I’ve started a number of groups over the years—from communities of practice in organizations to public user groups and membership-based clubs—and I try to keep them as simple as possible to run. The most important step to take when forming a user group or community of practice is to just do it—efforts often fail because people feel like the new group must initially have a large participating membership. Growth will probably be slow. My guiding philosophy when starting a user group or community of practice is simply, “If you build it, they will come.”
The first step in organizing a user group or community of practice is forming a core group of leaders. Consider the skill areas that you need help with and recruit others to fill those needs. Some people are very social and outgoing but lack follow-through on tasks; others are great at getting things done but may be awkward socially. What are your strengths? Who can help you in areas where you are weak? And who are you happy to spend time with? Regardless of how many people show up to an event, you’ll be with the core group a lot, so pick people you want to see. Leading a community of practice or user group is often a volunteer position, and you’ll want it to be fun and rewarding.
Your group will probably remain rather small for a while—it takes patience. Generally, the attendance at the first events is less than desired and may be disheartening. This is natural, and hopefully you have other leaders to help keep your spirits up during this phase. The core group that is active will remain small (less than 10). You will have others that come and go, but not be part of the core group that is consistently there. The smaller the time commitment, the larger the core group might be.
Past experience has shown that the two actions which produce the best results are to (1) start having events and to (2) tell the maximum number of people when and where these events are being held. Every time someone new attends an event, take the time to get to know him. I recently saw a fraternity brother at a conference that I first met at a local alumni event years ago—it was great to have had that connection established and share a new common bond! If I hadn’t formed that group after I graduated from college, I never would have made that connection. That’s why I love creating communities.