My primary goal in managing RSVPs for Atlanta Science Tavern events is, as they say in marketing, "more butts in seats." We work hard to provide quality meetups to our growing audience of science enthusiasts, and an empty seat is a wasted opportunity as far as I am concerned.
Since “I’M GOING” responses are increasingly fickle - less than 50% attendance in many cases - and since the current approach of overbooking while relying on waiting lists to handle the backlog is proving to be not particularly effective in maximizing turnout, I’ve decided to try out an “open seating” policy as follows.
Here’s a pseudo-FAQ to explain the rationale behind this new policy.
What’s wrong with waiting lists?
Once posted, our meetups fill up quickly, and waiting lists are often long. People who are genuinely interested in the featured topic or speaker are discouraged from signing up. It's hard for them to appreciate that many, if not most, of the “yeses” will either eventually cancel their RSVPs or simply not attend the event.
In addition, people who place themselves on the waiting list, understandably, don't make plans to attend an event, and so are often caught flat-footed when they are promoted to the “I’M GOING” status as a result of a cancellation only a day or two before.
Why not charge people to RSVP?
A large number of our members click “I’M GOING” for a meetup, and they show up - plain and simple. It seems unfair to take a such a easy process and complicate it, penalizing them for the lack of consideration on the part of others. Adding this kind of "friction" could, in fact, discourage people from signing up at all.
Also, it’s not clear that charging $3 (our typical contribution) for an RSVP would do much to encourage attendance. On the contrary, people who have signed up may feel entitled to not attend since they have already “paid” for their seat. Again, the goal is “butts in seats” not maximizing revenue.
Finally, for a group of our size, inserting PayPal into the reservation process would likely turn me into a part-time PayPal help-desk. I have better things to do with my time for the Science Tavern.
Doesn't this mean I might end up without a place to sit?
Yes, it does mean that we could end up with a standing room only situation, but this is true with the current practice of overbooking. (It's only happened a couple of times in 3 years.) The new policy transfers some decision-making responsibility from me to you, which seems fair, especially if it results in fewer empty seats.
Why not go after RSVP miscreants?
The last thing I am going to do as an organizer of this meetup group is to become the RSVP police. It would be an unpleasant and time-consuming task, one that would put me in an adversarial relationship with members. More importantly, identifying and penalizing no-shows would be ineffective, and it would likely result in a decline in attendance. So much for more butts in seats.
I’ve come to accept that RSVPs on social networking sites such as ours are more an expression of interest than a commitment to attend. This is a fact of Internet life, and my becoming a scold will do very little to change it.
Edited by Marc Merlin on Jun 23, 2012 1:12 PM
Thank you Marc, I enjoyed reading "New Open Seating Policy for Featured Meetups" very much. It is refreshing to see such a clear and rational thinking at work (must be that scientific mind thing...). I am a member of some other Meetup groups whose organizers handle the RSVP issues in some fairly clumsy and dysfunctional ways...