Anyone who has heard me speak about database management systems knows that I’m a big fan of users groups. One of the singular values that an off-the-shelf database provides is the potential to tap tens if not hundreds of other organizations that are using the same or similar software. I’ve written about the value of users group elsewhere (including here and here) but I’ve never written about how to actually establish a users group…until now.

Following are some tips for how to create and get the most out of a software users group.

  1. Identify other customers of the vendor and contact them about their interest in creating a users group.
  2. Like any other volunteer position, those who get the most benefit are those who put the most into it.
  3. The key is to find a solid core of leaders (four to six is ideal) among whom you can split up the responsibilities.
  4. When it’s appropriate, you should let the vendor know what you’re up to. But I think there’s more value in keeping the group independent, with the vendor being invited to certain meetings, having a designated liaison between the group and the vendor, etc. In other words, if you ask for financial support from the vendor, you’ll have a different dynamic than if you do this independently. I think independent is safer and better/more effective.
  5. This takes time. The group probably won’t really gel for two to three years.
  6. The most value you can get from a users group is helping the vendor focus their resources on what matters most to most of the clients. In some vendor’s cases that may be customer service. If you’ve got a representative group telling the vendor what the big problems are AND offering potential solutions for the vendor, they’ll be much more receptive to it.

For those in association management, this is actually a no-brainer, because creating a users group is just like creating an association. So put your CAE hat on and build that users group.

I’d be interested to hear what other tips readers would suggest for creating a users group.