Take Your Group to 2.0: Evaluating Your Group’s Affiliations

User Groups 2.0

Each year The MUG Center receives at least a couple dozen emails asking about signing up with the various Vendor Programs available to Mac User Groups, affiliations with some of the purported user group organizations out there and the many other offers that come to user group leaders. The questions are always the same: Do they cost anything? Is there any reason not to sign up? If they are free, what could it hurt?

At one time the answers were simple, but the world has become a bit more complex, and Mac User Group 2.0 leaders need to be more savvy about the answers to these questions, the benefits they offer and the hidden costs associated with them.

“Do They Cost Anything?”
That depends on how you define “cost.” If it means “money,” the answer is usually no to vendor programs or special offers. Some of the organizations do charge annual fees or have requirements such as displaying their logos or web badges on your site or having you publish some notice of affiliation or endorsement. Do the latter represent costs? That’s for you to decide, but read on before you do.

Is There Any Reason Not To Sign Up?”
There’s no easy answer to that one, since what each offers may or may not suit your group or membership. A key question you have to ask is what the people on the other end of the situation are getting out of the deal.

Vendor programs are obvious: they want to sell product, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Many extend one-time offers to MUG members, others offer presentations, review products, raffle prizes, etc. The very best user group programs (think Adobe, Macworld, O’Reilly, Peachpit, TidBITS) are consistent, offer more than just product discounts and establish a relationship with user groups that is mutually beneficial.

Organizations can be another matter, so responsible group leaders need to look at what they offer, how it relates to the group and to the members and what is requested, expected or required in return. Some things to consider include:

  • Dues or membership fees: Who is cashing the check and how accountable are they for delivering whatever service(s) they claim to provide? What “hard” benefits do you receive, other than being listed on a membership role or having a web badge to place on your site?
  • Membership roles or listings: This would seem to be a good thing, and can be. Links to your site help drive up search engine rankings, but keep in mind that your group’s name is going to be listed as an affiliate or member of the entity. What kind of reputation do they have? Are they using your good name to help elevate theirs? Being listed in the Apple User Group Locator clearly helps a group’s visibility and credibility; being listed in Joe’s United User Group Organization may only help Joe look like he’s got something important going. If Joe isn’t reputable, now or later, with you or others he’s approaching, then how will that reflect on your group?
  • Web badges or logos: As stated above, incoming links to anyone’s web site help drive Google rankings, so placing someone else’s badge on your web site not only gives them that benefit but also gives them that much more visibility on the internet using your web site. If you are satisfied with the benefits you get from that placement, the association with the organization or company, or what they deliver that you use (and that includes The MUG Center), that’s great. You’re giving something back and helping support those who help you. But if you’re doing it because they ask you to or require you to, then you might want to reconsider.

“If They Are Free, What Could It Hurt?”
It is doubtful that it would really “hurt” anything, except that you and your group’s name might be used for someone else’s gain or that you could unfairly be negatively impacted by their activities, behavior or reputation. You also may be allowing your group to be at least partially defined by association with someone or else. If that someone is a world-class user group program, reputable vendor, terrific. If it is something else, it might just hurt a little more.

The Bottom Line
Mac User Groups 2.0 are going to be the ones defining themselves, not being defined by others. Investigate and evaluate the costs and benefits of associating with anyone and then make the right decision for you and your group. That process alone will keep you on the path to 2.0.

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