The past year and a half has been, and still is a roller coaster; the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our lives and the way we are living, working, and socializing. Our community meetup program at Elementor has been forever changed following the pandemic. In this blog post, I will share some of the challenges we faced, the solutions that we – and our community members – found, and how we managed to support each other, even from afar.
The Meetup Program
Elementor is the leading website builder in the WordPress ecosystem with almost 9M+ websites. For reference, that’s over 5% of the entire internet (by W3Techs)!
Our community meetups are organized and hosted by an incredible team of 70+ volunteer community leaders in 60 locations worldwide.
We launched the meetup program in January 2019 with the goal to focus on in-person gatherings, bringing together local web creators to discuss a wide range of topics and helping them collaborate and expand their network.
When starting the program, we were hesitant about virtual events because we wanted to prevent the meetups from becoming webinars, so we focused primarily on in-person events.
The New Reality
In mid-February 2020, we got a request to start a meetup group in Hong Kong. At that time, the pandemic had already hit Hong Kong, so the only way was to go virtual. It took us a few days to prepare guidelines and fully commit to this solution, which I was sure would be temporary. I could not have been more wrong.
Three weeks later, working from home (with kids off school), I gathered all our leaders on Zoom and announced that all our meetups would be online until it was safe to meet in person again. During this meeting, we discussed practical ways of remotely forming, building, and maintaining personal connections and interactions among community members. This was our first online meeting as a group of meetup leaders, which formed into a monthly meeting later on. After almost a year and a half later all our meetups are still virtual. Nevertheless, we are all looking forward to getting back to in-person gatherings!
The move to virtual connected the Elementor team with our community leaders even more. We used Slack as the primary communication channel, we continued hosting monthly meetings, and we promoted collaborations between leaders by encouraging joint events.
A great example of this is our local leaders group in Spain that came together to plan weekly meetups for their communities while supporting each other during the pandemic. They created a schedule for weekly virtual events that were open to all members speaking the same language. With this strategy, they didn’t overwhelm the community with too many events and they addressed the community’s needs with various topics.
Our first ever (virtual) Road Trip
Only a month after COVID-19 hit Europe, in April 2020, we launched an eight-week world tour to support our local chapters and leaders. These exclusive meetups included hands-on workshops with our success team, talks with Elementor marketing experts on how to grow your business during a pandemic, and other advanced content from our team of developers.
During the virtual tour, we saw growth in applications for new meetup groups, and growth in the number of people that joined Elementor meetup groups.
How did COVID-19 make the meetup program better for 2021?
When building the strategy for 2021, I realized that the pandemic opened up so many opportunities, and we have a chance to create a better and more diverse program.
More types of groups to care for our members’ different needs
Together with our leaders, we identified the challenges of the local groups and came up with ideas on how we can improve the program.
For example, we were seeing participants with different experience levels, who all had different expectations from the meetups. What we were able to do with our virtual events program was start topic-based groups that enable advanced users to level up their skills and network, and our beginner users to get their feet wet. These types of meetups will always be online, global, or regional, and everyone will be able to join.
We also noticed that having one big, highly engaged online group, in some countries rather than small local groups (city-based), helped engage people who speak the same language but can’t attend physical meetups that might be miles away.
Nevertheless, we decided to redefine the value that each group type brings to its attendees to make sure we aren’t overlapping. The local meetups are focused on the personal dimension, small groups, live discussions, and mutual peer-to-peer support.
The community and the people behind the brand
One of the new event types is an HQ x Community meetup, hosted by both our meetup leaders and the Elementor team, discussing various topics with community members during live sessions where everyone can speak, ask questions, and present. These types of events create amazing engagement between the people behind the brand and the community members.
This testimonial is from a participant at the first HQ x Community event that we hosted. “I just wanna say thank you for arranging all these virtual events. You guys are tearing down an invisible wall between corporations and the grass-root user and establishing a relationship that is beneficial for all parts”.
Looking to the future
Our community grew rapidly since 2019, and the pandemic accelerated the increase. This also led to the decision to implement a new platform. We saw the need for our own place to manage and host the meetup groups and events.
In July 2021, we launched our new home for the Elementor community, which will serve as a focal point for all Elementor’s users’ needs. The Elementor Hub contains two components: an online forum and our new event website. The hub is allowing our community to connect with their peers worldwide, both online and in-person, grow their businesses, elevate their skills, and so much more. For the community team, the hub is consolidating our efforts, our programs, and our ability to measure success and engagement, making sure we are addressing our members’ needs.
If I had to summarize everything I’ve learned about building a distributed chapter program in the last year and a half, these are my main learnings:
- More than ever, focus on content and providing added value.
- Community prevails even through hard times. There was so much engagement between our members this last year. We’re just human, and we all need to connect to others.
- We can bring more value and cater to different needs with our virtual meetups.
- Listening to your community members and leaders, giving them the space to share feedback and work together, is priceless. We couldn’t have done anything without our amazing leaders. Nor would we ever want to!
What are your lessons from the last year and a half? Please share your thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.