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Dear Meetup: The Suggestion Box Is Overflowing!

Note: Here’s an updated comment on the situation from the CEO of Meetup. I also had a fairly thorough and interesting chat with a co-founder of British startup GroupSpaces, and it seems as if they’re developing exciting new features as a result of the communication with former Meetup Organizers, including a pricing structure that’s about a third of what’s currently being asked for a larger group desiring ad-free space. More about that later.

Later in the day, I read a particularly exceptional response from a passionate and involved Meetup organizer here, one that would be worthy of a response from Meetup, were they into, you know, responding. :P

Today, I came across a thread on the Meetup.com Organizers’ Board, posted by a member of the Meetup team, suggesting that the company was in fact listening to our suggestions, and wanted to hear practical ideas on improving their format, rather than simply complaining endlessly. Here was my reply, and my suggestions:

Recently, I came across a posting on the Meetup discussion board by Andrea that suggested, instead of complaining about the New Meetup format, we should give suggestions on how to improve the site, and increase the satisfaction levels of Organizers on this site.

Does this imply suggestions are going to be listened to, or even heard? Yes. But, in reality, the only feedback I personally have heard from Meetup during this fiasco is a form letter telling me they have no plans to change, regardless of my opinions. That does not make me feel like a valuable part of the site, Meetup, and as a paying organizer that’s been driving tens of thousands of hits to your site each month for years, is just disrespectful.

Suggestion #1: Listen to the people. We’re trying to tell you something. We’re unhappy, we feel excluded, and nothing about the way you’re conducting business makes us feel like a valuable part of the organization. However, we are, because like it or not, if we are not here, it’s not long before you won’t be, either.

Suggestion #2: Give Organizers control of their own Meetups. That’s why we’re Organizers. We pay for the privilege of organizing our groups as we see fit, and we serve a valuable purpose. My group has nearly 1500 members in it, and is highly active. People join because they’re new to the area and often don’t know a soul. I spoke with a few organizers over the weekend, and the consensus is that not only does this new “collaborative” method take away from the privilege of being an organizer and minimize the people that make this site happen, it creates dangerous and uncomfortable situations for members. Every Meetup has encountered those people who seem creepy, socially inept, or use the site specifically to hit on/sexually harass others. Every Meetup has encountered those people you who seem a little shady, want to sell you something, or make you feel on your guard. Do you want those people to be in charge of events, or have unlimited rights to post on someone else’s Meetup? Do you really want *your* daughter going to a Meetup where the purpose is for a single guy who’s lonely and socially inept to meet women and ply them with alcohol? Because under your conception, that could happen, if 3 people think it sounds good. It could happen without an organizer there to look out for anyone’s safety.

During my time as Organizer, I’ve had to arrange to get drunk girls home safely from bars, put an end to fights, take away the keys of drunk drivers, give people couch space when they’re lost, and have even helped them move. Not to have too high of an opinion of myself, but I’ve been told part of the reason people come out to my group and participate is because of my presence, as the Organizer. I introduce members to one another, make single women who’d otherwise be hesitant to meet with total strangers alone feel safe, and provide a “center” to our social situations that deflect potentially bad or uncomfortable situations. I kick out members that don’t follow the rules, and make sure everyone’s having a good time. And, when I am not able to attend an event, the turnout for such events tend to be small.

I am not unique. I’ve heard this over and over, from many. I, and all the other Organizers out there, serve a valuable purpose…so don’t diminish our power by enforcing your ideas over ours. Let me choose the impression I want to make, the type of group I want to run, and since I’m paying for the privilege of running a Meetup, let me be in charge of welcoming members and designing my events. You don’t need to add a message to my Welcome Letter. It’s as it is for a reason, and it’s worked. In four years, I’ve built my group from 300 to 1500, and helped others have memorable experiences and make lifelong friendships in the process. My suggestion: Let me continue to do what I’ve been doing, without the company overriding my vision. If I create something, and I underwrite the cost of that creation, haven’t I earned the right to have full control over that creation? It would be different if Meetup.Com were paying *me*, and then I’d see the company being entitled to enforce what it wants over what I’ve designed.

Suggestion #3: Let the members speak. If you don’t want to listen to those that pay to keep the site running and invest time in making events happen, listen to your members. Nobody wants these changes. Prior to the changes, I received 6 new member requests per day. Since they were rolled out, I receive 1 per day. On the other hand, my personal blog discussing my frustration with Meetup has quintupled in visitors.

There is not more participation in my group, except for people who want to discuss being hosted elsewhere. Nobody has RSVPed for ANYTHING since the changes. The day the changes were rolled out, I learned about it via angry letters in my Inbox, from members that wanted me to “put Meetup back the way it was.”

Suggestion #4:[b]Walk the walk, talk the talk.[/b] It’s not a good idea to represent the idea of “community” and “listening to all voices”, and then make changes to a service that your clients pay for without even consulting them. It’s then not a good idea to delete threads, shut down all ways to let customers be heard (I.E. Facebook and Twitter pages disappeared, nobody could reach customer service, and nobody received anything but a canned response to anything, one that said, in effect “We don’t care how you feel. We’re not changing.”) You’re not exemplifying the values you claim to promote, and that makes your customers more angry than anything. If I, as an Organizer, am supposed to adapt to a “community” way of doing things rather than retaining my right to make executive decisions that won’t be interfered with, why isn’t Meetup.com subject to the same rules of community and collaboration?

Thank you for your time, and for listening to my constructive feedback…if, in fact, you truly are.

Warm regards,
*~ Alayna

I’m hoping that others will provide similar feedback, so it is clear to Meetup that people aren’t simply complaining, but have valid concerns that deserve to be heard, considered, and addressed.

Along with many other Organizers and bloggers out there, I was contacted by one of the co-founders of Groupspaces, a U.K.-based startup that’s looking to develop into a direct competitor of Meetup. I’ll be speaking with him this afternoon, and think it’ll be interesting to hear what other companies have in the works to fill the space that the changes at Meetup.com have left in the industry.

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