Promoting your user group


DSC05306The following post was written by Rodney Lake.  Rodney runs the .Net User Group in Tauranga, and recently had 54 people attend one of his user group meetings due to smart promotion.  He shares his tips for you here.


Promoting a user group 


One way to recognise a healthy user group is to see how many new faces are at each meeting.  Whether or not those faces return is up to the quality and relevance of the topics.  If you assume they do return, then new faces mean your user group is growing.

Getting new faces is all about promotion; getting ‘awareness’ of your group out there.  This is mostly common sense, just think about your ‘target market’ (developers, students, hobbyists, BA’s, project managers, business owners, designers, technical writers, etc, etc… Don’t assume its just developers) and do those things that will reach that market. 

The following are some tips and idea’s that I have either used, or intend to use sometime in the near future:


  1. Email communications: These should be kept to a minimum so receivers don’t feel like they’re being spammed – I use these general guidelines:

    1. 2 event reminder emails per month (unless a change in venue, time, topic, etc requires extra emails)
    2. 1st email 7-10 days out – this targets those who plan ahead and need time to add the meeting into their schedule.
    3. 2nd email on the morning of the meeting – captures those who didn’t bother to add a reminder into their calendar, but think – “Oh that’s right, I forgot… actually, I can make it tonight” – the unorganised ones without kids who can still make spur-of-the-moment social-life decisions – you know who you are…
    4. Keep them brief and relevant: Intro, speaker, topic, where, when, giveaways
    5. Keep them personal – write in first-person.  User groups are run by people, not businesses – so take advantage of the networking exposure you are getting and be personal, eg: “I look forward to seeing you there…”.  Then sign off with your name.
    6. Include links to the speaker’s blog and/or their business, and links to the technology they are speaking on.


  1. Event names / Topic names:  Keep them obvious.  There is nothing worse than someone trying to be too clever with the topic name and leaving everyone confused.  Make sure you have an event synopsis.  Get the speaker to supply a one or two paragraph overview of their talk.  This is really important as the title may not be enough for may people to make a judgement call as to “Is this worth giving up a few hours of my time for”.


  1. Dangle a few carrots when announcing the group – include any and every incentive you can think of, such as:

    1. I always say “Pizza and drinks provided” – I am surprised (maybe slightly offended?) about how many have told me that this is what makes it worth their while (anyone remember being a poor student?  Free food was a good incentive back then!).
    2. Promote the speaker if they are worthy of it – highlight their achievements and position, a high ranking speaker is more attractive than some newbie who reads straight from a MSDN whitepaper.
    3. Have giveaways if you can: These come from INETA (ha ha ha ha) or Microsoft (for beta software or training DVDs) or maybe local sponsors(if you are lucky?) – Books, T-shirts, software, exam vouchers, DVD training resources, whatever.   I always try to give away at every meeting either:

i. One good thing to one or two people (software, T-shits, books), or

ii. A training DVD or some other software (beta/trial software, or express edition software) to everyone who turns up…



    1. When I get a launch pack of software (Vista, Office and Visual Studio) which I am suppose to give away all copies at the one event, I actually only give away 2 copies at the launch event itself and keep the rest back for future events (1 copy per event until I run out).  This spreads the value of “Come along and win a copy of X” across many months – this works really well – especially for full copies of Visual Studio.


  1. Who to target: Be creative in your promotional medium – here are some ideas:

    1. Networking / Word of Mouth: By far the most useful is good old word of mouth.  Mention the group to anyone you meet who might be interested, and then get them to think who they know who might be interested.  I often say at the bottom of my meeting announcements emails “Please forward this onto anyone you think might be interested in coming” and also say something similar at the end of each meeting.  I am growing my group by about 3-4 per month just through word-of-mouth.
    2. For a really basic introduction topics that have a border appeal: Phone the local papers and ask to place an announcement in the ‘Whats On’ section.  Not sure if I got anyone along from this (only once) – so might be a waste of time.  Also be very careful – I said very clearly to the granny on the end of the phone “Dot net… That’s full-stop, N, E, T, User Group” – even said it twice as I suspected she was a bit soft in the head, yet she still put down “Net Group” – which resulted in someone phoning to ask if the group taught how to use the internet…  We can thank the geniuses in Microsoft’s marketing department for that little gem of a brand name!
    3. Contact any local ITC advocacy groups or the local Chamber of Commerce.  I got my introduction level presentation emailed out to 330 on a targeted technology business mailing list.  This was very fruitful for my introduction to .Net meeting as it produced a bunch of Java & PHP developers, BA’s, Project Managers and business owners who would otherwise have never heard of my user group.
    4. Contact your local university and polytechnic – try to get a member of academic staff in the ITC department who can forward on your announcements to internal IT academic staff and students.
    5. Use the regular announcement methods at www.dot.net.nz – post the event on the site and use the mailing list.
    6. I remember Darryl suggesting we post our groups in Computerworld magazine – has anyone done this?  How much notice do we need to give?  Was it successful?


  1. A few more little tips:

    1. Keep the meetings on the same weekday each month (mine is the first Thursday of each month) – over time the regulars keep that day free.  I got a right earful when I tried to change it one month!
    2. Always mention at the end of the event that anyone is welcome to do a presentation – its important to get new talent otherwise you end up with the same people doing all the work.
    3. I don’t require an RSVP for my group as it gives people more freedom to turn up on the spur of the moment.  I order our pizza about 10 minutes in when numbers are roughly known – so that works okay.  But I buy my beer and juice in advance, so it means that some months I have too much beer and other months I don’t have enough – although over time I am getting better at estimating numbers to ensure the more desirable outcome of too much beer…
    4. Keep your ear to the ground: Talk to people after the event, find out what they came for and what they would like to see in the future.  This is where I got my motivation to do my introduction to .Net talk which saw three times my average head-count turn up.  Let them have their say and take advantage of the enthusiasm of others: “That’s a great idea, how soon can you do it?”.

Just to close, I think its important to be aware that the difference between the most experienced and the least experienced in any user group is HUGE!!  And that there will always be a skew in numbers towards the latter.   There are lots of people who come along each month who don’t know their generics from their lambda’s, their abstracts from their concretes, or their MVC pattern from their MCP pattern (in fact I still don’t know the difference in that last one!) – and are too afraid to ask questions in case they sound dumb.   

These aren’t just the green first year uni students (you know – the ones who think they know everything), they are also the highly experienced and mature professionals such as BA’s, Project Managers, network engineers, Java & PHP developers, etc… who have seen what .Net can do and now want some .Net skills of their own to round out their existing skill set.

Typically as a group leader you aim for as wide a mix of topics as possible; from beginner to advanced – but the truth is that even the beginner topics are still advanced for some.   We really need to cater to these newbie guys more – and spend less time in the snobbery intellectual towers we have set ourselves up in.   The problem is that it’s actually quite hard to step back down into the shoes of a beginner and try to explain second nature everyday concepts in novice terms. 

But if you can manage more introductory level topics, then you will attract more people who are completely new to the technology.  If their needs are met, then they will return, your group will grow, and naturally this will grow the entire community to the benefit of all.

Rodney Lake
Tauranga .Net User Group
Managing Director of Spectra Data Solutions

Skip to main content