There is an old business saying that “if you are not growing you are dying.” As Drupal’s popularity grows, so do the number of local user groups that are sprouting up throughout the world – obviously, this is a really good sign. These grassroots gatherings are critical to Drupal’s long term success. Drupal is an ecosystem built around its community. We need new ideas, contributors, users, etc. to help carry the torch of what others have started so brilliantly.
I became involved in our local Atlanta Drupal User Group (ADUG) about a year ago and wanted to pass along some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We meet twice a month at different venues – one is structured in a workshop type format and the other focuses on presentations. I’ll preface by putting out the disclaimer that I know every geographic region may be different, but here are some recommendations that worked for us (in no particular order):
- Leadership: First, do not try to do it alone – find a core group (3-4) of leaders who are willing to volunteer; divide and conquer roles and responsibilities – in Atlanta, we have formed four sub-committees: technology to organize code sprints and our internal website, programs to coordinate speakers/presentations, membership, and sponsorship.
- Advertising/Marketing: Reach out to other like-minded user groups (PHP, MySQL, Linux, etc.), ask university professors to promote in classrooms or computer labs, advertise in free technical publications and newspapers, and leverage social networking outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Craigslist, etc. – the most effective marketing channel for us has been meetup.com. Meetup has done a masterful job of subtlety cross-promoting groups that their users may have an overlapping interest in. In addition, I really like what San Francisco based Drupal shop Chapter Three is doing with their “lunch and learn” Drupal sessions for local businesses and new users.
- Attendance: Leverage meetup.com, groups.drupal.org, and ideally your own local website to coordinate organizational efforts.
- Location(s): Ask a restaurant if you can use a back-room or banquet area, try your local library (although I’ve heard most have a long waiting list for meeting rooms), colleges, or approach the three largest web agencies in town (even if they are not using Drupal) and ask to use their conference room – one is bound to say YES.
- Sponsorships: When it comes to having an event sponsored don’t be afraid of the most critical step – asking. We just introduced sponsorships at our ADUG events, and are requesting $100 for a sponsor to cover pizza and beverages. Where do you find sponsors? Try staffing firms and executive recruiters who are delighted to get some exposure for their efforts. Kieran Lal eloquently speaks to this in a blog entry he did last year about fund raising for Drupalcamps.
- Presentation ideas: Our Atlanta group has a cross-section of beginner, intermediate, and advanced users. You should understand that it will always be difficult to find a topic that will be enlightening to all levels of Drupal’ers. We have found that case studies tend to be the largest draw, but we reserve time in the beginning of each session to get acquainted with new members – we like to know how they found us, why they are interested in Drupal, and their professional background. Other possible topics could include lightning talks , ask the expert panels, introduction to Drupal overviews, etc. – there are a plethora of session ideas that could be recycled from Drupalcon.
- Identifying Speakers: Once you’ve come up with ideas on what members want to hear, where are you going to find presenters? Again, start by asking – see which members may have an expertise in a certain area. Then, compile a speakers list or database to compile each person’s background. Next, research adjacent technical communities (especially PHP), open-source seminars, workshops, etc. in your area and see if they have someone who would be willing to tailor a presentation for a Drupal based audience. For instance, we did this with a speaker from Sun, and his topic on exploring the value of open-source technologies was very popular.
For additional reading, try the following resources:
- This thread was started by Dries a few years ago, and was really insightful.
- Acquia has put together event organizer kits that are beneficial.
- A group was just formed out of Drupalcon D.C. to help local leaders exchange ideas.
Finally, Drupal is reaching an inflection point. The exponential growth, while awesome to see, will eventually plateau. The evangelism efforts at the local level will be critical to Drupal maintaining its well-deserved status as the CMS of choice for so many.
I’m curious to hear your think, particularly those currently in the trenches of organizing there are own local Drupal groups. Any feedback or fresh ideas would be welcomed!
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