Often Organizers look for free alternatives to meetup.com when they do not get many people to their events, and realize they are paying a high fee for little or no return. Of course, one reason for the low attendance may be no one wants what they are offering!
Sometimes, people want to test their idea first, before making a financial commitment. But paying monthly is even more expensive. So the temptation is to look for a free option.
This post is about why using free sites is not a good idea, and why paying $24/yr at Eventpeg is a low cost and better idea.
While you may think only Organizers would want to read this post, you will find useful information as a member as well. There are things that happen (or don’t happen) on free sites that everyone needs to know.
First and foremost, there is no such thing as a “free” meet up website. While you may not need to spend any money, they are not doing it for love – there are reasons they offer it for nothing. Have you ever noticed that after browsing online, Facebook shows you ads for products or sites you just visited? They are mining your browsing habits, which to them is valuable information they can get for free. That data is then fed to the advertisers who are sponsoring them.
Secondly, free sites only provide the most basic features. To run a meet up site, you need a lot of interconnecting functions and you just won’t find them on these sites.
Lastly, most small, free sites tend to disappear after a short time. Either they don’t get the information they want, their mandatory advertising doesn’t earn them enough or they simply realize they will go broke if they continue.
Operating a meet up site is not cheap – you can’t do it with your normal shared hosting. At the very least you need VPS hosting that can be scaled up to cater for increased demand as necessary. Eventually you may need to use a dedicated server. To provide all the necessary functions, you will either need to employ I.T. staff or pay to use commercial software. Then of course, you have ongoing maintenance that takes both time and money. No one in their right mind is going to do all that for free.
Let’s look at some of the functions needed to run a meet up website:
The heart of any meet up site is its members. They need to know their personal details are kept private and secure. There should be no interaction with any other website. If you can join using your information from other social media sites, then you have an immediate trust issue. Facebook is notorious for fiddling with privacy settings, and many people will not use it for that reason alone. Trying to run a group there will limit your membership pool straight away.
Members should be able to communicate with each other without exposing their email address, and be able to limit or even block who can contact them. Their profile information, including their photo, should only be available to people they choose.
There should be a progressive level of privacy for groups to choose from – public, private, or hidden (invitation only). Content such as file uploads, photo albums and membership details should be limited by the group’s privacy setting. Even in public groups, internal discussion boards should only be visible to group members.
Groups should be able to provide information pages to visitors, so they can make informed decisions on whether it is what they are looking for. Clear and informative banners should enable visitors to readily identify a particular group.
Arguably second in priority, event management is what can make or break a meet up site. A balance needs to exist between promotion and privacy. Organizers should be able to decide whether non-members can view group events, even in a public group. For events that are visible, visitors should be able to search for them in a variety of ways including time, location and key words.
A full-page calendar should show all public events, with the ability to narrow results to one particular group. Group members should of course, see all events for their group.
There should be a full page for each event providing more details, photos or videos, cost, location (including a map), booking facilities and a list of attendees.
Bookings should be approved automatically, with the option to be advised when cancellations free up slots. Payment for events should be handled privately between the Organizer and the member. Organizers should not be forced to lose money through checkout fees.
Finally, there is the question of help when you have a problem or something doesn’t work. If your support emails simply disappear into cyberspace, never to be seen again, then it doesn’t matter how good a website is – you are on your own.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes on a meet up site. Eventpeg runs on WordPress using BuddyPress, bbPress, mediaPress and over 30 free and paid plugins. Tying everything together so it operates seamlessly is not easy. Free sites just do not offer this level of sophistication – sacrificing abilities, customization and privacy.
If you want features, you need to pay for them. Even with advertising, free sites cannot provide all the necessary functions. So, to answer the question in the title of this post – there are no free alternatives to Meetup.
The real question should be, what is the cheapest and best alternative? I believe Eventpeg meets the requirements of a fully-functional meet up site, at a fraction of the price. The main drawback is, it is not widely known – yet. Only people like yourself can help fix that. From little things, big things grow.