Using Meetup with Your Community

If you are looking to expand the reach of your community’s activities, consider trying Meetup.com. Meetup is a website where members create profiles listing their interests. Based on their listed interests, various meetup groups are suggested. A Meetup Group is an organization that hosts get-together events on a certain topic. Meetup Groups range from backpacking clubs, to knitting circles, to technical communication groups. If your community creates a Meetup Group, you can potentially draw from a wider audience for your events.

Joining Meetup

Meetup requires that you create a profile. When you define your profile, you can add a photo of yourself, a bio, your location, and list of interests. All of that information is processed so Meetup can recommend groups in your local area, and in your area of interest. It is free to create a Meetup profile, but some groups may have dues if you join them. Consider creating both a personal profile for you and your interests, and a general profile for your community.

A meetup profile.
Your Meetup profile defines who and where you are, along with your interests.

Creating a Meetup Group

Once you have a profile for you or your community, you need to create a Meetup Group to host events. The group should match your STC community’s name so members can easily find it.

Meetup Group Settings
Your meetup group must contain useful information to help people find your group, and to personalize it.

You have a lot of control over how the group will appear in Meetup, ranging from colors to logos, and photo albums to leader titles. You can even enter a default welcome message that is automatically sent to new group members.

Meetup Group Topics
Your group can have up to 15 topics associated with it, to help draw new members.

One important aspect of your group is to define the thematic topics for it. These topics match the areas of interest you defined in your profile. If Meetup members have the same topics in their profile, then this group will be a recommended match for them. Topics to consider for an STC Meetup Group are:

  • Information Technology
  • Mobile Technology
  • Writing
  • Writing Workshops
  • Documentation
  • eLearning
  • Technology Professionals
  • Writers Group
  • Technical Writing
  • Instructional Design
  • Technical Communicators
  • API Documentation
  • DITA Documentation
  • Web-based Training
Sample Meetup Group
A sample meetup group.

Cost of Meetup.com

While having a Meetup profile is free, running a group is not free. The cost of running a group scales with the number of members in the group. In many cases, it is $10 a month for groups of less than 50 members. For more than 50 members, it is $15 a month. Meetup did not offer a nonprofit discount at the time of writing. With the higher rate, your group can have more administrators, however. To offset this cost, many Meetup groups require members to pay dues. That might not be a good model for an STC group, however, so if you create a meetup group, be prepared to pay for it, and budget accordingly. One option to offset the group cost is to get a sponsor that will help pay for it.

Using Meetup

Meetup offers meeting planning tools, much like Eventbrite. You can track meeting registrations through Meetup, and you can you charge and collect fees when people register. Alternatively, if you are already using Eventbrite to track your registrations, you can send people to that site to complete the registration process.

Schedule a Meetup
Creating a Meetup is as easy as filling out a form.

Conclusion

So is Meetup for your community? That depends on your community budget and the activities you are planning. If you are an active community with many events, and you are in an area where many STC-outsiders might be attracted to your group, it may be worth your while to create a meetup group, especially if your community has the budget for it. Track and see how many people register for an event because of the exposure on Meetup. If you find you are adding to your community as a result of Meetup, then it will be a good ROI for your group. If you are spending $180 a year on the group and have attracted no new attendees, you may want to reconsider using Meetup, especially if your community budget is small.

However, don’t let this deter you from creating a free Meetup profile and joining non-STC groups. You might just find new friends who share your hobby enthusiasm!

This blog was based on a webinar presented by Timothy Esposito and the STC Community Affairs Committee. You can see the slides for the webinar and a recording of the webinar in the links below.
adobe-connect-bwThe recording of the webinar is available now at http://stc.adobeconnect.com/p3wfkl0rfb0/

SlideShareSlides from the presentation are available at http://www.slideshare.net/tesposit/using-meetup-with-your-community

STCLogo-OnlyAlso see the Best Practice blog post written by Timothy Esposito http://www.cac-stc.org/using-meetup-with-your-community/

Sharing Community Files in Google Drive

In an earlier post, I suggested creating Google accounts for each of the executive roles in your community. One of the base concepts was creating an Admin Google account that would act as the fallback for all the subsequent chapter accounts. Another service that Admin account can have is to own the rights to the community’s Google Drive.

Why Google Drive?

Google Drive offers 15 GB of free storage for the account owner. That 15 GB is shared with Gmail and non-compressed Google Photos. If you only use your Admin account for admin purposes, that 15 GB will not be consumed by email attachments. Sure, there are other Cloud storage sites such as DropBox and OneDrive, but they only offer 2 GB and now 5 GB, respectively. Plus you’ve already created a host of Gmail accounts for your community, and Google Drive was built to integrate with Gmail accounts.

Google Drive has sharing features, so you can give people access to view or edit individual folders and files as needed. Always leave the Admin account with Edit rights to everything! When you apply for a Community Achievement Award, you can create a folder and share that (read-only) with the CAA judges so they can access all of your documentation.

Standard Word and Excel documents take up storage space on the Cloud. But with Google Drive, you have the option of transforming MS documents into Google Docs when you upload them via the web. Google offers Docs (Word), Sheets (Excel), and Slides (PowerPoint) as storage options on Google Drive. For the rest of this article I will refer to them collectively as Google Docs. When you convert a MS document to a Google Doc, it is stored on your Google Drive, but consumes no space. Your 15 GB quota will not be consumed by a Google Doc, regardless of the original size of the document in Word or PowerPoint. That being said, a Google Doc does not possess the same level of sophistication as a MS document, but for most chapter correspondence, it should suffice.

Google Docs on your Google drive are collaborative. Whenever an approved editor works on a document, a file history is listed for each document. Additionally, multiple people can edit a Google Doc at the same time. As a result of the joint-editing feature, multiple people in your group can be signed into the same document, such a the minutes for an admin council meeting, and watch the document be written in real time.

Using Google Drive

To set up a communal Google Drive for your community, sign into Google using your Admin account that I suggested you create here. Open the web version of Google Drive, and create a new folder named for your community, e.g. STCCAC for the Community Affairs Committee.

A sample Google Drive folder from the CAC.
A sample Google Drive folder from the CAC.

After you create the root folder for your community Google Drive, right-click on the folder and choose the Share option. Enter all the Gmail accounts you created for your community leaders, and give them Edit access. Now whenever you create a sub-folder, it will inherit the share settings from the parent folder.

Each of the people with which you shared the folder will get get an email telling them of the share. If they follow the link, it will show them the shared folder. They will have the option of adding the folder to their Google Drive, and it is recommended that they do so.

You can manually add folders and files to Google Drive via the web interface, or by downloading and installing a client app on your computer. If you use the web interface, look in your setting (gear icon in upper-right). It has a check box to automatically convert uploaded documents into Google Docs format.

Settings for Google Drive
Settings for Google Drive

So if you upload a whole directory of your legacy community documents and that check box is set, then they will all be converted to Google Docs. That may or may not be what you want, so be careful when setting that option.

Note: If you choose to convert your documents to the Google Doc format, you have the option of exporting them in a preferred file format, such as Word or PDF.

Folder Upload
How to upload the contents of an entire folder.

If you installed the app, you can upload files even more quickly. However the files will NOT be converted to Google Docs during an upload via the app. When using the app, it integrates with your Windows file manager and you can drag and drop files to the folder.

Note: If you do not have edit privileges on a folder, you can still drag and drop files to it, but it won’t sync with the rest of your collaborators.

Note: Be aware that when you upload a non-Google Doc, such as a PDF, the quota that is consumed is that of the uploader’s account, not of the host Google drive. So if you are going to import many files tied to a personal account, it may be best to switch to the Admin account before uploading the files.

Considerations

Google Drive is not perfect. As noted above, quota consumption is based on the user’s account, not the base account. A user could revoke privileges for other users, locking them out completely. You can only be signed into one Google Drive account at a time. That means that if you are using a personal Google drive, you must be completely signed out of that account when uploading via the web. If you have a personal account defined in the app, then you cannot easily change that account setting.

Conclusion

Due to the ability to collaborate on files, Google Drive and Google Docs may be a great choice for your community’s legacy files. Be certain to designate a well-organized person to maintain the Admin account and file structure for the Google Drive so all collaborators can easily find their files. If you need to save space, you can convert MS files to Google Docs. Additionally, you can install an app to integrate Google Drive with your native file manager. You can then use your Google drive to automatically sync other community files, such as your passwords (in an encrypted tool such as KeePass) and your Quicken data files. Also, any community member who installs the app will automatically sync files when connected to the internet. Google Drive has some powerful tools and it integrates well with Gmail accounts.

Sharing Award Recognition

When your community presents a member with an award, you are telling the world about the great contributions of that member. However, the world might not be on your community website or newsletter, and you should be certain the award winner’s employers know about the award. One way to do so, is to send a message directly to the awardee’s supervisor. Below we present a template for such purposes, originally written with a Distinguished Chapter Service Award in mind.

Note: Special thanks to DJ Towne and Alice Brzovic from STC San Diego for the idea and template.

Dear Supervisor:

I’d like to inform you that one of your employees/reports/colleagues has earned a prestigious award from the [Your Community] of the Society for Technical Communication. Each year our chapter is able to select one STC member who has demonstrated that they are committed to our success. This year we have select [Jane Doe] to receive our Distinguished Chapter/SIG Service Award.
 
We recognize [Jane’s] outstanding [humor, commitment, hard work, leadership, communication skills, training skills, etc.]. She has served as treasurer/president/programs/webmaster/ for x years. Through her continual assistance and guidance, our chapter has provided networking opportunities and professional development for the local tech comm community by hosting monthly meetings with up-to-date information from knowledgeable speakers on relevant topics.
 
As president, I have officially thanked Jane for her service and awarded her with a framed certification signed by the president of the Society for Technical Communication, [Current STC President]. I hope that you are as proud of her achievements as we are.
 
Sincerely,
Xxxx
President
STC-XXX Chapter

Customizing Your Chapter Email Addresses

Everyone wants to have a custom email address that fits their personality. That’s fine until your new chapter leader’s email is FuzzyBunnySnuggler25@email.biz, and it doesn’t look entirely professional on your chapter mailings. There are a few options out there to make your community email addresses look professional, and branded to suit your community. The first is using Gmail, and the second is using Email Forwarders in your website’s cPanel.

Gmail

The first option is to create email accounts dedicated to the job roles of your chapter: president, VP, treasurer, secretary, programs, webmaster, etc. These emails would not be tied to a user, but to the job role. So when one volunteer steps down and the new volunteer fills their place, they have the history of past communications stored in the account. Contacts will be there, as will prior community planning conversations.

Create an Admin Gmail Account

In order to do this, first set up an Admin gmail account. I recommend using your community nickname@gmail.com, for example stcmuc@gmail.com for STC-MadeUpCommunity. All of the subsequent accounts you are going to create will use this account as the rescue account, if the password is lost. The recovery email account for the Admin account should be your soon-to-be-created President or Webmaster account.

This Admin account is key. Use it to create a Google Drive and share it with all the leadership role email accounts you are about to create. Then you can store all your community documents on the Admin’s Google Drive, and your documents won’t get lost between changes in command.

Create Role Gmail Accounts

After you create your Admin account, create role accounts for each of your chapter roles. I recommend using a consistent format that brands all of the email addresses together. Create an email naming pattern, such as community.role@gmail.com. For example, muc.president@gmail, or muc.treasurer@gmail. When you create the accounts, make the fallback email the Admin account for all of these. Also, I recommend leaving off the cell phone validation since next year the person with the cell phone may not be the role assigned to the email.

Email Forwarders in cPanel

So now you have all these Gmail accounts. The name on the account is branded to match your community nickname, so there is continuity between accounts. What if you want to personalize the email addresses even more by changing the email domain? That can be easily done using the email forwarders built into cPanel.

cPanel is the website toolbox associated with your chapter’s domain. You can manage your website FTP setting, view the file structure of your website, back up your site, and view error logs, among other tasks, in your cPanel. If your chapter is hosted by STC’s hosting solution, you’ll be given cPanel credentials when STC begins hosting. If you’ve lost these credentials, contact webmaster@stc.org to retrieve them, along with the website for the STC cPanel host.

Note: SIGs are hosted differently by STC and do not have access to cPanel. However you can contact webmaster@stc.org to create email forwarders for your SIG.

One of the easiest to use tools in cPanel is the email forwarder. When you create an email forwarder, it creates what looks like an email address branded with your domain. That forwarder is not an actual account; no email will be stored within it. Instead, when email is sent to that address, it will be seamlessly forwarded on to any other addresses you specify.

cPanel, showing the email forwarder
Your cPanel layout may appear differently based on the theme selected.

Once you open the Forwarders app, you’ll see a list of existing forwarders. If there are none, click Add Forwarder. In the new screen, enter the address to forward. Specify how you want the forwarder to appear, and what real account to forward to, such as the Gmail accounts I described earlier. In my example, I’m using the CAC website, so the domain is cac-stc.org. On your site, it will be whatever your domain is.

Adding an Email Forwarder
This is how it looks, but with your domain at the top.

Each forwarder can be tied to one email address when you create the forwarder. However, you can add the same forwarder multiple times, and each time specify a different email address. This is handy when multiple people are sharing a job role, such as competition managers or if the president wants to be copied on all event registration emails. Just repeat the process above, entering the same Address to Forward. Then put a different Forward to Email Address value in each time.

Conclusion

Brand your chapter by completing the following tasks, as described above.

  1. Create similarly-branded role accounts in a free email service like Gmail.
    1. Create an Admin account first. Link all further accounts to that Admin account.
    2. Store all the passwords for all the accounts in an encrypted password tool, like LastPass or KeePass.
    3. If you used Gmail, take advantage of their cloud storage, and move your community’s files to the Google Drive owned by your Admin account.
    4. By using role accounts, records of prior communications and contacts are maintained year to year, regardless of the person using the account.
  2. If you want further email customization, sign into cPanel and create custom email forwarders that point to either your new Gmail accounts, or to the email addresses your leaders prefer to use. You do not need to use Gmail accounts for this feature to work.

If your chapter or SIG has found other solutions similar to the ones presented above, please respond in the comments and open a dialogue. These are best practices based on my experiences, but that doesn’t mean they are best practices for everyone.