Mixing Business With Pleasure: The Evolution of the ‘Meetup’ in Eyecare

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TAMPA, Fla.—There is no question that the Internet has improved our ability to communicate quickly with people wherever they are. We can now develop close working and friendly relationships with individuals we have never met in person. As our online business relationships have grown, it has become even more important to make contact with these people in real life, too. Fortunately, there is a way to do just this: the social media "meetup," an in-person gathering of people who frequently connect online to discuss a shared interest.


Meetups are not rare or exotic. They happen in every city, every day. In fact, the Dictonary.com definition of meetup includes the typical example of "a meetup for new moms in the neighborhood." It doesn't get any more real-world than that. Meetups also function at multiple levels. At one meetup, there may be ECP staff, doctors, association leaders, industry representatives and more discussing the topics of the day.

While they have recently become more common, meetups are not new. The website Meetup.com was formed shortly after 9/11/2001 with the hopes of using online technology to encourage people to connect locally. Eyecare meetups go back even further than that. In 1990's Walt Mayo, OD began holding meetups for the members of Optcom, the online forum for optometrists. Called the "Optcom Bash," these meetups were held specifically so that members who primarily interacted via email could talk and laugh in person. The most recent OptcomBash was held at SECO in 2011 with over a hundred people in attendance, discussing practice management techniques, diagnostic equipment, and staffing issues, as well as personal interests and stories of "the good old days."

At the American Optometric Association meeting in Orlando 2010, I organized a social media meetup. It was rather small, but the intimate setting did allow for some great conversation with people with whom I did not normally interact. Not only did the social media team from the AOA attend, but also paraoptometrics and representatives of industry, as well as ODs. There was significant discussion about social media becoming mainstream and how optometry could leverage in on the level of practice and professional. Being ambitious, we even included a brief Skype video conference with some people who couldn't attend in person.

At the last several Vision Expos, Dr. Alan Glazier has hosted larger social media meetups. These meetups have been sponsored by eyecare companies and have grown to over 100 people. These have been attended by ECP, consultants, staff, and eyecare press, including Vision Monday.

Now that meetups have become mainstream, people expect them and plan them into their conference itinerary. At the recent Optometry's Meeting in Chicago, Dr. Glazier held the "ODs on Facebook" Social Media Meetup. It was sponsored by Marco and RevolutionEHR and, held at the Chicago Hilton, it was a relaxed, comfortable opportunity to talk with a variety of seasoned practitioners and leaders in eyecare social media.

Undoubtedly, as online communication becomes more important, meetups will continue to grow. These will become standard events at all major meetings, video chatting, larger, industry support. Are you ready for the future of eye care meetups? Dr. Glazier is working on the next one at Vision Expo West. The time and date have yet to be established, but this one promises to be biggest one yet.

 


Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO, Bright Eyes Family Vision Care, Tampa, Fla., is an optometrist specializing in the vision of infants and children. A social media evangelist, he is a regular contributor to Review of Optometric Business and Vision Monday, was named a VM/ROB Optometric Business Innovator and consults with several companies on the topic. Dr. Warford has been a speaker at the two CLICK Conferences. He is chair of the Florida Optometric Association's Children's Vision Committee. He is a graduate of the Illinois College of Optometry and is an active volunteer in many charitable organizations. He founded Foursquare Day in March 2010 .

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