Promoting a user Group
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" One way to recognise a healthy user group is to see how many new faces are at each meeting. Whether or not those faces return is up to the quality and relevance of the topics. If you assume they do return, then new faces mean your user group is growing.
Getting new faces is all about promotion; getting ‘awareness’ of your group out there. This is mostly common sense, just think about your ‘target market’ (developers, students, hobbyists, BA’s, project managers, business owners, designers, technical writers, etc, etc… Don’t assume its just developers) and do those things that will reach that market.
The following are some tips and idea’s that I have either used, or intend to use sometime in the near future:
1. Email communications: These should be kept to a minimum so receivers don’t feel like they’re being spammed – I use these general guidelines:
2. Event names / Topic names: Keep them obvious. There is nothing worse than someone trying to be too clever with the topic name and leaving everyone confused. Make sure you have an event synopsis. Get the speaker to supply a one or two paragraph overview of their talk. This is really important as the title may not be enough for may people to make a judgement call as to “Is this worth giving up a few hours of my time for”.
- 2 event reminder emails per month (unless a change in venue, time, topic, etc requires extra emails)
- 1st email 7-10 days out – this targets those who plan ahead and need time to add the meeting into their schedule.
- 2nd email on the morning of the meeting – captures those who didn’t bother to add a reminder into their calendar, but think – “Oh that’s right, I forgot… actually, I can make it tonight” – the unorganised ones without kids who can still make spur-of-the-moment social-life decisions – you know who you are…
- Keep them brief and relevant: Intro, speaker, topic, where, when, giveaways
- Keep them personal – write in first-person. User groups are run by people, not businesses – so take advantage of the networking exposure you are getting and be personal, eg: “I look forward to seeing you there…”. Then sign off with your name.
- Include links to the speaker’s blog and/or their business, and links to the technology they are speaking on.
3. Dangle a few carrots when announcing the group – include any and every incentive you can think of, such as:
4. Who to target: Be creative in your promotional medium – here are some ideas:
- I always say “Pizza and drinks provided” – I am surprised (maybe slightly offended?) about how many have told me that this is what makes it worth their while (anyone remember being a poor student? Free food was a good incentive back then!).
- Promote the speaker if they are worthy of it – highlight their achievements and position, a high ranking speaker is more attractive than some newbie who reads straight from a MSDN whitepaper.
- Have giveaways if you can: These come from INETA (ha ha ha ha) or Microsoft (for beta software or training DVDs) or maybe local sponsors(if you are lucky?) – Books, T-shirts, software, exam vouchers, DVD training resources, whatever. I always try to give away at every meeting either: i. One good thing to one or two people (software, T-shits, books), or ii. A training DVD or some other software (beta/trial software, or express edition software) to everyone who turns up…
- When I get a launch pack of software (Vista, Office and Visual Studio) which I am suppose to give away all copies at the one event, I actually only give away 2 copies at the launch event itself and keep the rest back for future events (1 copy per event until I run out). This spreads the value of “Come along and win a copy of X” across many months – this works really well – especially for full copies of Visual Studio.
- Networking / Word of Mouth: By far the most useful is good old word of mouth. Mention the group to anyone you meet who might be interested, and then get them to think who they know who might be interested. I often say at the bottom of my meeting announcements emails “Please forward this onto anyone you think might be interested in coming” and also say something similar at the end of each meeting. I am growing my group by about 3-4 per month just through word-of-mouth.
- For a really basic introduction topics that have a border appeal: Phone the local papers and ask to place an announcement in the ‘Whats On’ section. Not sure if I got anyone along from this (only once) – so might be a waste of time. Also be very careful – I said very clearly to the granny on the end of the phone “Dot net… That’s full-stop, N, E, T, User Group” – even said it twice as I suspected she was a bit soft in the head, yet she still put down “Net Group” – which resulted in someone phoning to ask if the group taught how to use the internet… We can thank the geniuses in Microsoft’s marketing department for that little gem of a brand name!
- Contact any local ITC advocacy groups or the local Chamber of Commerce. I got my introduction level presentation emailed out to 330 on a targeted technology business mailing list. This was very fruitful for my introduction to .Net meeting as it produced a bunch of Java & PHP developers, BA’s, Project Managers and business owners who would otherwise have never heard of my user group.
- Contact your local university and polytechnic – try to get a member of academic staff in the ITC department who can forward on your announcements to internal IT academic staff and students.
- Use the regular announcement methods at www.dot.net.nz – post the event on the site and use the mailing list.
- I remember Darryl suggesting we post our groups in Computerworld magazine – has anyone done this? How much notice do we need to give? Was it successful?............ "
After reading this, being a member of my user group BDOTNET, it reminded me of its achievements inspite of hardships. A recent post about it from my MVP lead Abhishek Kant, Microsoft User Group in India Achieves a landmark. And I quote it here :
So that's what bdotnet has achieved, inspite of various problems it has faced. All the volunteers have really done a nice job. But still, more members, including me have to be more active.
"India is truly a developer haven and Bangalore the developer capital. Microsoft User Group communities have existed in this garden city for around 5 years now!
And here's the BIG achievement - The Microsoft Bangalore User group is now more than 10,000 members... what is commendable is that the group is entirely managed by volunteers and speakers from amongst themselves. the group has conducted many events - big and small, authored collaborative booklet, celebrated their success and even dabbled in developing shared applications.. the community doesn't get more DYNAMIC than this!
Hats off to the volunteers who have worked hard to get to this and have an unending passion and enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and the community!
i know that this has been a long and ardous journey for the volunteers that is still on. i have seen the problems the group has faced from lack of venue to meet, to lack of speakers, to lack of laptops and projectors and even sometimes lack of attendees :).. but this journey has been very fulfilling for me and the MVPs who took this as a personal challenge and gave this group their time, expertise and their heart!
I think on this Independence Day, it is time to let impossible's be done.. for those who thought that Microsoft communities can't exist, let this be known in actions more than words.. for other communities anywhere else in the world, let this be a guiding light!
If you are a Microsoft techie and based in Bangalore, you can join this revolution at: http://groups.msn.com/bdotnet and it doesn't cost a rupee!"
I have also put up a link (Join a .NET User Group) on the sidebar of this blog, which links to various user groups across Indian cities, and one who is interested can Join them.