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June 15 2011


Five ways we're trying to build the scope of our Net2 Local community in Manchester, UK

Over the past 18 months I've been organising the Manchester Net Tuesday group.  We've had speakers, discussions and collaborations on a number of issues relevant to the non-profit sector locally, from online fundraising to search engine optimisation to activism & campaigning - a really rewarding experience.

One thing we've struggled with is how to extend our group beyond the "usual suspects" of people already involved in the non-profit technology sector.  As much as we value our collective contributions, we all recognise the need to reach out to those in the sector that *really* need to take advantage of technology, yet might be reticent to do so.

So - on the 28th June, we are holding an event that represents a few departures to our norm.  I wanted to share five tactics we've taken to try and build the attendance of this event, based on previous experiences both in #mcrn2 and beyond.  Ultimately, we are trying to extend the scope of our membership. to build a wider platform for change. 

1. A speaker from London!

This month, we have a guest speaker from The Charity Technology Trust, a TechSoup partner.  Granted, it's only two hours by train from Manchester to London, but billing the event as a "one-off" chance to hear and meet someone from an organisation not-based in the city, does provide some impetus. 

Conversely however, some of our most productive meetups have been with very locally focused topics and case studies - so this is a constant dilemma to consider.

2. The time, the place

Normally, we meet at a hackspace venue on a Tuesday evening.  This has suited the focus of the group fine, but our June event will be held during an afternoon, at a more "mainstream" venue (kindly donated by the local digital development agency).  Again, signups have been strong.  The point here is that to engage people into our group, it may often be a good tactic to reach them in their own context to begin with!  This doesn’t mean we would move away from our regular home, but it seems useful to get out and about.

3. Mailing Lists!

Blackpool attendeesI recently attended the first non-profit technology event in Blackpool (about 1 hour from Manchester).  It was similar to Net2 Local in approach and design (maybe a new member?) - but one thing struck me: the wide turnout from local non-profits and community groups.  Duncan and Lillian (the organisers) told me about the value of local email and offline mailing lists that had long been established and maintained for communications with the sector.  In other words, Twitter wasn't the answer, when the target group didn't use Twitter! As with the point of our event timing, it is all about targeting

4. Waiting Lists!

Another first was to use Eventbrite for signups, and include the function for Waiting Lists.  Recently, I missed out on the NotforProfit TweetUp in London, as I hadn't been quick enough to grab a ticket!  So, whilst not wanting to force people into a secondary market for tickets, we took the option to utilise Eventbrite in terms of administering the event - with lots of people signing up.

5. Social Media Surgeons

The final aspect we are trying is that of having a few "social media surgeons" on hand to offer one-to-one advice and support to participants, borrowing from the Social Media Surgery movement that is well established in the UK.  With our first four tactics seemingly working to engage a new audience, it will be vital that we offer some reason to come back.  A great aspect here is that some of the “usual suspects” I mentioned will be providing the surgery!

And so - there goes our five tactics for extending the scope of our community.  I'll blog again post-event and onwards, but wanted to share these actions so far. Conveniently, I've (nearly) found a word beginning with T to describe each:

  •     Topic
  •     Timing
  •     Targeting
  •     Tickets
  •     Tech Support

Ultimately, we want people to come to Manchester Net Tuesday regularly, and even add ideas and inspirations online.  Building on the foundations of the last 18 months, I'm hoping we can achieve this.

Ill stress that this is just something we are trying in Manchester, and it would be great to hear more from others.  What tactics have you taken to widen the scope of your group, if at all?  How do you engage people further? 

Post a comment here, or maybe continue the conversation via @stevieflow and @mcrn2

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