Random thoughts from an unusual company

Some thoughts on setting up and running a Lotus User Group

Mike Smith  8 February 2010 11:33:53
We had a great Birds of a Feather on setting up and running User Groups at Lotusphere 2010. Thanks again to everyone who came along.

So thought that I might follow up our BoF discussion with some observations on what I think makes a good Lotus User Group. And here goes.....

1. Neutral management?

The basis of any good User Group is that those running it remain "neutral". So they work towards the common good of the group as at the end of the day as basically whatever benefits the community as a whole will benefit them as well.

In my view the worse thing that can happen to a User Group is that it becomes only a marketing voice for someone to sell their own products or services - that will quickly kill it stone dead. Its very difficult convincing people that you are not trying to simply get them locked in a small room and then sell them something! So the User Group management must remain neutral and fair.

2. Should you share the Admin/Manager role?

Carrying a User Group on your own can be hard, its sometimes a lot of work and when you are busy elsewhere it may lose its momentum. So try to share admin/management within the group so someone is always aware of what's going on. This will really help in the early stages when you are building interest and community to the point where it can carry on by itself.

3. How does the group communicate?

I am a big fan of online forums/tools - it helps keep the group constantly alive from day-to-day - and a website to easily give interested people basic info, and of course there are events!

4. What event format?

My ideal User Group event has the following:
  • Led by Users.
  • Is presented in a relaxed, friendly and informal way that encourages people to open up about what they do.
  • Features best practice stories by Users ("we used this product to do this, we had these problems, and this was the result") and by technical speakers.
  • Provides technical sessions about current and new products from both IBM and other technical speakers.
  • Features a set opportunity for attendees to mingle and meet one another.
  • Is not dominated by companies making sales pitches but does allow sponsors reasonable opportunities to present their products under mutually agreed guidelines.

How many events?
In my view the answer to this question is driven by several things:
  • Content/Frequency: Great relevant content will always attract  people's interest. However its certainly true that a single major User Group event per year which delivers great technical content has been a big success in the UK and elsewhere.
  • Resources: How many events can you afford (major events may mean major cashflow implications)? Or spare the time to set up?
  • Resilience: How many times can you expect people to attend events given they have other pressures on their time?
  • Scale: UKLUG had over 400 people, Irish Lotus User Group had 600! You can't run events of that size too often and still have time to do your day job. So you have to be prepared to invest a lot of time in planning and running a large scale event.
  • Logistics: Crucially don't underestimate the need for good quality logistics. People have high expectations of major events (even if they are 'free') and will expect everything to run smoothly.  
Perhaps a good way forward would be to start off with a single small event as a sort of pilot to find your best level?

6. How is it funded?

Well again it depends upon scale. The big (60+) User Group events rely on finding sponsors prepared to fund them. So they have sponsors who pay sponsorship fees and thus get listed on the website, get booths at the events, get specific sponsor sessions etc.

I want to stress that none of the big User Group events I have seen would have been at all possible without the generosity of their sponsors - they have been great. So it is only fair in return to let them have an opportunity in a balanced way to present their products.

Can I also give a special mention to IBM. They have been fantastic supporters for UKLUG, for example they have helped with product software, demo hardware, labs, venues and getting great speakers for events.

Smaller scale events don't really need that much investment at first. All you really need is a meeting space and perhaps some lunch. For this you can look for indirect support (sort of indirect sponsorship really). For example meeting space can be provided by a Business Partner and lunch funded by a vendor. In both cases they can make the participants aware of their products but in partnership with the User Group organisers to ensure that its reasonable coverage.

There is a theme here whatever the size of your event. I don't think people will pay for User Groups. I may be wrong, and if I am let me know.

7. How to get speakers?

UKLUG is lucky enough to include people who are already well-known speakers. Other people give up their time for free as a way of helping the community. However speakers are often paid. So if funds are tight I suggest either approaching IBM to provide one (User Groups can help IBM because when they want to talk about say a new product everyone is gathered in one room), or networks such as LotusUserGroup, or offer a potential speaker the chance to BRIEFLY tell something about what they sell.

Following our BOF we have set up a Facebook group to keep people interested in User Groups in touch, the URL is here:


And there is the LotusUserGroup facebook page too, again the URL is here:


Hope you find this interesting and would very much like to hear your views.

1Theo Heselmans  08/02/2010 12:58:43  Some reactions

Nice overview Mike.

We, in Belgium, have been very fortunate to have great support from the IBM Lotus group for our BLUG initiatives.

They see BLUG as a 'better' way to communicate with the users, as we attract more people to events than their own events.

The March 30th event we got coming up is e.g. partially sponsored by IBM's marketing budget for LCTY (which they do not do).

Most speakers are very willing to come. If you can afford to reimburse some of their expenses (which depends on your funding), they will be even more eager.

2Lisa Duke  28/02/2010 22:14:48  Some thoughts on setting up and running a Lotus User Group

Thank you, Mike, for the advice, thoughts, and support!

One thing we noticed is that most of the big one day LUGs pull from several smaller regional LUGs that presumably meet more frequently than once a year. Is that what you see in the UK, too?

We are focusing right now on starting and nurturing those small feeder LUGs. The first CHUG in Chattanooga, TN was a big success. Rocky Oliver presented on how to use social networking tools to connect with the Lotus community, and then how IBM is pulling those concepts into Connections. Hopefully everyone left with good resources to help in their day to day jobs.

Wish us luck at our next feeder event! In Atlanta, ATLUG has been around a very long time, but we are helping to support them more this year with door prizes and event boosting. Darren's speaking March 11 on "Best Practices for Domino on VMware" and continuing the debate from the Ask the Experts session at Lotusphere.