Why Should I Do This?
Macintosh User Groups are strange things, communities of people seemingly springing out of nowhere to meet on a regular basis, discuss the Macintosh and help each other out with whatever problems they may be experiencing. Most communities are lucky enough to have a MUG presence of some sort, new MUG’s being created all the time.
The same might not be true for you or your community. For this reason you and others, you may find yourself wanting to begin your own MUG, something that will have a web site, a core group of officers and meet on a regular basis to help other Mac users in the community. Somewhere down the road, you may want the organization to expand, passing on what you know to larger numbers of people by offering classes and training sessions, Mac users helping each other being one of the things the Macintosh community has always been famous for.
Where to Begin?
The hard part. The easiest way to begin is to remember that you can’t do everything by yourself, or this effort is going to feel like you’re dragging a blue whale through the Sahara while trying to keep it hydrated at the same time. Find people and friends who are also into the Macintosh and the idea of getting a group together. Meetings are crucial, but always make sure to schedule them at times when everyone can show and some progress can be made.
Once you’ve gathered your friends and fellow Mac users they might have brought with them, it’s time to plan. The first thing you want to do is get the word out about your organization, something that can be easy or next to impossible, depending on how you go about it. If the group ends up being five guys who show up every week to talk about the Mac and it never grows, the effort is boring and you’re not helping anyone like you initially might have wanted to do in the first place.
The best way to gather new members is to use the Internet to your advantage in addition to holding cool events and advertising well. Long-standing groups have a routine they can follow, something which allows them to meet every week and have new people show without a problem, something an up-and-coming group can’t rely on.
The best way to get the word out as to the existence of your MUG is to take a two-pronged approach to advertising. The first plan of attack is to draw as much media attention as possible via holding a cool event and telling the press about it. A LAN gaming tournament or presentation around a major new product (now, for example would be a perfect time for a start-up group to demo Microsoft Office 2001) are perfect start-up events guaranteed to draw people if enough advertising is done (both online and offline). Alert the media if at all possible, working to explain that your group is the new technology-centered group in the area devoted to introducing Mac users to new technologies as well as helping them out with any problems or advice they might need.
The second part of the advertising process is to spread the news about your group’s existence and to present it as something that can help people. Call the local newspapers and talk to their technology sections, asking if they list computer user groups. If they do, simply get yourself added to their contact lists and add your group’s name and contact information to the list. If not, ask to be interviewed and see if you can’t generate some publicity.
All the technique in the world won’t help if you don’t have experience, and given that your group is still in the fetal stages, this is the one thing you don’t have. The time will come for your group to have to look up to another user group and learn from the other group’s experience. This is one of those situations where you’ll have to find out what other groups are in your area, e-mail them and see if you can’t meet the head of the group in person, discussing what your group is all about and how the two groups can work together.
And now this is the part where you wake up with a very large and bloody horse head in your bed. In my personal experience, I found this to be a rather cool and strange experience, my friend and I road-tripping up to the other group’s meeting to converse with the head and talk things over. The other group was more than willing to help us with our own efforts, giving us names, contacts and web addresses of people and organizations that could help us get our group off the ground. There was also something about paying tribute and making us an offer we couldn’t refuse, but I filtered this out, paying attention to the positive.
This is perhaps the best thing your group can do. The other group more often than not having been around for years and learning from its mistakes, something that puts it in a position to give great advice and point out resources who can help you save time and energy. Listen to them, ask events draw people, what kind of programs are the most popular, if you should bother burning shareware CD’s and how to run the smoothest organization possible. Their advice will be invaluable.
The Web Site
The current must-have item, and your organization should probably have one. Buy your own domain name from Network Solutions or Register.com (.org names are cheaper than .com names), this allowing your organization to be taken more seriously. Make the site simple, clean and easy to remember. This is the image the rest of the world has of your MUG and a great site will be something that instills confidence in the viewer.
Remember to update the site regularly, adding links to Mac news and software sites and things you think your viewers will find useful. If your users have been complaining about iMac woes at your recent meetings, try serving your public by posting Apple’s iMac firmware fixes. The web site can do more than display your group’s logo and the recent meeting notes and can be a great resource, something that will serve the local Mac users if they have a question.
Make Yourself Accessible
The great thing about starting and running a MUG is the simple fact that you can talk about something you enjoy and help people at the same time, a rare combination to say the least. Keep your e-mail open to any questions, no matter how minor. People need advice from time to time, even if they’re a bit reluctant to ask, and just being there as a potential source of help is often appreciated.
Have Fun With It
Nothing’s worth doing if you don’t have fun with it, and Macintosh User Groups aren’t formed out of profitability (I have yet to hear of anyone who runs one for a living), but as labors of love. Mac users seem to instinctively help each other with their computer problems and in running your own MUG, you’ll find the people that show up to be a friendly and somewhat die-hard Mac-loving bunch.
Remember that your organization is there to help people with their Macs, and once you get things running with proper advertising and cool, consistent programs, you’ll draw attention from people and schools needing Mac help but often being unable to find it. Mac gurus are a rarity, and anyone they can ask for help tend to be a precious commodity. Your organization is in a position to help people, schools and businesses, something that is pretty cool altogether.
Start small, advertise, try to bring people together with cool programs and something that can help them and don’t get discouraged, even if all of two people show up to your first event, one of them leaving because he thought this was the Shriner’s convention. Don’t give up, help people if you can and enjoy the experience to the fullest. It’s a long, hard road to a successful MUG, but the final result is more than worth it.