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.
Janet Kennedy says
Phil – I love the generosity that spurred the SEO MeetUp. The people are all great. The problem is that once you get over 50 people it is too big for really meaningful sharing. Now you are looking at over 100. So the good news is – there are tons of people who have a desire to learn more. There is a great collaborative spirit among the group. But with a group that large you are going to get newbies, intermediate and advanced learners and I wonder how well they can all be served in the same meeting. Food for thought.
Phil Buckley says
I’m not sure I buy that argument Janet, and here’s why.
1. The meetup was never a place for very advanced practitioners, there is another advanced SEO meetup group (although it doesn’t look very active anymore).
2. The large number of people gives the beginner and the intermediate a better chance of sitting next to someone that they can learn from or teach to. There’s now a pretty good number of people who have attended that make a good living doing search optimization.
3. The best way for everyone to be served by the same meeting is to embrace what the meetup is – a chance to listen to good content, talk to others in the same boat (some of whom may have answers) and leave with a comprehensive D.I.Y. checklist.
Joshua S. Sweeney says
Like Phil said, the meetup has become a sort of two-part event. The first part is basically a mini-seminar, giving us a good hour and a half or so of just pure information and Q&A. Afterward, the crowd thins down, and the more hardcore socialites remain behind for a more focused conversation. The first time I attended, having no idea what I was getting into, I made the mistake of dipping out right after the official meetup… I won’t do that again.
Especially if you’re new to the group, the “after hours” socializing is almost as important as the meetup itself.
Morgan Siem says
I agree, too – the two-part combo is what makes the meetup group so strong. I always learn new things from the lesson part, and then pair that with meeting new people in the chatty part. I have made really great friends and contacts through the SEO meetup, and I’d be short-changing the SEO meetup if I didn’t also credit it for helping me find my job at Media Two.
Phil Buckley says
I agree with you guys, the post-meetup socializing adds a lot of value in my opinion.
Like everything else in life, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. Sometimes just knowing the right person to ask is all you need to know.
Steve Cates says
Well written Phil. The dynamic nature of it makes it more real and you know you are exchanging information with other “doers”. As far as the size, the handouts are still available and you are correct some people will either evolve into the advanced group or hopefully create their own (Phil you up for it)?
The only negative to the larger group is probably the pressure on you and Ashley, who have taken your personal time beyond the meetup to help people like me; that maybe very difficult at numbers over 100.
I have benefited and enjoyed the group, but it is the relationships outside the meeting that are the true benefit.
Somer Cooper says
I made my first meet-up last month in the close quarters of 100 people. To call me a newbie would give me far more credit than I deserve.
My experience went like this:
I sign up to attend.
Phil sends me a nice, welcome email.
I show up.
I find a seat in a packed room by several guys who drove in from Dunn, Nathan Maxwell and company. They are super friendly. (This is information for me about the quality of the group. Both their willingness to commute and their openness to greet a newbie.)
I tell them I am just a lowly, bottom-feeding blogger, who wants to be able to drop “optimize” in conversation without risking embarrassment. They are encouraging that I will find what I am looking for.
The meeting is great. I heart the handouts and Ashley and Phil. (I decide I want to be friends with both of them.) Before I leave the meeting, Nathan and co. ask for my twitter name.
I stare blankly.
They sympathize that they, too, had once fought it, but are now tweeting.
I refer Ashley to my father as a potential consultant. I in invite two people to attend the next meeting. I visit Phil’s blog where I learn that I must be tweeting.
I now have a twitter account, one tweet and one follower. Rock on. I think I’ve made progress.
See you tomorrow night.
Phil Buckley says
@Steve – that’s the perfect word for this group, “dynamic”. I’ve made more friends within this group than anywhere since grade school.
@Somer – Welcome to the Twitteverse 🙂
I love stories like yours, because they seem very much the norm. Great people attend, great information shared, the Q and A is always stimulating and friendships are started. I’ll be expecting you to hang out with the cool kids after the main meetup breaks up tomorrow night!