It’s a curious thing, the Internet.
Even those of us who make our living from the Internet fall into the trap of expecting everything to be free, always. So I’m always fascinated when the social media sites we love find new and creative ways to make money, how the audience reacts.
I’m awfully fond of Meetup.com (I’ve written about it in the past) and have been struck by how it’s caught between the altruistic purpose of creating community and creating a viable business.
The point of the site is to bring people together; to foster community in real life — to “use the Internet to get off the Internet.” For the vast majority of users, the entire experience is free. Meetup organizers pay a fee for the administrative controls and the full power of the site.
Most meetups don’t pass those costs onto their members, though some charge small fees or charge for attendance to specific events.
Some have become adept at finding sponsors, either through Meetup or independently.
So how to extend that in a way that is not going to tick everyone off. Can you imagine, for example, if Meetup instituted Facebook-style advertising? People would be able to buy ads according to the demographic information you put on your profile?
I can only imagine that would go over, as an old boss of mine once said, “like a fart in church.”
Instead, Meetup has instituted “Perks,” which enables businesses to target those would are likely to be interested in their goods or services, without violating anyone’s privacy.
Say there’s a bike shop (OK, I’m taking an example they gave at last week’s #NewMeetup Meetup event at Irving Plaza) that wants the multitudes of bicyclists in and around New York City to know about its services. It’s already sponsoring one Meetup group, and that’s gone swimmingly.
So for a small fee Meetup, the bike shop can make an offer to other Meetup groups – a special price on a tuneup, say. They choose what types of Meetups to target, the geographic area where the meetups should be based and even how many Meetup groups they want the offer to be open to. Those offering Perks only pay for the groups that accept it. (Note: Perks are free to offer for the first 5,000 sponsors before March 15.)
The Meetup organizers who fit the criteria are made aware of the offer and they can decide whether it’s a good fit for their group. If it’s not a good deal or seems spammy or is off-topic, the organizer can just ignore it and go on her merry way.
For anyone wondering how sites can make money off the Internet without reverting to the early-aughts flashing banner ads, it’s a very interesting model. It takes the model of the targeted Facebook customization and uses it in a totally non-creepy way.
Even more key: It gives small, local businesses a seat at the table.
In fairness, not everyone at #NewMeetup was enthused by the news. There’s always some who are bothered whenever anyone comes up with a new way to advertise. It feels sometimes that our lives couldn’t be made any more commercial if someone tried, and then someone does.
But if we’re to keep getting cool stuff at no cost, well, someone’s gotta pay.