What Makes Your User Group Successful

On January 31st, Christian Buckley (@buckleyplanet) held a Tweet Jam on the Evolution of the User Group. The conversation consisted of 900 tweets by Microsoft MVP’s, leading experts in SharePoint and Office 365, and the community as a whole. With a total reach of 311.71K and 4.45M impressions, it’s safe to say it left an impact on many of us involved in local user groups. You can do several things to educate yourself about the hottest topics in SharePoint and Office 365, but nothing beats the interaction and information sharing that you will receive at a user group. Whether it is a virtual group with a persistent chat conversation or a monthly event, engagement across people is critical.
After the Jam was over, I started to think about how our local user group, SharePoint Breakfast Sacramento, promoted by the NorCal Office 365 and SharePoint Meetup page, has evolved. Each meetup averages about 30 to 40 people every month, from a variety of government agencies and technology companies. Attendance has grown in the last year, but why? So I started jotting some ideas down and here is what I came up with:
The right social platform – We switched to a social platform meant for organizing events, Meetup. While it was a slow start, we now have over 300 members following the group.
Branding – In synchrony with the social platform switch, the sponsors, our team (@pixelmillteam), and two other teams, Kiefer Consulting (@KieferConsult) and Taborda Solutions (@tabordatech) enacted a user group re-brand. By leveraging our internal company resources to create a fresh logo, similarly branded email blasts, and consistent social media posts, we started 2016 afresh.
It’s the little things…like Starbucks or Panera – We mixed up the food; yes, I know it seems odd, but the variety helped, sometimes we had private catering and other times we ran to Starbucks to get a variety of breakfast foods and a few carriers of coffee. What can we say, people, LOVE Starbucks!
We started asking the users what they wanted – Did they want to know the differences between SharePoint Online, On-Premises, and Hybrid? Since most users are still skeptical of the Cloud, this seemed to be a hot topic. Or did they want to learn more about all the capabilities of Office 365, such as Microsoft Flow and Power BI? We didn’t assume – we asked.
We left time for a seminar-style discussion – Shared knowledge, and a genuine connection is very powerful. By opening the floor for just 10 minutes at the end of each session, users often got answers to questions they needed most, making the overall user group much more applicable to them. User-focused thinking kept the needs of the group met.
Since we were inspired by last week’s #CollabTalk we wanted to share our favorite answers with you:

1. Have the needs of your user group community changed? If so, how? 
It’s not just about SharePoint anymore. It also needs to be hands-on or how-to topics. – @SilentRick
2. What does your user group get right?

Oddly mixing up the dinner options was a big thing. Had two people come back because pizza wasn’t on the menu. – @sldeere
3. What does your user group get wrong?”

We’ve gone wrong by not doing proper before, during, and after setup. Invites, Agenda, Follow-up. Consistency Matters. – @jshuey
4. What should your user group do to get more members/better engagement?

Hate to sound like a broken-record marketing guy, but understand your users, regularly survey your members. – @buckleyplanet
5. What is your preferred format for user groups, and why?

Preferred formats? None. Whatever brings us together. Presentations, Xmas dinner, conference socials, SharePints! – @erobillard
6. What is the role of the user group board, or it’s leaders?

Ensure user group attendees find sessions have relevant and timely info on SharePoint and Office 365. @EricOverfield
7. Besides “I’m busy” what is keeping you from getting more involved in your user group?

Not clear on what value the group offers. They make it hard to attend by moving sites/times. – @tgatte

Okay, so when I initially read the question, “Is Your User Group Still Relevant?” – I took it at face-value. Sure, we meet every month and talk about SharePoint and Office 365. But now, with a keener eye, it’s apparent relevancy is driven by the users, not the topics. If user engagement is what keeps the group alive, then how do you improve upon it? You surface relevant topics, tutorials, and how-to’s based on their feedback (and that feedback could be different than popular opinion). You provide the right social platforms for your users to be engaged on, you set a consistent time and place, and heck, next time you might try Panera instead of Roundtable for a dinner option. It’s pretty simple; always stay user-focused.
[bctt tweet=”What makes your user group successful? – Check out the most recent @pixelmillteam blog on last week’s Tweet Jam #CollabTalk by @buckleyplanet ” username=”pixelmillteam”]

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