User groups benefit both companies who provide products (usually B2B software or technical products), as well as the users who need those products to be successful in their businesses and jobs. However, aside from finding the growing amount of customer community information online and translating tips for associations and nonprofit membership organizations, there are not a lot of best practices published for successfully starting and managing a user group. We want to change that starting today!
Based on 10 years of experience both managing software user groups and providing user group management software to user organizations that support some of the world's largest technology companies, here are three of the most important tips for starting and leading an effective user group:
It is important to remember that user groups are created for users. That is why you see so many independent user groups (independent=not company run) in existence. These user groups are often created by users of a product that are looking for support with complex issues and to share product feedback with the product's company using the strength of one united voice.
Avoid treating your user group like another marketing channel by which your company talks at your customers. Make it clear that you understand the user group-company relationship is very much a two-way street where customers drive the agenda.
Identify those strong customer leaders who will give you consistent, open, and honest feedback. Empowering those individuals within the user group community will not only help grow the user group, but also create advocates for your company in the ranks of your products' users.
User groups find strength in numbers. The more people who join the group, the more helpful the peer-to-peer support becomes and the more powerful the user group's voice is in future product development. However, your customers are very busy. They are not looking for another way to make friends online. They are looking for support and a partner to help them in their jobs and make their organizations more successful.
In addition to continuously striving to ensure your online user group community provides value to users, make joining the online community, registering for events, and becoming part of the online conversation easy for new members, tire kickers, and veteran members alike.
Let your users know that you are listening and that the work they are doing supporting each other, validating product concepts, providing feedback, and evangelizing your solutions is important to you and your company. The fastest way to kill an active community of users is not to act on their feedback. Tip: Look for quick wins where you can tangibly incorporate their work. Better Tip: Integrate the user group into your product management processes.
In addition to receiving user group guidance on the Online Community Blog, user group managers and volunteer leaders will also benefit from two new free resources:
An online community of professionals looking to manage and grow user groups more effectively using best practices in membership marketing, online communities, and product management.
A central online location where professionals who manage user groups, volunteers who lead user groups, and company executives who benefit from user groups can find the latest tools, resources, and information to successfully start and manage a user group.