IOD11 Dispatch: So you want to start a user group
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  iod11 ibmsoftware information-insights
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'All of a sudden you have people talking back and forth. Those are the most fun.'
User groups are a powerful, effective and, yes, enjoyable way to get more out of your software investment. But building a successful user group takes patience, passion and a more than a small degree of persistence. Luckily, In a pre-conference session led by IBM Champion Susan Dean, four top-notch user group experts were on-hand to share their insights into what works. Even better, they highlighted steps you can take right now if you’re here at #iod11.
Many of the insights revolved around the twin concepts of relevance and convenience. Here’s a summary:
Scheduling: Avoid scheduling meetings at the beginning or end of the quarter, when your finance and other teams are particularly busy. Also, avoid holding meetings on Mondays or Fridays, when people are either gearing up or winding down. For most panelists, the ideal time was mid-week and mid-morning, after rush hour. Start with half-day meetings until the group finds its footing and expand from there for special topics.
Vendor/partner involvement: Vendors and partners can provide direct access to product experts or specialized domain knowledge, but your group members may prefer to meet directly with fellow users. Panelists agreed that some members appreciated vendor input, while poaching and overt sales pitches are generally frowned upon. As an organizer your job is to provide members with a beneficial and valuable experience; find out their comfort level through a free survey tool such as SurveyMonkey and draw up explicit guidelines about the level of involvement you’ll accept from vendors and partners. Establish a steering committee and charter with guidelines if need be.
Meeting flow: Be clear about the flow of your meetings, the types of activities you’ll cover and how much time you’ll dedicate to each. Is there time for networking? Announcements? Be sure to include breaks during longer meetings.
Content: Live demos, member presentations, case studies and success stories are perennially popular. The same goes for tips and techniques, new product features (provided you allow vendors to participate) and stories about how you solved a particular problem. “Customers learn from customers,” said Dean.
Funding: Most groups need a small amount of funding for refreshments, name badges, giveaways, even meeting space. So do you charge a fee? The only right answer is the one that makes your group successful. Sometimes the vendor or partner is willing to take on some of the funding. Again, it’s up to your members.
Ongoing communication: It’s important to keep your group on your members’ collective radar in the weeks or months between meetings, so be sure to build and maintain a reliable web presence. Keep your database current and provide your members with a regular cadence of news and information about upcoming events. These communications are also great tools to recruit new speakers, explore new topics and even drive new membership. A variety of free tools (EventBrite and eVite spring to mind here) and LInkedIn communities are ideal vehicles here.
Steps you can take right now:
If you're an IBM Cognos user: