A SPUG’s Personality (Would you date her?)
Every SPUG has its own personality it seems. Some are strictly run (maybe too much), others extremely loose and all of the things that come along with those states, and everything between. You as the founder/organizer are the front lines in mapping how the users group will feel to new and long term users.
There are a few things specific things that set the stage for a warm, welcoming and ultimately strong user base. Here are a few:
Website and its features
In the end a users group is there for the sole purpose to assists the users in as much in the technology you focus on AND normal everyday life perks. At BSPUG we have a few heavily utilized portions of our website. Prior to getting on that topic a few more words about your website overall, just to reiterate the point made above. The site should be easy to navigate, FRESH, and welcoming. Those are the top priorities; it doesn’t have to be a SharePoint site at all, just K.I.S.S. If you go to http://www.BaltimoreSug.org you’ll see hopefully what I see, a well thought out organized vibrant site with options.
The BSPUG knowledge base is essentially a SharePoint discussion board. It allows users to have access to the breadth of knowledge in the group in a simple post. If you decide to sign up for membership on our site, you are given the choice to be on this forum, which sends an alert email to you when a new item is posted. This gives users and readers an opportunity to have another layer of help when trying to work through a technical issue. Remember to extend rights to the user allowing them to manage their own alerts, 15 emails in quick succession could be a bit annoying if they don’t have a chance to ignore them and ultimately will just get blocked as spam.
Admittedly our job board has not lived up to my expectations, but we’re working on that. We have in place something similar to the knowledgebase but for job openings from our sponsors. There are many ways you can handle this but let me put a few ideas in your head. Keep in mind that every recruiter in the nation will be emailing you asking to post their job on your site, RESIST! My advice is to only allow sponsors of the group to put their jobs on the site. This does a few things, first allow you to manage the flood if you are clear on this page that you only allow sponsors. Next it’s a resource you trust and feel confident in extending to the users (trust is the key word there), and lastly it helps build relationships with the group and sponsors who can help you along the journey.
This doesn’t mean just the SPUGS events but conferences, best practices conferences, SharePoint Saturdays, SharePointSki events, and OTHER SPUG events. Keep this fresh and up to date and it will promote to the users there are other events out there to participate in and ultimately the strength of the community will grow. Try to be the first person to pony up and declare you are attending this event, that confidence moving forward will hopefully drive other users to do the same.
Again, admittedly we don’t do a great job with this at BSPUG but we’re trying. Video tutorials are a great idea to help spread a technology. There are a ton of tutorials out there both on YouTube and other video sharing sites. If you do nothing more than compile and embed some of the great ones out there on the users group site, you’re ahead of the curve. If you can go the extra mile and create and publish tutorials by you and the other users you’re that much further ahead.
The good ole link section has been around on the web since its creation. There is a reason for that; it’s an effective way to share other sites and resources to your reader base. On the BSPUG site we have broken down almost every aspect of SharePoint into categories such as design, web parts, architecture etc and posted links to articles we find as we do our day to day jobs. It makes for a great resource section, spreads the words and gives an index of easy to find issues.
SPUG sponsored events
Keep in mind that an air of confidence and consistency will transfer to the users. When you promote SPUG events, promote them as though it’s a common practice and you just got to be there. This will plant a desire in the users in a way that being timid and pleading with them to attend cannot.
If you can pull off such an event try to have 2-3 per year. A code camp is essentially what the title suggests, one or two days, usually on the weekend to have a machine in front of each user and physically walk through technical AND non technical practices. There are logistical stipulations to this obviously but if the resources are available please take advantage of this. It will help build your local community, gives users the access to a more hands on environment and most importantly should be FREE.
Try to be the host of special events outside of your typical session. For example, host a SharePoint Saturday (BSPUG’s is July 25th 2009), have happy hours (free if possible), Skiing events or any other group building event. Be prepared these won’t always attract a full house but the simple fact that you’re out there every month or two trying speaks volumes to the dedication you have for the group. Don’t assume doing these things will be easy all the time, finding a sponsor to pony up a few hundred dollars so you and some friends can enjoy a few drafts gets difficult. We usually hold our free happy hour every year (BSPUG’s is June 18th 2009) we can wrap the celebration of another year around the event.
Don’t be afraid to shake things up, host the event even if two people show up. It’s not everyone’s idea of a good time to have fifty caliber sized paintballs hurling at them at 120 feet per second, but if you can just get them out there you might be able to wrangle in a user for life.
In the right circles the SharePoint community specifically is very giving. There are a lot of MVP’s and profile speakers that are willing to drive many hours or buy expensive plane tickets for the sole reason to come to an event, find those circles and start to mingle, interact with other users groups, if they’ll have you (unfortunately not all of them are willing) and be flexible with people and their time to have them out. A great way to make some connections is directly on twitter, filter on #SharePoint and you’d be surprised how deep the community goes.
Ping the users semi often to get their take on how things are being run. What they would like to see and what they would like to hear about. You are just a means to serve and to fully serve means to be ready to hear what is not being done correctly, making changes and pushing forward. Keep them anonymous sometimes you take to heart negative criticism, putting things in place to make sure you don’t know who says what will help everyone in the end. We’ve done these two ways in the past, both online and paper form at the sessions themselves.
Have monthly meetings with the folks in the group responsible for things in the group. Talk about concerns and issues you might have both with each other and with how to implement events and survey results. Use “Committees” sparingly, nothing tears down a Republic faster than people who hold priority over others. However it might be wise to use the “regulars” as trusted advisors to the group. These folks are devoting their time almost as much as you are to attend the events, see what they think directly. A word of caution though, never address this committee as anything more than a loose set of advisors and never publically to the group overall.
Would you date her?
Overall that’s the question that you need to answer, will the users consistently take time out of their months to come out and hear someone talk. The points above will help guide you through ideas and what to expect moving forward. Keep it inviting and warm and you’d be surprised the turn outs you will get.
Please stay tuned for the next segment of this 5 part write up: “Synopsis (Be a good Steward. Summary and Checklist)” the final wrap up in this series.