The best thing that a user group, especially a new group that’s trying to grow, can do is be inventive. Or at a minimum to recognize good ideas and copy them where possible.
There are a couple of good examples of this out there that I can point to fairly quickly.
There are a number of groups that have started doing one day conferences on the weekend after the Boston .NET user group started doing Code Camps. It’s a great community based event. I liked the twist that Jim Holmes and James Avery put on it where they did a collaboration between a couple of groups to throw the event. That spread the work out a little and maximized attendance.
I like the idea of not reinventing the wheel on the web site unless there’s a good reason. For example, a lot of groups are using .NET Nuke or Community Server for their web site. That’s a great idea because both of these make for really low investments in time, energy and money the three things that every user group needs to conserve and channel in the right directions. Here’s an effort in the Dallas area to work on a user group specific portal. Now, you might use the web site or part of the web site to introduce members to ASP.NET. Outside of that, copy from the other user groups…
At the Great Lakes Area .NET Users Group (GANG), our president, John Hopkins had the idea to start doing quarterly social events and starting a certification study group. I think that both of these ideas are very cool. It gets the group involved in more than just a place for free goodies and technical talks.
Another interesting idea that was new to me that I thought was very cool came from the UK. Dave McMahon and Richard Costell from the Next Generation User Group came to VSLive. Dave contacted as many of the speakers as he could and is doing video interviews of them to take back to his group. I thought it was an innovative idea that needed pointing out.
In order to really grow a group, you need to come up with innovative ideas and you need to copy those innovative ideas that have worked for other groups.
Beg, borrow and steal good ideas. When that fails – come up with your own.