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The Community of Connection: How Meetup is Changing the Face of Hong Kong’s Social Scene

By Localiiz 18 March 2014
March 18th 2014 With almost 500 active Meetup groups, Hong Kong has joined the 196 countries worldwide that are learning new ways to keep themselves entertained, educated and connected. But where does this up-and-coming community fit in among the big boys of Facebook, WhatsApp and Linkedin, and who is benefiting from it? Suraj Samtani talks to the event organisers and their loyal attendees to find out.

EventHK

  Living in a city typified as a modern concrete jungle, our identity is often limited to our professions. With pseudo excuses of time and cost constraints, we nest in the cocoons of our frequented contacts, and seldom stretch beyond our immediate circles or discover new interests and hobbies. But with the rise of Meetup, some Hong Kongers are finiding they have room for both new friends and different activities in their lives. The web portal was founded in New York in 2002 by Scott Heiferman. His aim was to encourage communities to engage more over shared interests or intentions. With support from investors like eBay, the venture has since grown to become one of the top 400 most visited websites in the world, with almost 16 million users. As social beings, our reasons for attending Meetups are innumerable. Jobseekers network themselves into a career, artists share their passions with others, and singles scavenge through the crowds for their soul mate. Moreover, at times, the only reason to meet could be to share silence; some groups meet just to read, write or meditate in quietness. Factors that no doubt catalysed the website’s success are its simple user interface and smartphone apps. Setting up a user account is free and easy, and you can also connect your Meetup account to other social networking profiles like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Hong Kong Salsa Aficionados

  As Lianne Wong, a regular attendant of various Meetup events, observes, the initiative helps to increase human interaction in today’s technology-obsessed times. “I’ve become more active and social,” says Lianne, adding that she is now happier and busier since finding new friends who share her interests such as board games, kayaking and dancing. Attending gatherings has also helped people overcome their social anxiety. Entering a room filled with strangers made Edmund Chan, an otherwise ace university student, nervous. The experience of attending a few Meetups and focusing on the common interests that he shared with others helped him develop the courage, confidence and empathy to interact. For a Meetup event to succeed however, the organisers must expend a lot of their personal resources, and also pay Meetup a regular fee. They must constantly regulate the group’s activity to ensure they’re offering enough value to all parties to justify their investments. This system has sparked mixed responses.

For Miracles Sake

  Aparna Sachar, director of the spiritually-focused group For Miracle’s Sake, is generally pleased with her experience. Her like-minded followers are connected on Meetup, and every message or event update is instantly sent to all members. This saves Aparna from manually contacting the individuals in her database, and saves her spamming those uninterested in her holistic events. Similarly, Art Lee and Jessie Jing feel their perseverance and passion for their professionals networking group EventHK has earned them impressive returns. “It's hard work…[and] not an easy task, but anyone can do it if they are persistent,” they indulge, before explaining how their business referrals have escalated since they started using Meetup to organise their events. However, Javed Rasool, director of Hong Kong Salsa Aficionados, hopes to see more improvement. Being a paid customer, he maintains that Meetup can do more to promote his group to his target audience than simply listing it in search results. He says he wastes time manually sending the link to potential clients, and feels that “Facebook wins hands down” with its system of sponsored ads. With alternatives like Eventbrite still teething, Facebook’s Groups & Events remain Meetup’s greatest threat. And it’s clear the Meetup system is far from perfect, as nearly all group organisers admit to using multiple platforms to maximise their reach.

Undeniably though, the recent culture of individuals hosting and attending smaller and more targeted events in Hong Kong can be largely attributed to Meetup. While a large number of HK Meetup users are expats, I anticipate that more locals and minorities will soon begin to discover the personal and professional advantages of the site. As we exchange connections, knowledge and emotions, we look forward to uniting in a larger nest, where familiarity and support for others is beyond obligatory.

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