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User Group Newsletter March 2011

March 2011

AUG Update

It has been a great couple of months for the Atlassian Community. AUGs were created in four US states, and three others in The Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand.

We recently launched our 18 city RoadTrip where Atlassians are traveling around the world promoting our products and the User Group program. After the RoadTrip completes, we hope to have at least 5 new AUGs created and greater attendance in the established AUG cities we are visiting. For those of you unable to attend, here is a copy of the slide deck. Feel free to share bits in your presentation at the next meetup in your area.

We also sent some speakers on the road to speak at two AUGs this last quarter. Christina Bang, our Technical Sales Engineer, discussed with users about the JIRA 4.3 launch and Ignite plugin in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. Check out her slide deck here.

Today's newsletter shines a spotlight on one of Atlassian's most seasoned AUG leaders. He has some great advice on how to create a rockin' user group and sustain the energy.

Gareth Wilson on running a successfully sustained user group

Tips for AUG Success

 The London Atlassian User Group - one of the first established AUGs - is now over four years old. Over one hundred users regularly attend these events and we wanted to share the experience of organising and running a successful AUG.

Building community and providing valuable content at events is key to success.

Fostering a sense of community is important so the attendee user-base feels valued as users and not potential customers. It is essential that AUG events are not run as sales-pitches; however, it can be difficult to consciously avoid this approach. Events are lead by submissions received from potential speakers. Vendor-led content is often readily submitted particularly because vendors have a vested interest in informing people about their products and services. User-led content can be hard to come by, but it's important to offer a balance of the two. Engagement with users is often the best way to obtain their content: email, Twitter and face to face discussions, etc. Case studies come to life when identified by an outsider as interesting.

A sense of community is built when events are organised more frequently. Users begin to expect follow-ups and actively seek to be part of a community with shared interests. If a user misses a meet up, he or she can be assured of an upcoming event. When the number of events evolved from an annual occurrence to every 6 months, the amount of repeat-attendees skyrocketed.

Truly valuable content in presentations is a must. Speakers with commercial goals might not accomplish this element without guidance. Give away the farm: a common mistake is providing just enough information to users for them to understand a problem without enough knowledge to solve it themselves. It's important the speakers don't hold anything back; encourage them to help as much as possible. Reviewing draft speaking submissions will avoid inflated content that users are uninterested in.

A great way to add value for users is with a question and answer session either after a presentation, at the end, or during a networking session. This gives users the opportunity to meet experts and have their individual concerns answered with real solutions. However, this can go too far - trust me! In the past, open discussions with large numbers of users didn't work very well. Attendees often came with more questions than answers, which threw off the flow of the session. When one or two people speak about a specific micro-problem, only a small percentage of the group walks away with valuable information. Discussions are best left to small groups, about 12-15 people, lead by an experienced user.

It is also necessary to be clear about the event topics regarding commercial gain when seeking sponsorship or investment for the event. Potential donors have to see it as a donation to the community without any expectation of a return on investment, besides building relationships with the community. Cost are kept to a minimum when the large organisation, customers, and partners of Atlassian can host events. Academic institutions are also a great resource - they host events often and are usually forthcoming for non-profit/free events. Atlassian has great relationships with academic institutions as a result of free classroom licenses and heavily discounted education licenses.

Useful knowledge for organising AUG can be gained from attending similarly run community tech events, like BarCamps. Insight is provided on how events are run, as well as local knowledge and contacts. Going through these other events can be a great way to find venues.

Finally, ask attendees what they want to hear. Surveying users after an event provides invaluable information on what you can improve the next time. People appreciate when their feedback is accepted and implemented. Keep them coming back for more!