Gardens aren’t made; they’re grown.
That’s a very straightforward approach to communities too. Just like gardens, communities need someone to plant the seeds to start them growing and to cultivate them to make them flourish.
During our all-company meeting in early January, a co-worker approached me and said one of his customers would like to start a Jamf Nation User Group (JUG). He asked if I’d be willing to pass along some pointers from my experience helping form our local Twin Cities Mac Admins group. I said, “Sure!”
A few days later, I sent our customer these thoughts (with some editing for clarity) about starting a JUG.
“Starting a user group can be intimidating but seeing folks turn out for the events and seeing their enthusiasm is a really nice reward. Having worked with our local Mac admins group here, I'll share what we've learned.”
If you can find one or two others to help you, you'll feel a little less overwhelmed getting started and making decisions. Decide whether you feel you want to coordinate everything (nothing wrong with that) or if you want to rope in a colleague or two.
We have five organizers — two from Jamf, two from education, one from enterprise. This diversity has let us hold events in some awesome locations and bring in great presenters. We’ve all presented too.
Think ahead about your scheduling. You can standardize on a day such as the third Wednesday of every other month or opt to pick a different day for each event. A specific day of the month may always leave some folks out who have other commitments. But choosing a recurring day can help you plan further in advance.
So far, we’ve picked each date independently because of venue availability and to avoid ongoing conflicts with our attendees’ other regularly scheduled obligations.
Likewise, think ahead about your locations. Do you have a regular place to meet? Can you vary the places you meet? Do they have projector equipment? Do you need microphones to help people hear each other or the speaker?
Our organizers try to vary the locations just to keep it interesting. If you have a local Apple Store with a briefing room or Mac vendor, you may find they're willing to host. Community members may have town hall style areas in their places of business for all-company meetings. These are great for meetups too.
For our meetups, I like having at least one major presentation or a few smaller presentations by different people. These anchor the events.
However, we’ve also had general discussion meetups with no presentations at all and TED-style talks where we ask community members to present short 5-10 minute topics or ideas over a couple of hours. Those are fun and help engage your membership.
Draw from your own community for speakers. You’ll probably have to recruit presenters if no one answers your call for speakers. Be willing to give a presentation yourself.
Keep in mind, presentations don't need to be given locally. We’ve had speakers from Microsoft and NOAA present remotely over the Internet. With Skype or Google Hangouts, a decent Internet connection and audio/video system, you have a world of speakers at your fingertips. Don't be afraid to ask strangers to speak remotely. The Mac admin community is very strong and very supportive.
Many Jamfs are willing to help too! If you have local Jamfs in your neighborhood or know one who’s coming through town, see if he or she can stop by and join you. If you don’t know any Jamfs in your area, contact your Jamf buddy to ask if someone’s close and willing to join.
In addition to presentations, we like to allot 30 to 45 minutes for group discussion. We start with a list of recent news items that may affect our admins and we encourage community members to share their experiences and concerns. It's a great time for folks to ask their peers questions too.
Someone should moderate this to keep the flow going and switch topics when the discussion starts to dwindle. We also take time to ask if anyone wants to announce job openings. (You'd be surprised how many of our attendees changed jobs during our first year!)
Announcing food and beverages as part of your events helps draw some of the crowd. If you schedule your meetup after work hours, letting folks know there'll be food makes it easier for them to decide to come.
Reach out to vendors to ask for sponsorship and let them know you’ll be passing along their name to your community members. You may want to offer local vendors 10-15 minutes to make a small sales pitch in exchange for food.
When we can’t find a sponsor for food, we’ll usually announce an after-meetup venue for dinner and drinks. This is a great time for socialization, networking and community building.
Announcements and RSVPs
Use something like Eventbrite, meetup.com or Jamf Nation to organize your events along with gathering RSVPs. Knowing how many people are planning to attend is useful for managing meetup space and food. These and similar sites are generally free for non-profit events.
In your announcement, it's better to give specifics about your event than vague details. Post your start/stop times with an agenda. Post who's speaking. Give some information about the speaker and topic. As advertising executive David Ogilvy said, "You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it."
Speaking of Ogilvy, ADVERTISE! When you've set a date and posted your event details online, announce it on Jamf Nation, Twitter, Mac admin mailing lists, EDU mailing lists, your school website, the #meetups channel on Slack and any other relevant groups on Slack too.
Try to announce about three weeks before your event. As your event date approaches, use the same channels of communication to remind folks about the meetup and encourage them to RSVP if they haven't. Announce the meetup again the day of the gathering. This not only gets last minute RSVPs but serves to remind folks to attend the event too.
Expect about 40 percent of your RSVPs to be no-shows. This is going to be normal for free events where folks aren't obligated to attend. I've spoken with several other meetup coordinators and they say the same thing.
Don’t let this discourage you! Life gets in the way sometimes.
Have someone take notes during your meetup or record the event. Even just audio recorded on a laptop works well if you can place it centrally or near the speaker. Transcribe those notes and send them to attendees after the meetup or post them online for everyone. Ask your presenter to allow you to post his or her presentation slides online.
Meetup notes help attendees get that missed website URL mentioned during a discussion or that long script snippet on slide 44 of the presentation. Notes also let potential attendees see the value of coming to your next event.
In addition, encourage folks to take pictures of the event and post them to Twitter, Facebook or other social media. Suggest a #hashtag to make them easier to find later.
Before a meetup, you may want to have a quick “introduce yourself” round to have folks give their name and school or business. Suggest they add their Twitter names too. This starts people talking, which readies them for your discussions later. And it lets attendees discover a neighbor just down the road or a colleague in the same industry.
After a meetup, see if anyone wants to gather in a nearby restaurant or pub to keep the conversation going. Meetups are a great way to build community and meet people. Networking (getting to know your peers in the industry) should be the primary reason you're organizing a JUG, plus it’s often why people want to attend.
Our organizers try to find a place within walking distance of the venue and we encourage groups to walk over together. This way, no one gets lost and everyone feels included. Some of our best discussions have been over a beer.
Watch for announcements from other meetups, whether they're JUGs or Mac admin groups (MacBrained, London Apple Admins, Austin Apple Admins, Greater Philadelphia Mac Admins, MacDMV, Twin Cities Mac Admins, etc.). If they record their meetups, watch them. See what they're doing. Everyone runs a meetup differently. Borrow good ideas unashamedly.
If you’re traveling and happen to be in town the same evening as a local JUG or meetup, show up and show support. The Jamf community is global not just local. Bring ideas back home and share them.
I concluded my message to our customer...
And thanks for taking the lead on something like this. Starting a JUG or any other user group takes some planning but it's not difficult. Keeping a user group active just takes persistence. Meeting people and exchanging ideas is worth the time and effort.