I’ve talked about sponsoring local meetup groups as a way of smart offline and online non-Google marketing, and as a way to earn good links.
Last December I did a post on how to find Meetup.com groups that need sponsors. In my recent interview on the LocalU blog I mentioned it again, in the context of being a no-brainer link opportunity. I’ve mentioned it other times, too.
Meanwhile, the gears were turning in Dave Oremland’s noggin. He’s a long-time business owner, a proud SEO geek, and an avid reader and commenter here and elsewhere. If you’ve been in the local-search space for any time, you probably know Dave.
He wrote about and told me all about his success with sponsoring local meetups – in and out of Meetup.com – for one of his businesses, the Professional Bartending School, and for others:
Phil, our businesses have used meetups for years. It’s been so many years I had forgotten all we did to get those links and how well they have performed. They perform exceptionally well. They are tremendously local, high visibility, and serve many uses as a link, a web source, a way to expand local visibility and meet and get to know local people, let alone get business.
They really should be a cornerstone part of an effort to widen a web visibility program for all those businesses affected by Google shrinking the pack.
Dave and I had a phone pow-wow about it and decided to continue the conversation in an interview.
If you’re interested in earning good links and possibly helping to Google-proof your marketing, and you don’t mind donating at least a few hundred bucks to local groups, read on.
Phil: I know you’re fond of sponsoring local meetup groups, and you’ve done it for a long time through the bartending school and other businesses. What are the main benefits?
Dave: Two parts to that question, Phil. I started start working with them early on for all our businesses. They made perfect sense to me. They are natural relationships, networking, and exposure opportunities. They are completely natural for local businesses. All businesses should find ways to mine these groups. There are thousands of them. You can start your own.
Linking through meetups is a business relationship of one sort. On a general basis those are among the best links small businesses can gain. There is some well thought out, well articulated thinking on this from one of the best, longest operating, and most renowned link builders, Debra Mastaler. She writes about it on her website and elsewhere. She writes knowledgeably and often about how relationship building leads to links.
Secondly prior to Meetup.com our DC bartending school was already arranging special demonstrations for “interest groups”. This had probably been going on for some time. The first instance through the web was probably from a web based “hiking group”. They contacted us. It was the early 2000’s. We designed a “short form” example of our normal classes. It was more for fun then to teach people bartending skills and help them get bartending work. The first such class was a hit. The visitors loved it.
We realized there were several benefits to this:
- It was an additional source of income, albeit not significant
- It widened our exposure into many different areas, beyond our normal or focused marketing and advertising methods. That part is great.
- Some of the people who attend the “demonstration class” might become students. That is our bread and butter.
All the signs were great. So we continued to pursue it. This was all before Meetup.com, but there were already local “social organizations” on the web. We started to pursue them. We have run classes of this type for years. They have been consistent if somewhat erratic, and they have been with other groups before the particular meetup that we do with some specific DC oriented meetups.
I actually haven’t pursued these as aggressively as I should have. But it was your words in a post that got me to acknowledge their benefits, look at them, and get back to you on them. Then I read the LocalU interview of you by Mike Ramsey, and you mentioned Meetup again. So I’d say that your comments got me to look harder at them. I sent you a funny little reference that must have spurred you to ask me to talk about meetups more. It got me to review web and other data with some of the Meetup groups. I was actually astonished. The DC bartending school’s relationship with one organizer of some popular DC meetups has been ongoing for about 5 years. It’s been a long time.
I listed the benefits of any social organization above but they are worth repeating with regard to sponsoring a meetup group. The sponsorship provides extra benefits:
- The meetings are local. You have a local business. Your customers are local. If you don’t recognize the value on that basis, start over!
- It’s social. It’s exposure. It offers creative ways to get your products and services in front of potential customers who might not be thinking of buying at the moment. It is a wonderful alternative to search.
- It allows you to put your best foot forward with regard to your products or services and outside of a directly competitive environment.
Now here are some direct benefits of sponsoring a meetup:
- Meetup.com is a terrific website with significant web strength offering a great link opportunity.
- A sponsorship puts you on the strongest page of the particular Meetup group, Theoretically you get the strongest link possible on the strongest page from the Meetup group.
- Meetup traffic will go to specific event pages, to review pages, member pages, picture pages. But most will land on the main page of the Meetup group. You will have a great chance at the most eyeballs.
Phil: Are the benefits more online than offline, or vice versa? Or if it “just depends,” what factors does it depend on?
Dave: I think the benefits are two-fold; both online and offline. If you “work” the meetup harder as a sponsor or as the organizer you will get infinitely more benefits. If you don’t work it hard, but are more passive the benefits will be fewer. I suspect the benefits can be of both kinds.
As far as your advice from the LocalU interview: From our experience I can’t say for certain that a link from any particular meetup first page will VAULT your website in rankings in Google or Bing or elsewhere. (You probably wouldn’t say that either.) By the time we set up the meetups for the various businesses the particular SMB’s already had relatively healthy link profiles from varied sources. We didn’t see huge increases. On the other hand if a site has few links and is buried in the organic serps or buried and outside of the Pack, adding a sponsorship from a meetup group could have a HUGE impact on the SMB’s ranking. It’s worth doing.
Phil: Are all the groups that you sponsor listed on Meetup.com, or are there others that don’t have a Meetup.com page?
Dave: As referenced above, we’ve been doing this type of thing long before Meetup.com became a featured active and powerful website. We still do these types of things and we do them both inside and outside of Meetup.
Having read your comments, reviewed our own experiences, and seen the benefits first hand we are upping our efforts with targeted “appropriate social groups”. Some are inside Meetup.com and others are outside of meetups. I’d suggest other local SMB’s do the same type of research.
Phil: What meetups do you sponsor?
Dave: In DC for the Bartending School; 3 at the moment:
Those are the only one’s sponsored by the DC bartending school…..currently. I’m so “stoked” by the benefits we’ll look into others for this business and for the other businesses. On the other hand we have a great relationship with the organizer of those groups. I wouldn’t sponsor a group via the DC bartending school that in any way cannibalized on the relationships above.
Phil: Do you usually know the organizers before sponsoring their groups, or do you approach them as a perfect stranger?
Dave: For us it’s been both cases. In most cases we don’t know the organizers. If we don’t know them beforehand we naturally have to work through a process. They have to like us and we have to like them.
Phil: How do you find meetups you want to sponsor?
Dave: Once we recognized the value of Meetup.com in DC and that it was in every region we started to explore the various meetup opportunities in other regions where it made sense. We would go to the main meetup page for that city or region and explore the opportunities. If we found some that might be appropriate for the different types of businesses than we typically emailed the meetup organizers.
In most cases we didn’t approach them initially as a sponsor. We approached them as a participant. If sponsorship was appropriate then we pursued it.
Phil: How do you contact them, and what do you say?
Dave: Mostly by email, unless they have an easily accessible phone number. Again we usually approach them as someone other than a potential sponsor. In different regions we’ve had the appropriate staff go to one of the meetings to assess it and see if it made sense for the business, in terms of topic and type and size of attendance. We would have them speak to the organizer to get a better sense of it. The above actions mirror exactly what is suggested by Debra Mastaler, whom I referenced.
Phil: Roughly what percent of the time do they accept your sponsorship offer?
Dave: Different businesses get different kinds of responses. Some of the businesses we operate are bartending schools. Some aren’t. Sometimes because the bartending schools are associated with alcohol “link relationships” are rejected. I couldn’t tell you the percentage or how often. Ignore them. Go on to the next opportunity. I’d look at it as something one should do for their business, and continue to pursue it till you get a sponsorship. If the sponsorship isn’t turning up enough benefits, then drop it and go to one that will get you those benefits and payback, or do more than one simultaneously.
Phil: To what extent do they need to be “local” to you?
Dave: In our cases they are ALL local. All of them. I suppose if we were looking to expand an existing business to nearby communities we might start or join a meetup in a different market…but we tend to set up the business then work to explore the networking and social exposure opportunities after we are in the marketplace.
Phil: How much does it usually cost you to sponsor a meetup?
Dave: In our cases it’s been very varied. I couldn’t give you a “norm”. Is there one? Does anyone know?
(Phil aside: I sponsor one for $150/year.)
Phil: At what point did you start noticing benefits? (For instance, how many did you have to sponsor, and for how long?)
Dave: Well in all of our cases, benefits accrued with specific meetups wherein the particular business was highlighted. So the benefits spiked in relationship to a page about a particular meetup. Following those meetings interest would wane.
It’s difficult for me to say. I don’t have a PhD in this topic as I wish I did. What I can say is that for the businesses that have sponsorships and appear on the first page of a meetup, such as the case with the DC bartending school, they have received consistent but small traffic that is spread out over time. In the case of the bartending school when we are hosting an event for the local meetups we get more traffic. It slows down after the event.
The traffic over time is interesting. We get traffic from the sidebar sponsorship link, we get traffic if our event is on the calendar, if it hits the first page of the meetup as one of the upcoming events, we get visits from review pages, from picture pages, and from other pages. The web traffic is pretty spread out. We get calls from people who found out about us via the meetup all during the year, but most come in conjunction with an upcoming event, or one that just occurred.
Phil: The Meetup.com groups you sponsor link to your DC school page on their “Sponsors” pages. They probably didn’t do that spontaneously. To what extent did you coax the organizers to link to a subpage?
Dave: In the case of the DC bartending school sponsorship and the main organizer, there were some special circumstances. We already knew one another. The organizer had taken one of our programs years earlier. He was an active part-time bartender for a period over several years. We knew him and liked him and I assume he felt similarly about us.
Also we were running these demonstration classes with other existing social web sites. They weren’t much different with what we started to do with the meetup group. The other ones were consistent and drew significant crowds. So he was interested in doing this with us. I suspect he initially was very interested in the relationship for that reason.
Our startup relationship was good. Once we started we have been able to work things out with him reasonably well. We aren’t out to skin one another. We are mutual partners.
It’s been several years since we first started hosting events at our school for him and a few less years since we became a sponsor. I’m afraid to tell you that getting the links to an interior page was not the result of long thought out processes.
When we started discussing sponsorship I threw out the internal page links. I’m somewhat link savvy. He agreed. It all went smoothly. But I think most of that had to do with prior relationships, knowing one another, and having a good working relationship. We want to make his events at our school an ongoing success.
Phil: What is some unspoken “meetup sponsorship etiquette” – for organizers and for sponsors?
Dave: Good question for others. I don’t have a feel for a standard or a norm.
(Phil aside: please let us know in the comments if you have any “meetup etiquette” tips!”)
Phil: Why don’t more business owners get involved with local meetups?
Dave: I think there are two answers to this. One is that business operators are way too busy in day to day events to pay attention to this. Also Meetup gets buried under the overwhelming and large amount of hype about SEO, PPC, Facebook, twitter and every other marketing entity. It’s worthwhile on its own.
The second point is that it needs people like yourself to push it out to the SMB’s and your clients. They need your expertise.
Phil: If Meetup.com croaked one day, how would you continue your strategy?
Dave: The web is simply an extension of many things that operated before it came into existence. The meetup is a local social networking phenomena. Church groups, civic groups, neighborhood groups, business groups, etc. all offered these opportunities before the web and before meetup.
As referenced before the DC bartending school was providing these demonstration classes before Meetup. We would presumably find other sources.
Frankly we are targeting other sources now. Each of the separate businesses is doing that.
Phil: If – hypothetically – every competitor and his granny started sponsoring a local meetup or three, how would you adjust your strategy?
Dave: I’d moan and groan. Then I’d look for other solutions.
(Phil aside: For example, earning links by offering scholarships.)
Phil: Any other advice?
Dave: I’d suggest three other perspectives in getting involved as a sponsor in a meetup (in or out of Meetup.com). I like the hack you suggested but there are additional considerations:
- Specifically search for meetups that are related to your business. They are the ones where you can get a link, and get customers.
- Consider meetups that already have sponsors. It they’ll accept sponsorship from one group, they might be willing to have multiple sponsors.
- Search for meetups in your community for the ones that have the highest ranking and strongest pages. A sponsorship link on the strongest page will theoretically give your website and business the strongest link. One way to do this is to simply search in google for meetups/your city. The meetings that tend to be ranked highest are the ones that have the strongest web pages. There are more technical ways to do this. (It’s a good reason to hire someone like Phil to help you choose the right or most beneficial group.)
If one is a small business operator get acquainted with the marketers who write and speak out in that community. They are working with endless other businesses. They share examples of “best practices”. It’s a great way to learn about what is working.
If I was a marketer to small businesses I’d read your blog and I’d read others. There are many great pieces of advice out there.
Thanks to Dave for some great first-hand experience.
Do you have any first-hand experience with sponsoring local meetups?
Leave a comment!