At the beginning of 2020, when Technical.ly planned to focus one month of reporting on community building, we didn’t realize that meetups — one of the core ways Philly’s tech community gets together to learn, network and share ideas about the field — would be driven to virtual-only events by a pandemic. Nevertheless, it’s the only option for the time being.
But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, says Domitrius Clark, a Philly-based advocate engineer for California-based SaaS tech company Cloudinary. Clark has worked at machineQ, Guru and Red Queen Gaming, and about two years ago, became an organizer of Reactadelphia, Philly’s ReactJS meetup. (He also made our list of 2019 RealLIST Engineers.)
Since Reactadelphia’s inception, it’s been both an in-person meetup and a community that existed online, Clark said. That’s for a few reasons, namely that it’s more accessible to folks who can’t make an every-third-Tuesday event, and it allows the group to broaden its speaker base to folks outside of the Philadelphia area.
“I also wanted other people to see how talented Philly was,” Clark said.
During non-pandemic times, an average Reactadelphia meetup is held at Guru and well attended — anywhere between 50 to 70 people IRL and an additional 20 or so on the livestream, Clark said. For the first few months of running the meetup, he and other organizers worked hard on outreach and developing programming, often stepping in to give talks themselves if there wasn’t a speaker that month or one dropped out.
But almost two years later, Clark feels like he’s got the right recipe for a successful meetup, whether it’s IRL or online. And he wants you to know he’s available for advice or ideas if you need help (find him on Twitter @domitriusclark).
Here are some key strategies that have worked for Reactadelphia:
“It’s more than the numbers, it’s about establishing a family,” Clark said. “It’s about having a safe space to access whatever they’re coming for, whether it’s getting out of the house, making connections, learning, whatever.”
Although the meetup does see maybe 10 newcomers every month, Clark said there’s a core group of people coming each time. And building a community comes from keeping attendees engaged, bringing content and information they want to them, and creating that safe space, he said. It’s also important to have an easy way for people to reach the larger community.
“That’s what keeps folks coming month after month,” Clark said. “There’s multiple tools of engagement. If you have a meetup, you need a place for people to reach you and each other.”
The hardest part of starting a new meetup is setting up a roster of speakers, Clark said. At first, he and co-organizers did a lot of the heavy lifting in coming up with themes and giving talks themselves. But launching with the remote option gave them the ability to source speakers from around the world.
It can be intimidating to present, he said, but having that supportive community comes into play in making people feel comfortable signing up. Each meetup usually focuses on a topic, or lends itself to a workshop format split into beginner or intermediate skill sets.
Now, virtual events like meetups are akin to conferences — or at least the way conferences will likely be held for the next few years, Clark said.
Reactadelphia has always used Twitch to stream, and it’s been easy to continue programing virtually on the platform, Clark said. He’s built in some overlays and backgrounds to upgrade the virtual experience a bit more.
He’s also found Discord to be a useful platform, especially paired with Twitch, by giving attendees and organizers multiple ways to communicate and allowing them to record up-to-50-person videochats. He said YouTube’s live function is another viable option, especially for folks who are just going to be adding that content to the video platform anyway.
But Twitch has offered him and the other organizers the best live experience, Clark said: “Others do get the job done, but I feel like I want to use the ecosystem in the way it’s made for.” What’s important is pinning down your OBS — open broadcasting software — so that you can expect how your livestream, panel or webinar meetup will go.
Find us online 👀
— Reactadelphia (@reactadelphia) October 30, 2019
Surprisingly, the Reactadelphia virtual meetups have been getting pretty much the same amount of attendees as its IRL meetups were getting, the organizer said.
Tech and speaker series aside, Clark said the real work of effective meetups comes in the off hours, in being there for others, offering help and resources when you can, and staying connected outside of that every-third-Tuesday event.
“This is the time people need communities the most, when you need people to lean on,” Clark said. “I feel lucky to have this community right now.”
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