User Groups – They’re all about the users, but the vendor needs to recognize that!

Finally have the time to blog about a meeting I had at the recent IP Expo at Earls Court, London.  I had the great pleasure to meet up with Neil Spellings and Andrew Wood, steering committee leaders of the Citrix User Group here in the UK.  Julian Wood also joined us; as many of you know he’s a long term VMUG attendee and contributor, but he’s also attended some of the Citrix UGs as he – as with many VMUG members – has implemented both Citrix and VMware infrastructures.

We were discussing the merits of vendor involvement in user groups and how they can help, as well as hinder, community effort.  We discussed what is required from a vendor to make a successful user group.  Obviously being involved with a couple of VMware User Groups (London and UK), I have a good insight into what works well with a successful user group.  Observing from the outside in, I see a fundamental difference between what VMUGs receive from their eponymous vendor versus what Citrix provides, which appears very little.  On the other hand, I also see a striking similarity – and that is user passion.

The discussion got me wondering about why VMUG is so successful and why many other UGs stumble in its shadow.  I believe there are two intrinsic components to even get a UG started. One is the vendor’s belief in the value of supporting a UG and thus allocating a resource (preferably a dedicated one) as a ‘connector’ between the vendor’s relevant department(s) and the UG leaders.  Second, you have to have the passion and dedication from the users.  In VMUG’s case I believe this passion to border on (in a good way!) a cult-like following.  Without these 2 starting ingredients, you do not have a recipe for success.

If you look at what Citrix currently provides a focus on within its community – their CTPs (Citrix Technology Professionals) – it is too narrow in focus, as currently there are only 46 holders of this title.  Meanwhile VMware’s vExpert program has over 580 members and is highly focused on people evangelizing VMware and its technology and sharing within the community.

For me, VMware gets community, they invest in a team of people, including John Mark Troyer and Corey Romero, and originally help set up VMUG.  VMUG is now an independent, not-for-profit, organization run by the users for the users.  Although the London VMUG had been running long before VMUG was formed, by becoming a formal VMUG, we’ve been able to expand our meetings to all day and multiple tracks due to VMUG HQ taking the ‘back office’ burden off our shoulders – such as invoicing sponsors, paying the venue, etc. – enabling us to focus on securing the best speakers and relevant sponsors for our members’ enjoyment and edification and providing a networking forum that promotes further learning.

At last weekend’s E2EVC event, 2 of our prominent European VMUG members, Liselotte Foverskov (Danish VMUG) and Andrea Mauro (Italian VMUG) presented about VMware.  Their presentation was well received by the community in attendance at the event, which, from what I can tell, is predominantly Citrix/Microsoft focused.

Citrix has Perrine Crampton as their community programs manager – John Troyer recently interviewed her on Geek-Whisperers – it was great to hear about EMCElect, vExpert and CTP communities from the people that own the relationship within their respective vendors.  I think it would be great to see Citrix provide a deeper focus to their user group communities, expanding out from just a CTP focus.  I was recently asked by a senior Citrix marketing exec how much budget should they allocate to user groups.  My answer? None.  The funding comes from sponsors, but you need to provide the commitment of relevant speakers to attend the user groups and you need to connect with the leaders on a regular basis. And executive sponsorship is key – every VMworld has Pat Gelsinger or other senior executives mention VMUG.  While I’ve not attended a Citrix Synergy for a while now, I don’t ever recall Mark Templeton mention CUG………

A recent tweet from Julian Wood says it all:

and I hope other vendors can follow VMUG’s lead and provide THEIR users the commitment and dedication to supporting their user groups.  It’s all about the users you know 🙂