User Group Startup -- Extending Your Reach

In this, the final post in the User Group Startup series, I’m going to explore some of the ideas that we at Edmug have batted around. The ideas I’ll present here are ones that, while possibly benefitial to you user group, don’t directly the effectiveness of running a group or holding events. The one segment of your user group that they could influence is your membership. These ideas are meant to be ways to get out to more people and potentially make the existing members more active and passionate about the local community.

Extending your reach can take place two different ways. One is that you may be able to contact and affiliate with IT communities in smaller towns surrounding your location. The other way to extend your reach is to make contact with more local people who haven’t known about or attended events. For some user groups stretching into a regional entity is not possible (the surrounding area might be supporting other user groups already) or desirable. Continually working to make contact with potential new members is something I believe that user groups need to do to maintain a healthy existence.

Reaching out to the surrounding geographical area is something that we considered a far off possibility when we initially started Edmug. Amazingly it only took a couple of months and some word of mouth before we had been contacted by people from around Edmonton. We are the most northerly INETA .NET user group in North America and the closest user groups to us are approximately 300 km (186.411 miles if that is your unit of choice) south. The next closest is over 500 km (310.686 miles) away. True there aren’t many larger communities 500 km in any direction from Edmonton, but there are some that have developers living in them. Because the cities and towns that these developers live in aren’t very large, they look to Edmonton as a hub of developer community activity. Again, because of distances these folks aren’t able to make it to our meetings regularly, if the attend any at all. We’ve been contacted to try to setup livecasts of our meetings for people in these other locations. Another thing we’ve suggested, in an attempt to draw these small bands of developers under our umbrella, is offer to have our local speakers make presentations if they’re in the area.

One could say that reaching out to uncontacted people in your local area is nothing more than having a recruitment drive. This is true. Once you have your group up and running, members and attendees are going to come and go for a variety of reasons. To ensure that the membership body stays healthy and active you will need to continually recruit new members through whatever means possible.

One of the tools we are developing to help us with our continual recruitment is a program we’re calling the User Group Evangelists (watch here for more information in the coming weeks). The purpose of this group is to identify people that are active within the community and have shown excitement about the user group. We hope that by offering these people whatever benefits we can, they will in turn spread the word amongst friends, colleagues and coworkers.

Another idea to reach people is to have a user group podcast. At Edmug we have discussed this, but have yet to implement it. I’m not sure what the impact of this will be on reaching a new or different audience as its advertising will mostly be viral.

This concludes my post on Extending Your Reach and my series on User Group Startup Stories. If you have any other topic ideas, post a comment and I will see if I can continue to grow this group of posts.