Will "the Mighty" Strohl

How to Start a DotNetNuke User Group

ODUG Meeting I have blogged about some community things here and there, and I will begin blogging about them more starting right now.  My first meaningful post in this area talked about how to run a user group, and it was more generic in its discussion.  It could apply to any user group.  This time, I am talking about how to start a user group, and I am focusing this discussion on DotNetNuke® user groups specifically.

Honestly, I had forgotten that I wrote the blog post I just mentioned.  I was only recently reminded about it by Bill Walker.  That may sound like it came out of left field.  Why would Bill Walker, of the DotNetNuke® Corporation,  remind me about that specific blog post on my site?  It’s because I have been working with Bill Walker and Scott Willhite to help develop a program where the DNN Corp will be lending a helping hand to user groups that focus on DNN.  What began as an excellent idea has already had action.  Together, we formed a user group leaders committee with other user group leaders and just had our first meeting a couple of weeks ago.  But that’s all I can say about that for the time being.  You can be assured that I will let you know how this is going as soon as I can.

I get comments and e-mails all of the time from people who want to have a DNN user group in their area, and they all begin by asking the same thing.  “How can I start a DNN user group?”  This question is simple enough, but it appears to always generate fear within the person asking this question.  This is okay and it’s expected.  After all, fear comes from the inside of us when we do not know what to expect from a situation.  I hope to lower that level of fear for you with this blog post.

Plant the Seed

You have the idea.  You want the idea to become something more.  You want a user group in your area that you can attend and help yourself and other DNN community members.  But what’s the first step?

The first step is to look on the DNN user group wizard to see if your area already have a user group created.  If not, create one.

In many areas, you will find that a user group was created but nothing was done with it.  There are numerous user groups that were started in the wizard, but for any number of reasons nothing else was done.  In these instances, it is necessary for you to attempt to contact the person listed as the leader.  If you cannot get in touch with them, let me know until there’s a better system in place.  I can help you move this step along.

Setting up the user group in the wizard is not a requirement though.  Do not let this stop you from moving forward with your planning.

Begin announcing your intentions to start the user group in the DNN user group forum and on any social networks you’re on.  You never know where your fellow DNN’ers are going to come from.  Make sure you let people know that you want to start the user group and gather the names and e-mail addresses of anyone interested.  If you were able to start the user group in the wizard, have them sign up there.  If you are able to start a user group website even before your first meeting, have them register there too.  Basically, you are building the foundation to hold your first meeting.

Be diligent with this step.  In the first year or more of a user group’s existence, you will need to be the walking, talking billboard advertisement for the user group.  Do not be afraid to talk about it to everyone, and never assume that you’re talking about it too much.  It’s like most traditional media.  One commercial is never enough.  You have to repeat the commercial over and over again to get the desired effect.  If no one tells you that you’re talking about it too much, then you’re not doing your job.

Mark Off the Garden

ODUG's First Meeting Picture I find that the previous step is the easiest, and most people I talk to can handle that step just fine.  The excuses and other problems begin with the next step – holding your first meeting.  The most common excuse I hear with this is that people are not sure if they have enough people to hold the first meeting.  This is just silly.  There’s no rule to how many people that you need to hold a meeting.  Just set a date and advertise it everywhere you can, as often as you can.  You will reach different people at different times.

Another reason I hear behind not holding the meeting, is not having a place to meet.  While this is not an easy task, it is probably easier than you think.  There are a variety of ways to get a meeting place.  First, begin by asking those who are already in your mailing list if they have a venue that they can offer.  If you are unable to find one, just meet at a coffee place or sandwich shop for the first couple of meetings.  Once you are ready to have a speaker, you can often find places to meet through the local technical recruiters, library, and other businesses that have large conference rooms.

At the first 1-3 meetings, talk to those people that show up about what they want out of the user group.  Pay special attention to what areas of DotNetNuke® they specialize in and what their talents are.  They are the people that you need to plan meeting topics for, and are potential speakers.

Fertilize the Seed

After the meeting format is determined and you begin to schedule speakers, you will have other things to worry about.  New and important questions will start to arise.  Should I charge a fee for the meetings?  Do I need a sponsor?  How do I get one?  How do I recruit speakers?  How can I get door prizes? 

There is no one-size-fits-all formula to starting and maintaining a user group.  The success of the user group depends entirely on those people that attend the meetings.  You need to plug-in to those people, and those at other user groups.   You will need to become a talker.  You will need to let everyone you talk to know about what you’re doing.  Your passion will show, and they will begin sharing your conversation with others in the .Net and DNN community. 

It is my opinion that you should never charge a fee for the user group meetings.  This will stifle the growth of the user group severely.

You do not need a sponsor for the user group unless you want either of two things: (1) free food and drinks, (2) door prizes.  Sponsors are typically very easy to find and get involved.  Begin with local technical recruiters for the food and drinks.  They love to get their people and branding in front of technical audiences, no matter how small.

Recruiting speaker is not easy since most people have a fear of speaking in front of an audience.  This fear for those people just gets more powerful when that audience is full of your peers.  It is for this reason that many user groups begin with the leader speaking a lot, and have chalk talk meetings. 

Stan Schultes talking to the ODUG

The secret to getting speakers is once again talking to people.  Find out what your members are doing in their day jobs and for recreational programming.  They love to tell people about their newest projects.  This is a perfect ice breaker to ask them to show everyone in the user group what they just told you at the next meeting.  Presentations do not have to last through the duration of your meeting.  Sometimes having more than one speaker can be better than just one.

Watch the Seed Grow

Once you have an idea of how the meetings are going to be, begin also asking for volunteers.  You may want people to help with the prize raffles, sending of newsletters, getting sponsors, getting speakers, and so on.  Getting these people involved and giving them a sense of ownership over the user group will only help grow the group and encourage other members to help in various ways.  You shouldn’t be doing everything yourself.

If you follow this advice, you should be seeing your user group membership and activity grow more and more each month.  I hope I have inspired you to start your own user group.  Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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