I recently saw a post in the DotNetNuke® Forums asking, "How can I promote my User Group?" What this usually translates to is, "How do I run a user group?" I was hoping that I could attempt to tackle that question in this blog entry.
I was only a couple of days late from founding the Orlando DotNetNuke® Users Group (ODUG). As it turns out, Brian Scarbeau had the same idea only days before me. (Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell is the inventor of the telephone only because he filed the patent first, and only by something like an hour of time? Had he decided to do it the next day, we'd know the name of the other guy.)
Of course, no matter who founds a user group, it is a great thing for the product, and an even better thing for the folks in the area that use that product in some way. Face to face networking and support will beat forums and blogs any day of the week. It probably goes without saying, but even though you decide to put together a user group, it doesn't mean that anyone will know about it, or attend a scheduled meeting. So, how do we market and promote the user group? It is important to note that there is no secret sauce, and not everything will work for everyone. That being said, here is what my experience is. What I will tell you should work for most user groups, regardless of their focus.
I most certainly cannot claim to be an expert on the subject, but I can tell you what I thought made sense then and now, and what I did. When I first took over the user group we had less than 40 registered members, and now we are approaching 100. That stat will quickly tell us that in the very least, more people know about us. So far, when I consider the number of new faces we see at meetings and how many of those are registered on our web site, I can make an educated guess that there are many more people in our area that haven't yet registered on our web site or attended a meeting.
You should know and understand that before you take over the responsibility of leading a user group, there are a lot of people that will be depending on you, and each will have their own unique expectations. You shouldn't accept this responsibility unless you have significant time to donate to the tasks, and you should also have a goal or vision of what you want to accomplish with the user group.
When Brian first tapped me to lead the user group in his place, I immediately recognized the responsibility I had and began to formulate a plan. There were other succesful user groups in the area, so I e-mailed their leaders and asked to speak to them about what I should expect and what to do. Luckily, one of the people had ties with Microsoft, so we were able to have a Live meeting online and telephone conference with each other.
I had some very specific questions for these people since they already had successful user groups:
I would imagine that these questions are not unlike those that other have had. These questions obviously led to other questions and conversations. We spoke with each other for over an hour, and it was incredibly helpful. I really should openly thank Shawn Weisfeld, Jessica Sterner, and Ken Tucker. I do not know what our user group would be like without them.
That should be your first step, but here is that one and others...
That is about it. I hope that with these tasks and tips listed, you can see and appreciate how much time and effort is involved. In turn, you might have a head start to get your user group on the road to success. This is a very rewarding position, and it is very much like having a second job. I hope your user group becomes very successful for you and your members.