In the past, user groups were the place where you would meet people interested in the same thing you were. Vendors worked with the user groups to communicate new releases, and gather feedback on beta testing and leveraged them as a source for new features. The user group had a library of information, presentations, events, and ways to interact with other users and vendors. Now, with social tools, including Facebook, Slack, and LinkedIn, and powerful search engines such as Google and Bing, the question is: Are user groups still needed? They are, and here is why.
First, user groups provide a trusted source of knowledge. They are independent of the vendor and can talk about the pros and cons of a product without vendor spin. They also have experts within the community providing vetted knowledge.
Many times when you are searching the internet for an answer, you never know if it’s correct or not.
Events are also a value-add for user group members. In-person events provide an excellent source of networking and knowledge-sharing with the experts of the community. Normally, when attending a vendor event, it’s all hype and sales pitches; user groups provide the hands-on, how-to knowledge that is lacking from a vendor’s events.
A third advantage of user groups that is often overlooked is development. Not technical development—but personal development. User groups provide a place where you can have the opportunity to work on your presentation skills. You could become one of those trusted experts and speak at an event or during a webinar. Maybe you would like to volunteer and help do event management, people development, budgeting, vendor management, or even set the strategic vision of the user group. These are things you might not get to do in your day job and the experience could be a great resume-builder for you.
You might be thinking that many of these opportunities are provided all over the internet and in various venues. However, the value of the user group is that it is a one-stop shop.
With all this value to the end user, why would a vendor be interested in user groups instead of providing that training/information themselves? Because the user group is independent; it offers a value-add for a vendor because it provides credibility with the audience—especially when the user group and vendor align in a message.
This leads to the next advantage: communication. The user group provides a voice for the end user with the vendor, as well as a voice for the vendor within the community. If a vendor wants to understand what went wrong with a release or the changes it needs to make, it could go out and try to track down all its customers—or simply go to the user group where they are all together. This single voice of the user group can make huge changes in the vendor’s direction since, after all, it represents a collection of well-educated customers who are paying the bill.
Yet another advantage for the vendor is that it drives loyalty and usage of its products. The more that customers interact with the user group, the more the customers understand about the product and its possible usages. Customers may purchase additional features after they hear about what other customers are doing with a product. The more they implement, the higher the likelihood that customers will continue using the product because they see the value and also, the cost to switch becomes much higher.
The final advantage for a vendor is that the user group provides a passionate representative of their product. The experts in the community tend to be very passionate about what they do. If you have ever listened to someone that is excited about something, it’s hard not to get excited too. The more excited people get, the more they talk about the product with their peers who may not know about it. This spreads like ripples in a pond, building free advertising.
If you haven’t had a chance yet to experience a user group, I would strongly suggest you look out there. I’m sure you will find everything I have highlighted and so much more waiting for you. If you are looking for the best user group out there, stop on by the IOUG website at www.ioug.org and sign up.