If you want to engage with like-minded individuals and develop your leadership skills at the same time, one of your best options is to start your own college group. Most colleges are lenient enough to allow for the creation of practically any justifiable group, but creating it is just the first step of the process—you’ll also need to make efforts to increase participation.
The Challenges of Early-Stage Development
Thanks to the bandwagon effect, once a group reaches a certain threshold (somewhere between 10 and 25 members), it should be considered popular enough to be self-sustaining; current members will invite new members they know could be interested, and the group will have enough exposure to attract new people all on its own. But in the early stages of development, you’ll be far below that threshold, and you’ll face challenges in three key areas:
- If people don’t know your group exists, they can’t possibly join it.
- If your group doesn’t yet exist, it means people aren’t currently interested in it. It’s your job to make them interested.
- You’ll also need to keep the new people you recruit, or your group will fizzle out.
How to Increase Exposure
Use these strategies to spread word of your group’s existence:
- Advertise the group at social events. First, tap into whatever budget you have to advertise your group’s existence at whatever major social events your college campus hosts. For example, you might print some flyers, banners, and tents, and set up shop to welcome incoming new students during orientation week. It’s a good opportunity to get brand exposure and talk to new people who might be interested.
- Get involved in a student publication. Ask about student publications and try to get involved however you can. In some cases, that might mean writing a column about your hobby or interest. In others, it might mean placing an ad or doing a one-time interview to pitch the group to newcomers.
- Distribute flyers. Old-school advertising methods still work wonders on college campuses. Print flyers and distribute them on bulletin boards and other publicly visible areas to publicize your public events or your group’s existence.
- Get on social media. Of course, you’ll also want to get on social media. Post at least once a week (whichever platform you choose) and reach out to students on campus who might be interested.
- Work with professors and faculty. Professors have access to more students than you do, so consider working with one who aligns with your interests. They may be able to help you plan events and get you access to more resources, and more importantly, they may want to pitch your group in their class.
How to Cultivate Interest
Next, you’ll need to find a way to build interest among people who wouldn’t immediately see the appeal:
- Cater to newbies. Be sure there are plenty of opportunities for people to engage in the group even if they aren’t experienced with your hobby. Make this evident in your advertising materials as well.
- Highlight different benefits. Every hobby has multiple benefits, so try to advertise them all separately to maximize your potential interest. For example, some people want to practice yoga for flexibility, while others want to focus on relaxation.
- Make socialization the priority. People want to make friends in college, so make sure socialization is the focal point of your group—not just the hobby itself. Plan lots of “meet and greet” style events, and leave plenty of time for people to engage with one another in addition to participating in the central hobby.
How to Retain New Members
New members won’t do you much good if they only attend one meeting, then bail. Make sure you increase retention with these strategies:
- Meet consistently. Try to meet as consistently as possible. Most people have a consistent schedule, so if you usually meet on Wednesdays, you’ll get a similar crowd each time you meet.
- Make new people feel welcome. Go out of your way to make newcomers feel like they belong in your group. Avoid the temptation to develop a clique around your oldest or most experienced members.
- Let people engage how they want. Don’t force people to do something they aren’t comfortable doing; let new people engage with the group however they feel comfortable doing so.
- Always leave people wanting more. Always end your group sessions leaving people wanting more. That might mean issuing a challenge that can’t be resolved until the next meeting, or ending the session while momentum is still hot. Either way, it will encourage people to get to that all-important second meeting, and keep coming back from there.
It may not be easy to generate momentum for your group, especially if there isn’t much current interest for your hobby or activity, but with the right marketing approach and enough effort to foster enthusiasm for your core interest, you can bloom into a popular, engaging group on campus.
Use these strategies consistently, and be patient; eventually, you’ll be able to attract the right group.