I think it’s time to build a better mousetrap. And by mousetrap, I mean user group website. Every user group needs a website that they can personalize. Very basic information like who, what, where, when needs to be front and center so that new visitors can easily learn about the group. While the focus should be on upcoming meetings/events, it is equally important to showcase the group’s history. This history helps to create an online community and attract new members as well as retain existing members.
Let me take a step back and explain how I came to this decision. On Saturday, October 24, 2009, Microsoft (Glen Gordon) and O’Reilly (Marsee Henon) hosted the first, of what will hopefully become annual, Southeast User Group Leadership Summit (SEUGLS) 2009 at the Microsoft offices in Alpharetta, GA. The purpose of the event was for technology-based user and community groups in the Southeast to gather, share tips, and discuss the issues and challenges facing technology groups regardless of the actual technology the group is focused on. While your first impression might be a total snooze fest, you would be very wrong. Everyone came with a story to tell and a desire to learn how others manage their user groups. The result was very lively breakout session discussions. All too quickly, the day was over but I think I can safely say that everyone had a lot of fun, learned at lot, and hopefully made some new friends in the process. I personally can’t wait for the next summit!
At one of the breakout sessions that I attended, we discussed the “tools of the trade”. More specifically, how we communicate and collaborate with our members and manage the user group we are active in. We made a very long list of websites and applications that every group is or has used. The one thing that surprised me was that virtually every group used a different set of tools. The obvious reason why is because no one tool had all the features that user groups needed to be successful.
In my opinion, four things are critical in managing a user group:
- You have to be able to build a membership list containing names and email addresses.
- You have to be able to send members updates via email.
- You have to be able to track meeting registration so you know how many people to expect.
- You have to be able to build an online history.
You can easily argue there are more things that could be added to this list. However, without accomplishing the first three tasks successfully, I’d argue you probably won’t be around for very long. Granted, there are several free event registration websites that are capable of doing the three tasks. However, very few give you the ability to link events together to show the history of the group much less give you a way to promote that very basic information (the who, what, where, when) front and center so that new visitors can easily learn about the group.
Thus, I think it’s time to build a better mousetrap. This is one way I can give back to the user group community that has given me so much. I plan to keep everyone updated on the progress of this project. Once I have built a solid foundation, I’ll post the solution to the community so that others can contribute. Leave a comment if you would like to participate.