To Meetup: if you’re going to change your prices, be clear about it

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Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP via Forbes

Meetup started charging members of some of its groups $2 to RSVP to events — along with reducing charges for meeting organizers. This made people furious. The messaging was a mess, and they’re trying to clean it up now.

As Dani Heahl wrote in The Verge yesterday:

Meetup, an online platform that lets you find events and meet people offline that have similar interests, has announced it is testing out a new payment structure that will charge users to RSVP for an event. The company tells The Verge it began this test last month, and it’s been charging a subset of users $2 simply to say they’re going to an event. The change has naturally upset some in the Meetup community.

Prior to this test, the only people who were charged to use the service were event organizers. Organizers pay between $9.99 and $23.99 a month, depending on location and the subscription model of choice. This allows you to organize up to three groups with unlimited members. In the new payment version Meetup is testing, the organizer’s subscription cost drops to $2 a month, and every member pays $2 to RSVP to an event.

Do the math. If you’ve got five or more people attending your meetings, Meetup most likely gets more revenue. Of course, meeting organizers are not too excited about the tool they’ve been using all along suddenly charging people just to RSVP. One meeting attendee I spoke with told me that he’d be scoping out the meetings on Meetup but just showing up without paying to RSVP. Multiply that by millions of meeting attendees and you’ll see the tool lose much of its utility.

How did Meetup explain itself?

Meetup is owned by WeWork, a company caught in a maelstrom of confusion in the wake of its failed IPO. And Meetup has already backtracked on its ill-considered plan.

Here’s what the original announcement said:

Payment changes coming soon

Meetup is always looking for ways to improve the experience for everyone in our community. One of the options we are currently exploring is whether to reduce the subscription costs for organizers and introduce a small event fee for members. 
 
Beginning in October, members of select groups will be charged a small fee to reserve their spot at events. This will also distribute costs more evenly between organizers and members.

What’s changing?

Members will pay a $2 fee when they reserve a spot at your event.

Your new subscription cost is only $2 per month, or $24 per year. That means you’ll be saving at least 80% annually on subscription fees.

How will this impact select groups?

Lower organizer subscription costs

Your new subscription cost is only $2 per month. Members will pay a small fee when they reserve a spot at each event. This will distribute costs more evenly between organizers and members.

More committed attendees

We know that a challenging part of running events is getting people who RSVP to attend. Members paying a small fee ahead of time helps motivate them to show up and will provide you with a more accurate headcount for your event.

Why is Meetup testing this change?

Meetup is always looking for ways to improve the experience for everyone in our community. For the past several years, organizers have paid a subscription fee to create and manage groups on Meetup. One of the options we are currently exploring is whether to reduce the subscription costs for organizers and introduce a small event fee for members. This change will help more evenly distribute costs between organizers and members.

This is clearly written, but deceptive nonetheless. It doesn’t say which “select” groups they chose or how they chose them. Based on the howls of protest from my contacts on Facebook, they sprung this unannounced on those groups. And it implies that the change is to benefit the organizers, who didn’t ask for it, as opposed to raising revenue for Meetup.

Meetup just added this note to the top of the page:

UPDATE October 15, 2019 1:30 pm ET

This payment change is currently only a limited test for a small number of groups. Organizers of these select groups have the option to opt-out of this test. We will not be making any significant payment changes in the near term. We are committed to providing advance notice before any changes go into effect.

We’ve also updated our FAQs below to address specific questions.

So if they’ve selected you, it doesn’t say how you’ll find out. You don’t get to pick, you have to opt out (where)?

And this is false: “We will not be making any significant payment changes in the near term. We are committed to providing advance notice before any changes go into effect.” They did make significant changes, or at least it must seem that way to the groups they selected. And they didn’t provide advance notice.

If the change is so great, why not ask the people running groups to opt into the test? See how many meeting organizers want to do that before you suggest you’re doing this to benefit your customers.

Lessons from this debacle

These really ought to be self-evident:

  • If you have customers and you’re going to make a change, especially one that affects pricing, tell them in advance.
  • If you want to do a beta test, let customers opt in, rather than foisting it on them and forcing them to opt out.
  • If you’re doing something that increases revenue, make changes that improve the value of what you’re selling along with it. People aren’t stupid.
  • If you change your mind amid a public uproar, don’t pretend that you didn’t make a mistake, and don’t lie in the update.

We’ve been using online services for more than 35 years. Surely, by now, the services should be better at explaining things to the people who use them. It’s not that hard, really.

One response to “To Meetup: if you’re going to change your prices, be clear about it

  1. Memo to companies: If your communication and pricing policies are questionable or deceptive, Josh will call you out.
    Josh, I’ve always wondered: When you post a blog entry criticizing an organization, do you let them know you’ve done so? I can’t recall seeing any of the respond below your column, so I’m not sure they’re aware of your post.

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