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Alaska is on the PASS map!

Alaska is on the PASS map!

I’m really stoked to share the news: Alaska (my home state) finally has a PASS Chapter of its own! The group just got started last December, and officially welcomed into the PASS organization at the end of January. While they don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account yet, they do have a website and a YouTube channel.

The group meets every month and draws about twenty attendees, according to Chapter Leader Greg Burns. (Greg also runs the local SharePoint user group, which has about eighty members.) The audience is a mix of DBAs and developers, mostly.

Curious. Why would I mention the audience?

Because Greg is running a PASS Chapter for the first time, he could use a lot of help. He’s looking for speakers — remote or in-person — to present at upcoming meetings. If you’re interested in presenting to the group remotely, or just looking for an excuse to visit by far the largest state in the union…[prolonged eye contact with Texas]…just drop Greg a line at AlaskaSQL(at)gmail.com.

But wait, there’s more! If you’re a current or former PASS Chapter leader, you probably have some great tips on how to structure meetings, build membership, advertise your group, line up sponsors, and other things it takes to grow a user group. Rather than flood Greg’s inbox with your collective wisdom, let’s assemble them here in the comments so they’re all in one place. I can think of no better way to welcome Alaska to the SQL Server community than to show them how much we help each other.

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  1. I’ll get the party started. Best advice I have is to pick a time and place and stick with it. Our Denver group has had the same time and place for nearly four years now. I think it helps grow membership when people don’t have to think about where and when; it’s automatic.

  2. Do everything possible to give potential attendees confidence in the value of getting to a meeting. Publish photos of previous events, information about other members, select quality topics with good speakers and encourage relationship building. If people are going to give up their evening and travel to the meeting it’s important they have positive anticipation.

    Pick a local sponsor for the food/refreshments. That’s a huge burden for the chapter staff and if a local recruiting firm will commit to managing it every month, let them.

    Encourage members to speak 20 minutes on a topic. We do that before the main topic of almost every meeting. It helps build the community.

    Finally do something social after the meeting. You’ll find the best conversations there and some potential chapter staff members too.

    Peter Shire
    President
    Charlotte SQL Server Users Group

  3. Create a LinkedIn group. It gives a way to get updates other than email, creates a place to direct recruiters when they want to post jobs, and makes it easier to recruit new members. Of course it does require keeping the group up, but the work/reward ratio is better than many other options.

    -Richard Heim
    CACTUSS board member

  4. Check out this post for marketing ideas.
    http://www.ryanjadams.com/2013/03/user-group-marketing/

    Get in touch and stay in touch with your regional mentor. If you don’t have luck there, then ask another one. We love to help no matter what region you are in, we are just more in touch with our current regions.

    I just had 2 new groups start up in my region and Aaron Kelton of the new Little Rock, Arkansas group wrote some excellent posts on his first meeting experience. Here are links to all 3.

    http://filterfunnel.org/2014/02/08/starting-a-pass-chapter-before-the-inaugural-meeting/

    http://filterfunnel.org/2014/02/14/starting-a-pass-chapter-during-the-inaugural-meeting/

    http://filterfunnel.org/2014/02/19/starting-a-pass-chapter-after-the-inaugural-meeting/

  5. I ran Chicago for its first 10 years, and it’s still going strong. My biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple (KISS – not just the greatest rock band ever!), and that includes keeping a consistent meeting place and time as mentioned previously. Personally I found that trying to maintain subcommittees, collecting dues, or trying to alternate locations were all complications that were not worth the effort. Stay good friends with PASS, and leverage any relationships you can if there is a local Microsoft Technology Center. We received countless sponsor and speaker referrals from the MTC.

    Good luck, and congrats!

  6. Speaking of Microsoft Technical Communities, I recorded a session on how to register for that and the free Office 365 subscription they give to user groups. They will advertise your events for free as well. It’s an excellent resource and a good one with Lync if you HAVE to have remote speakers (having a lot can hurt attendance).

    https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/7780168823456462593

  7. Kendal Van Dyke (@SQLDBA) has very helpfully pointed out that the PASS web site has forums for chapter leaders. If your PASS login recognizes you as a chapter leader, you can go to sqlpass.org -> PASS Chapters -> Chapter Leaders and you should see the forums below. Looks like there are threads on the various aspects of running your chapter.

    Thanks, Kendal!

  8. Thanks for the excellent advice, everyone! We are just getting starting and it’s very exciting. To respond to some of your posts:

    1. I have indeed been browsing the Chapter Leader forums on the PASS site. Good stuff.
    2. I will look in to starting a LinkedIn group. I also need to set up a FB and Twitter account. I did that for my other user group (akspug.org) but I never seem to get around to posting anything. Usually I just blog.
    3. Hearing all this talk about dues and subcommittees is a little daunting. Right now we are small and have an operating cost of zero. Fortunately my employer has allowed me to use our conference room and WebEx account. Other than that, it’s all been pretty much shoestring and out-of-pocket for me.
    4. We do not have a local MS office, unfortunately. I’ve had a LOT of people recommend getting tight with the Microsoft reps.
    5. AlaskaSQL is a registered group with Microsoft Technical Communities. I’ve been posting events there (sometimes Microsoft will promote these events on Facebook and LinkedIn). They’re pretty friendly but the site is a little clunky.
    6. Currently the meetings are held during the lunch hour. With my SharePoint group we originally met in the evening, but few people ever showed up and it was inconvenient for me personally, so that is why I do it at lunch now. I’ve toyed with the idea of having occasional evening events, which would allow for socialization, multiple speakers, maybe a helpdesk / Q&A forum, things like that.

    Anyway thanks for the comments, and I will read all the linked stuff too. Cheers!

    Greg Burns
    President
    Alaska SQL User Group
    Alaska SharePoint User Group
    Anchorage, Alaska

  9. There’s a decent amount of people willing to do remote sessions. It’ll be harder to get remote people in for a lunch hour session I’d guess. The 20 minute sessions are great ideas, you could also just slide two in when you have a few people wanting to start speaking.

    Recruiters are good to help with books and other prizes. It get’s their name out and yours. They’ll normally help cover lunches or food if you get a good one. This builds their list of potential job applicants for a very low price.

    There are a lot of great ideas here. Most of which our group follows here in OKC, OK. you might consider talking with other groups and the virtual chapters. Sometimes they have regional speakers that might be willing to run a remote session.

  10. I realize this is my third comment, but I’m a little nuts for community. It must spread too because two other commenters are from my region (Austin, TX and OKC, OK).

    This doesn’t work with PASS websites because there is no RSS feed. However, you mentioned that you blog about your meetings. Pretty much all blogs have an RSS feed which means you can use http://ifttt.com to automate cross posting to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and almost anything else. It’s beautiful and why I wish PASS sites had an RSS feed. I use it for my personal blog so when I post something it automatically goes out to all my other social media and I don’t have to do a thing.

  11. Twitter has been mentioned, but I want to repeat how great it is for networking, marketing, sharing content, linking to your blog posts or even just lurking around discovering new content. Like Ryan has written in his great post about marketing, create a hash tag for your user group and use #SQLPass as well to reach even more people. Tweeting pictures from your in-person meetings is fun and a way to show people that you’re active.

    Share information and experiences with other board members, and/or write it down in case you need to hand it over to someone one day so they don’t have to start from scratch. If possible, have backups for both organizers and speakers.

    Talk to other technical user groups in your area about cross promoting, and contact relevant universities / colleges to reach students – maybe they’ll get inspired to pursue a SQL Server career? :)

  12. Greg, congrats for the new user group and good luck!

    I’m leading the Israeli SQL Server user group. We meet once a month at the local Microsoft office, and we have 100 attendees on average. I have lots of tips to share, in addition to other things already mentioned here. I’ll focus on the tools we use in addition to the PASS chapter website.
    We use Eventbrite (http://www.eventbrite.com) to create event pages and manage registration. It’s a great tool for event management, and it’s also a great way to add new members to our mailing list. We manage our mailing list in MailChimp (http://mailchimp.com), which is a great tool for campaign management. It has some nice features for designing your newsletter. And, finally, we have a Facebook group, where members share their blogs, ideas, jokes, pictures or anything else.

    Good luck!

  13. I had the pleasure of presenting (virtually) to this group today. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Anchorage in person :)

    Thanks to Greg for having me, thanks to the attendees for the Q&A.

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