Yesterday I wrote a blog that introduced you to 4 new user groups that are having their first meetings very soon. At the end of the blog there was also a question, “Do you want to start your own user group?” As a result, I got a very good question that is very common. “What’s the best way to find out if there is any interest for a user group in our area?”
I love this question, not for the answer, but because of the thought process and activity around it. It’s also the tipping point of someone actually embarking on the rewarding journey of running a DotNetNuke user group. This is the part that excites me the most. Community is what we are all about, and user groups help our DNN family grow.
There are many ways to gauge interest in your area. The exact methods you choose will depend on your level of effort and availability of these methods in your region.
Go to the other user groups in the area. Microsoft .Net user groups, developer guilds, and SQL Server user groups are often the best ones to go to first, as there will likely be several people there that already use or know about DotNetNuke. You can find these user groups quite easily by either contacting or looking up the website for the local Microsoft Developer Evangelist, or simple searches on your favorite search engine.
If you are looking for user groups in your area, here are a couple of example queries. They assume you are in Dallas, Texas.
When you attend, ask the user group leader if you can speak to the group for a couple minutes and poll the members about DNN. You can even get into their opening announcement slide deck, newsletter, and more. You’d be surprised at how helpful the area user group leaders will be. The typical user group leader would jump a the chance to help someone else create a new user group.
Try to have an easy to remember website or email address to point everyone to. A business card for the user group or yourself will work just fine. If you don’t have any, services like Vista Print work quite well to allow you to create business cards online and sometimes for free.
It would be best to have a date set for the first meeting about a month in advance, even if you’re not sure if anyone would show. If people express interest, then you have a meeting to set-up. If not, then no harm – just don’t hold a meeting.
Use the DNN user group forum, Twitter, and the DNN Facebook Page to ask if there are any people in your same area looking to attend user group meetings. Be sure to cross-promote your inquiry as well. If you post in the forums, post a link to the forum thread on Twitter and Facebook.
Think outside of the box as well… There are other social sites that can help advertise the existence of an existing or future user group leader and meetings. Post your inquiry on places like Craigslist, and local bulletin boards at local newspapers.
If available, make sure you become the leader of the user group on the DNN website. This will allow you to point potential user group members to something and allow them to register for the user group. This enables you to have a count of potential attendees, as well as a way to send a newsletter to everyone that has expressed interest so far.
If you have enough people registered, send newsletters at least once a month to find out how many people are willing to meet and what their preference is for a date, time, and area of town.
Go to your local community colleges, technical colleges, and universities. Place your card or a flyer on the area bulletin boards (yes, and actual bulletin board), and ask the staff to include your user group in their own newsletters. Sometimes you can even leave flyers in the libraries, labs, and more.
Like before, make sure you have a website or e-mail address to point people to. This allows you to efficiently collect and archive their information for when you finally hold a meeting.
I have said a few times to point people to a website or e-mail address. The average person is more likely to register on a website than send you an e-mail expressing their interest. E-mail is often perceived as being much too personal – so you will likely not get as many people contacting you.
Instead set-up a website if you have the resources. With DotNetNuke, it doesn’t take much effort to do so. Just have people register on the site. That’s easy enough for most people and it gives you their contact information and the ability to build up a contact list for newsletters.
If you don’t have the resources to build a website, then simply point these people to the user group profile page on the DotNetNuke site. The URL isn’t very easy to remember, so I would suggest using a service like bit.ly to create a shorter URL, and maybe even a short URL that is easy to remember. Bit.ly allows you to specify the end portion of the URL.
Whatever you do… Have a SINGLE ENDPOINT to collect potential user group member information. Point everyone there on your cards, flyers, forums, social networks, and elsewhere. This will make your life easier by leaps and bounds.
Do this even if you are not the current leader of the user group. This will show interest and you can still end up being the leader later, or assist the existing leader now that enough members have been recruited. There are many options from this point.
Nearly everyone that I have met that ended up running a user group has made the same mistake. They continually go through their process of gauging interest, and if they don’t like the number of responses, they put off plans until the next round of communications. DO NOT do this!
There isn’t a magic number. There isn’t a minimum number of responses. There isn’t a better time to start your first meeting than now. A large number of people will not respond to your for any number of reasons. However, if they know a meeting is scheduled, quite a few more will show up than respond.
Schedule your first meeting. Invite the entire list of people you’ve gathered up to this point. People will show. And if you’re consistent, more people will show at each meeting.
You have nearly an unlimited number of options available to you when trying to recruit user group members and interest. Even if you’re in a rural area that has few if any other technology-minded people, there’s nothing stopping you from creating a virtual user group.
Use as many of the available options that you can without expending all of your energy. The more feelers you have out there, and the more exposure you create, the more real your prospective user group seems. People will respond to that. People gravitate to others that project that kind of positive energy. That’s the core of what makes user groups great to begin with.
Here are is a summary of the steps I’ve outlined:
I hope this gives you a greater insight into how to get started. There’s no magic formula to get started. You just start.