This is my first article since having left for Paternal Leave for my new born baby, Alice! (Singing and yays!). It will be a simple, straightforward easy to deal with article. No math here, no programming, just straight to topic on the number one success or failure metric of a user group from my personal experience.
The metric is…Consistency
Consistency – Lets start particularly with the NCSU Game Developer’s club as they broke this cardinal rule until I had my say on it. BTW, they now have several teams competing in Imagine Cup, and a membership in the several hundred with 50+ at each meeting and University Recognition. They broke more than just this one rule, but this particular rule, once fixed increased their membership by orders of magnitude. Consistency does not just mean same general location, same general time. This means, exact location, exact time, exact meeting layout and plan. I came in and this group was meeting in a library, wherever they could get a room, or just in the middle of the floor (little did they know they could book a room, the same room, at the same time).
Imagine you are a member of a group, you have a life, a busy life. You have classes, or a job, a girlfriend or a wife and kids. Consistency in which the location and time can be burnt into their brains is extremely important. Delivery on that consistency is what burns it into their minds. First Friday of each month at exactly 6pm in Room 201 of EB2. That is what you need. Every single meeting, every single month. If you do not do this, you will experience what happens on meetings in which you fail to deliver. Lets have the Azure User group example take over for a few minutes. We have our meetings in the Microsoft Building in Durham every third Tuesday of each month at exactly 6pm. However one month a change occurred last minute. We had to redirect folks simply upstairs. Our attendance was reduced by 50%. Let me repeat that 50% reduction in attendance. We then had to grow that consistent attendance from 50%, which was several weeks prior. For a new group seeking sponsorship, this can be devastating, even reputation hindering.
Lets talk about consistency and data aggregators, bloggers and social media. You are a group, may or may not be a new group, but you are always aiming to grow. If you are consistent, bloggers, aggregators and media outlets can publicize “Group A at Location B at time C, every time”. That stays in record and no matter what, is there. If you fail on your delivery of consistency, you have membership attempting to find you, with failing results. This looks bad on your group, and does not grow it.
Consistency is the number 1 key to everything community driven. Without consistent participation and socialization of the same consistent interaction, the community can not survive. I have met many groups who eventually die off and no longer exist purely because consistency was the issue. Members are great, meetings are great, events are great. Delivering a consistent experience did not happen, group died.
Consistency of meeting framework. Many folks run meetings with variant frameworks. Today is John Speaking, next month we hack, the following month is show and tell. This leads to confusion of what the group is about. We need consistent reminders of what is the heart and soul of a group. Lets take our two successful examples. NCSU Game Dev Club stars with a 30 minute tutorial. This tutorial is geared towards the current challenges in the club, this may be object pooling, shader programming, etc etc. Followed by an hour of working on your projects and hanging out. Simple. Everybody gets it, everybody understands, new people fall into place easily. The Triangle Azure User Group accomplishes consistency differently. 2 presentations. 1 30 minutes, intro level, 1 60 minute advanced. They have networking opportunities in between with votes on topics for next month.
To achieve success you must have a framework for the meeting proceedings in which attendees can anticipate and fall into the groove. Though you may be an expert on topics and the meeting and what is going on, your attendees typically have no idea about any of that. If you can drill it into their minds via consistency, you will have more success this way.
I will end on a final note of consistency is like repetition. If you are into sports, or an athlete (I do submission wrestling) you know that repetition is the only way you can train your brain into reacting to scenarios and situations immediately. Those pre-programmed scenarios trigger deep responses in your brain that you have trained yourself for, easing the reaction and making it faster and easier. The goal of consistency is to tap into that primitive part of the brain so that your attendees, whose lives are already overloaded have an easier better time with their extra curricular, which is your group.
Consistency is everything. You know your group. It is your thing, you love it, you are passionate. Your members may or may not be as passionate as you, however if you wish to have a community and forum, you must cater to your members and not yourself. Make their lives easier, make attending your groups easier. Consistency in meeting time, place, framework, schedule is everything. As I have said, in my experience, consistent groups succeed, while others do not.