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My local .NET user group (CRINETA) has had a bumpy road recently after loosing several key contributers.  I stepped down as leader of the group around 10 months ago.  Since then, I've tried to stay involved the group through email, but I'm typically unavailable to attend meetings.  The information below are some of the lessons learned during my 3 years running the user group.  I hope that other user group leaders find this information helpful.

Associations
There are many International and National organizations out there to with the sole purpose of supporting user groups.   For a .NET user group, make sure your user group is registered with INETA and Codezone.  A few other organizations that I know of are PASS and Cullumis

Sponsorship
This is an area that many groups struggle with however, it's actually pretty easy to obtain SWAG, funding, etc from sponsors.  Associations often provide a quartley kit of SWAG for their members, however that isn't typically enough for a thriving user group.  To really keep the SWAG and funding rolling in, you need to contact companies directly.  Most companies have user group programs that are free to join, and they're always looking for new members.  These companies are typically 3rd-partly software shops, development magazines, book publishers, local businesses and local consluting companies.  For a list of known user group sponsors see the INETA User Group Specials page.

Once you've obtained your sponsorship the question of "where to draw the line" always come up.  Many sponsors will give you their expectations up front, however local businesses and consulting companies are a differnt breed.  I heard mixed opinions about user groups involvement with local companies.  My personal view is that it's that they can be one of the best resources for a user group, but you must know where to draw the line to avoid conflicts with sponsors and your members.   

Marketing
This a is key element to starting and maintaining a user group.  Sponsors and local businesses play a key role in marketing a user group.  Not only will they invest in community but they'll promote their investmest.  Some common marketing techniques are word of mouth, flyers, and mass emails.  Other approaches that I've found useful are advertising at local venues that attract a technical target audieance (movies theatres, gaming events, best buy, etc).  Also, make sure you utilize your existing membership to advertise the user group.  Ask them to post your flyer at their business or run a bring a buddy campain.  You can reward their contribution with additional prize raffles.

Topics & Speakers
Topic selection and communicaiton can make or break a user group.   Poll your membership often on their satisfaction with the group and topic selection.  Ask for topic suggestions and guest speakers.  If you're struggling with feedback, the safe bet is to present on the latest technologies.  Lastly, you can also lookup/contact other groups in your region to see what topics they're presenting.  This can often help both group since they may have talented speakers, but they've already covered their subject matter with their local group.  In this sceneria a speaker exchange typically serves both group well and give the speaker more a wider audiance.

User group in my region are:

Cedar Rapids - CRINETA
Des Moines - IowaDNUG
Minneapolis - TwinCities.NET
Omaha - FunWith.NET
South Dakota - Code Prairie
Wisconsin - Wi-ineta

If you're not aware of other user groups in your area, you can also look them up on the INETA website.

Posted on Sunday, October 7, 2007 9:05 PM Community , INETA | Back to top


Comments on this post: My user groups lessons learned and recommendations (dup from my MSDN blog)

# re: My user groups lessons learned and recommendations (dup from my MSDN blog)
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Eric,

I'm not sure what you are talking about "losing several key contributors"? We lost a leader/member over a year ago (June of '06) who took notes for the group. This year our membership has been good.

Our membership has been increasing slowly this year (25-30 people a meeting) and we have a consistent influx of new people into the meetings (we can have 1/4 of the attendees be new faces on any given meeting). Sponsorship has also been solid through the year.

I think your initial statement is about a year old(you said you stepped down 10 months ago, but you stepped down 1 year and 10 months ago). Welcome to fall of 2007 :)

Last year we did have one meeting completely fail and had an unprepared and arrogant Ineta speaker who was not good for our group.

This year we did have an Ineta speaker completely flake out on us, but we found a new speaker in the nick of time. I think this reflects poorly on Ineta, not our group. There are always struggles running a volunteer organization, but the User Group has done rather well this year.

Btw, the rest of your advice for running a user group is good and I agree with it.

Chris Sutton
Left by Chris Sutton on Oct 08, 2007 9:14 AM

# re: My user groups lessons learned and recommendations (dup from my MSDN blog)
Requesting Gravatar...
Your're correct Chris, I wrote this blog post long ago and re-posted it here recently from my MSDN blog so that I wouldn't loose the content. I agree that group is doing well at this time. However, we could definitly use some new blood within the admin council.
Left by Eric Johnson on Oct 08, 2007 10:39 AM

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