Thursday, January 19, 2006 12:58 PM
Flash back a few years to when .NET was an emerging technology. Microsoft put their marketing muscle behind the promotion and creation of user group communities: groups of geeks getting together to talk about CLR goodness. Their plan worked to perfection, and user groups sprung up all over the world! An organization (which I'm a membership manager for), INETA - The International .NET Association, was created and helped bolster the user groups by providing guidance, speakers, and support. Here in Canada, MSDN also threw their backing to the UG community, creating our own speaker bureau and providing user groups with prizes, speakers, and money for food. Life was good for our user groups.
But now .NET is a few years and versions old. Developers have been using it for close to 5 years now, schools are integrating it into their curriculum, and businesses are adopting it. There's just not the need to virally market the product under the guise of community. So we start seeing funding being cut back, and the need for organizations like INETA to gather event information to appease sponsors asking “What are we getting from supporting these user groups?”
And that, my friends, leads us to the question that every user group leader needs to ask themselves: “What are we getting from running these user groups?“
Personally, I've gotten alot: I've met a tonne of great people and made new friends, I landed my dream gig because of working with my boss who headed up our UG before me, and I've been to Orlando on INETA's dime for Tech Ed. I've loved every minute of my user group experience. But at the end of the day...why are we running these groups? What are our expectations, what are our driving forces, and what is our GOAL AND PURPOSE for these groups? Most user groups haven't figured that out yet, and so are just running on auto pilot setting up events month after month.
I challange everyone who leads or helps lead a user group to sit down with your team and identify why your group exists and why each of your board memebers help out. Some people might just want to volunteer because they find it fun, and that's absolutely ok! But some of you might find that you wrestle with this question, and that's ok too. Find the answers! User groups need to change, to evolve, and I have my own thoughts on what the next few years will do to user groups...but it starts with us as leaders defining what that evolution will look like.