetings and even still finds time to be a Top Contributor with the Google Webmaster Forums. She is a breath of fresh air.
Every month the people who were there the previous month tell a couple of friends or co-workers about it and it grows. Last month we had to cap the number of people at 80 because the room we had booked at the 101 Lounge downtown turned out to be too small.
This month we have space at Issac Hunter’s Tavern which can hold 200. That seemed like overkill when we decided on it, but as of tonight we have 111 people who have confirmed they’re coming and 17 more listed as “maybe”.
So let’s get back to why the meetup is so popular.
I think there’s two main reasons. The first, is it’s founder. Ashley Berman Hale is a phenomenal speaker and leader. She puts everyone at ease while being so clearly in-charge that everything just seems to flow.
The second reason is the high quality of the people who attend. Every week the questions get better and better because the group becomes more diverse and feeds off itself.
There is also a third reason, but it’s a secondary reason. The group has become a social gathering as well. People who have to leave right after the formal talk ends are missing out on a great secondary discussion that goes on sometimes for hours. I remember after one meetup at the Cameron Village library a group of us standing outside and talking until about 10:30 (the library kicked us out at 9).
If you haven’t check out the meetup, there’s one on Tuesday the 16th at 6:30 in downtown Raleigh. What have you got to lose?
If you’ve attended the meetup, tell me how you feel.