Recently, I wrote about the importance of having real life relationships and communities to build your online community.
I told you how, several years ago, I started a marketing group that helped me to understand the breadth and depth of information that my clients needed and wanted to know to grow their businesses.
But there is another community dear to my heart that I want to tell you about. Back in 2009, I didn’t know anyone else doing anything with WordPress. I was so excited when I found there was a WordPress Meetup group that met across town in a coffee shop.
I was desperate for a community where I could talk WordPress, learn from others, and share what I was doing. I went to a couple of meetings and met a handful of interesting people, but it was hard to have the in depth technical discussions I was looking for in a crowded, noisy coffee shop.
Each month, I would get a notice about the upcoming Meetup and I then would think about the crowded coffee shop and I wouldn’t feel like it was worth my time to drive across town just to socialize.
Then one month, I caught myself being disappointed that it wasn’t my picture of what I wanted it to be, and gave myself a talking to, “Self, why don’t you quit complaining and offer to help?”
So I got my courage up, called Jack Kennard, the group organizer, and asked him if he would like to have help with the Meetup and offered to host at my place (I have a bed and breakfast and event space). Jack was gracious and more than happy for me to help and he made me a co-organizer of this group which had about 40 members.
Jack and I planned to have someone give a presentation each month at the meetings. In our first meeting, we asked people what they wanted to learn and everyone raised their hands for just about every topic.
But after one of our first sessions, I knew we misjudged where they were starting from when most everyone’s eyes glazed over when the discussion of code came up. We did two things to remedy that.
We spent a lot of time getting to know people and what they needed to know first, based on where they were. And, we instituted a no-code rule for the beginning sessions. This allowed us to choose topics and speakers that were at the right level for most of the group to get up to speed and build their expertise.
Very quickly, we had to limit attendance to 50 people and we often run a waiting list.
For the past three years, each of us have built our businesses, our knowledge of WordPress, and our relationships. Today, this group has 1,235 members and it has been pivotal in my growth as a speaker and as a community leader.
Last year, Russell Fair and I were asked by the WordCamp foundation to take over the the task of organizing WordCamp Atlanta with our Meetup Community. It was a huge job, but we stepped up and got our Meetup community involved in helping to to put on a successful event for 350 people. Working on this together had our community grow even closer.
This year Russell and I thought we could turn the leadership over to others, but we realized how much people looked to us to take that role.
We were able to add a couple more strong committee heads (see my website for the complete list) and this past weekend we held our second WordCamp Atlanta. We increased the attendance by 100 and still sold out of our 450 tickets in just two weeks!
The conference this year included four tracks: beginners, users, designers and developers and we had over 40 speakers. People flew in from all over the country and drove in from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Over 40 of our Atlanta WordPress Users Meetup volunteered at this not-for-profit event.
As I stood on the stage to introduce the Keynote speaker, I looked out at everyone in the ballroom and was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the possibility that was unleashed the day I quit grousing about a problem and took action to be part of the solution.
This is the power of community and although it is a lot of work with no direct compensation, my involvement in this group has given more to me than I could have ever dreamed.