So … you want to start a CMS User Group
Building a successful CMS User Group or community can be hard. In my opinion it is always worthwhile, but it takes dedication and consistent effort — something all of us struggle with among our daily work, side projects, and personal life.
First, the oh-so-obvious stuff: You’ve got to have passion, desire, organizational skills, the ability to motivate volunteers, yadda-yadda-yadda. We all know that. These days, a fair bit of technology and social media skill doesn’t hurt either.
Tell you something you don’t know, right?
This blog isn’t about any of that stuff
Those other things are organic, and are anything but universal. They are uniquely formed within each organization. If those things do come, they will come naturally from within you and your community members. This blog is about the pragmatic things. The kinds of nuts and bolts that hold ALL user groups and community meetings together in those times when the flush of ephemeral excitement and enthusiasm start to wane. I have seen dozens of worthy causes — social and technological — that had all of those “soft” qualities going for them, but they still failed to get user groups off the ground because of a few pragmatic errors made early on.
This blog post is for them and to help future technology community organizers to avoid those pitfalls.
The Top Ten CMS User Group and Community Errors:
1. Meetings are Scheduled on Fridays (or Mondays)
Unless your are starting the Wordpress/Drupal/Joomla-Kardashian Club of South Florida, if you set meetings for Friday evenings after work no one will show. (Also, don’t mention the name “Joomla Kardashian” to those crazy people. They will saddle their next kid with it, guaranteed.)
No matter how enthusiastic a user they are, on Fridays people either want to go home, get out of town, or paint the town red. This is why we all like Fridays in the first place, isn't it? Also, don’t do Mondays — everyone will be brain-dead after the weekend and will have forgotten because most people do not look at their business calendar until Monday sometime after coffee. Wednesdays and Thursday have had the best success in my experience. You get to send a reminder email on Tuesday and avoid the Monday/Friday curse.
Simply don’t send any emails, don’t have conference calls, and don’t have meetings on Fridays or Mondays unless there is no other choice. What’s that? You’re not available on those days? Then evaluate whether you have the time to invest in this project yourself.
2. Meetings Start During Business Hours or after 7 pm
I like 5:30 or 6 pm because it gives people a reason to leave work on time without feeling rushed or having to make excuses to their boss. You want the attendee’s boss to feel good about the event, too. Not only will it make the attendee’s life easier, but his boss will be the guy who lets you use their facilities/conference room for meetings and might even sponsor refreshments occasionally. Win-win-win!
3. There is No Meeting Discipline
Strictly limit the meeting length formally — I like 90 minutes. Start on time and end on time. If people want to hang out for a bit longer and chat professionally and/or socially, great. But some people are repelled by open-ended meetings of any kind.
I do not care whether you are in a band performing music on stage, giving a presentation to win a sale, or hosting a user group for a new app that will change the world as we know it; as soon as the first person in the audience thinks “When will this be over?” you have gone on too long. Always leave people wanting more and eager for the next set or session.
4. Locations Are Convenient … For the Organizers
If a scheduled meeting location works for you too, even better. But it needs to work for the “others” more than the organizers. You are already committed. Until they are, treat them like customers. Which brings us to ….
5. They Forget Who All the “Customers” Are
All of the previous items apply to this simple principle. If you are asking people to participate in something after hours and without direct (immediate) compensation, you have to make it easy on them and their lives. The pressures on their time and resources are great. You need to mitigate impacts to their jobs, so do not put them in a place to anger their boss. Their spouses matter too, so start and end on time (predictability is key). And sometimes the group members want some personal time for themselves.
Other tools of guerrilla-marketing can be very powerful, as well. Mail member’s bosses “Thank You” cards for their support. Do the same on Mother’s/Father’s Days for the spouses of loyal members. Make one meeting per year a family and friends style event — pizza for everyone and give out your yearly appreciations, etc. When you are building a volunteer community your customers are all of the people in the lives of your membership.
6. They Focus on Social and Forget About Delivering Value
No matter how cool or well-located a restaurant may be, it all comes down to the food. Restaurants exist for the delivery of food. If the food is sub-par, then no amount of advertising hype, specials, or celebrity endorsements will save it. (Anyone remember the Planet Hollywood chain before it morphed, ad absurdum, into a Vegas casino?).
Similarly, Technology User Groups exist to deliver good, useful information and networking around … the primary focus of your technology user group. The content of the meeting is like the food at a restaurant. This means that User Group Meetings need to always have real value, the topics need to be real and relevant, things need to be reasonably well-planned and timed, and sponsors need to be properly appreciated, without dominating any event. Get the best, most relevant speakers you can, and then exercise meeting discipline (see above).
7. Scope Creep
You can’t do everything, so don’t even try. Are you the North-Central IOS-App Coding Developer Group of Cleveland? Do that and do that well. Expanding your scope to far-off regions and disparate technologies usually means only extending failure. It’s common sense — know your market and purpose and stick to it.
8. They Don’t Spread the Tasks
It’s not about you. Really, it’s not. This is not the chance for you to prove how great you are, to demonstrate how much you love the software or social cause, or a personal resume enhancement. Emotional and psychological attachment and loyalty naturally build in people when they do things. Investment by action. Find a fellow community member and ask him/her to post a Tweet, make a graphic, bring the beer (even if you have a sponsor), etc. Anything that they can add or contribute gives them ownership, solidifies the community, and makes your life easier.
9. The Organizer Becomes a Martyr
Sure, in the beginning you will do everything yourself. If things go well you will soon build a core group to help share the load and then you will grow from there. But in the end it is all about the community.
After the first half-dozen meetings or so, bits of the work — even very small bits — should start to be shared with other members. If they are not, you will eventually burn out — even if the group is doing well and has good attendance. No one can do it all forever. Ask for help. Ask forcefully when you have to. If you don’t get a little help here and there in the first six months, either your group is an exercise in masochistic narcissism or you are hanging with the wrong group of folks.
10. They Don’t Share the Love
Hey, we all want to be appreciated. After you spent the last two months pulling everyone forward to make a cool User Group event, some people will naturally be appreciative. But that is not why you are doing it, right? For every compliment that you receive, pass out two to others. If they make you a plaque or certificate, accept it graciously and share it with the team.
I know … sometimes you and — if you are lucky — a very small, dedicated team will indeed have done the lion’s share of the work. But this is definitely one of those “cast your bread upon the waters” moments. Give all the credit and appreciation away and then buy anyone who helped a beer — even if they only helped a little.
You might discover, as I have, that those who really matter in life will appreciate you even more and that other, seemingly separate, avenues of successes will find their way to you in strange and mysterious ways.
No Guarantees, But Still Worth It
None of this will take one task off your list, erase one frustration, or remove one overworked hour spent building your community and making great and relevant User Group meetings. But avoiding these ten common pitfalls will give you and your organization a better than average chance of success.
Want Some Help?
Let us know if the Managed.com Team can help you get started. We support Wordpress, Drupal, DNN, and Elcom user groups all over the world by helping them promote their events, speaking at meetings, and sometimes buying pizza for the crew. Just send us a note to: Sales@Managed.com.
Until then, good luck and get started on your own CMS User Group Community!