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Your SharePoint User Group Is Just Lame Marketing

EDIT: OK, after reading through the comments I got, conceivably this is over-generalizing.  I didn’t mean ALL SharePoint User Groups are like this. However my personal experience with the one I did IS like this. The ONLY point that I am trying to make is that there must exist a business / technology split with these types of events where attendees aren’t barraged with marketing nonsense. It dilutes the actual message. The post has been edited in order to remove such oversimplifications.
[rant]
I had never connected with a SharePoint user group before, for most people that run in my particular circuit that perhaps might be regarded as odd for an assortment of reasons, none of which I see a reason to go into. Though, after hearing about how I really should participate in the SharePoint ones for the last four years since being awarded my MVP in WSS, I became resolute that I would give it a sample. What harm could come out of it, worst case scenario they are just monotonous, humdrum presentations.

That being said, I have visited and presented at other user groups before, habitually just for .NET development and I’ll admit they were pretty fun (the Gulf Coast one is pretty tremendous). Under that assumption, hey, I really do enjoy SharePoint development, so one can assume the experience should be analogous.

So, I offered to the sponsor of a SharePoint user group to present a canned SharePoint security development presentation, pretty accustomed with the topic so I can do it in my sleep. The sponsor hastily accepted, subsequently we minimally connected in order to put negligible arrangements in place to determine structure of how the presentation would work with the remaining slots. I didn’t really pay attention to what he was saying because I was watching Survivor at the time and administrative scheduling doesn’t necessarily blow my hair back. This was in all probability mistake number one. Whoops.

So, a diminutive quantity of time passes and it is time for me to present on my topic. So, I ping the owner of the user group and ask him if I can just free-format the deck. While this isn’t unerringly how the conversation transpired, it is a moderately accurate representation.

[Conversation with User Group Owner]

Adam: I am just going to use the traditional Microsoft skin for the deck, is that cool?

Owner: No, we have a master slide with associated layouts that you can use for the branding.

Adam: Cool, can you just email it to me now. I want to ensure it doesn’t conflict with the pre-existing content?

Owner: On it’s a way.

(Crickets while I wait to get it)

Adam: Alright, got it.

Owner: What do you think?

Adam: I think just has your company logo all over it. I mean all over it. Like a collage of useless icons and random floating text. And it makes it seem like your company developed the presentation. I developed the presentation and I would like to maintain that credit.

Owner: Well, we like to brand the decks because we sponsor the presentation.

Adam: I understand that. However, the presentation is at your office. Can’t you just lay out some brochures or something? I mean, when people are Google mapping this, it’s going to say your company name. It’s already pretty marked as being sponsored by your company. Should I get a tattoo on my forehead of the logo too?

[/Conversation with User Group Owner]

This should have been my first inclination that the user group owner doesn’t have a passion for the technology, but rather a passion for a flavor of the month that is going to make him and his company money.

Then my day comes to present at the user group. I arrive 15 minutes prematurely in order to setup the appropriate AV equipment and supplementary associated materials in order to support my presentation. The owner is in attendance at the time as well, and of course, we strike up another conversation that is just as brilliant as the last.

[Yet Another Conversation with User Group Owner]

Owner: We made changes to your presentation.

Adam: No you didn’t.

Owner: Yes we did, just so that we can include some company information. And if you can drop these lines at some point during the presentation that would great.

(hands me a note card)

Adam: I can’t tell if you are being serious.

Owner: Yes, it is part of a process we have in place in order to expand our company name and heavily associate it with the technology as an outcome of hosting the user group. I am sure you can see that point of view.

Adam: I’ll be 100% honest with you [name removed], other people may be cool with this, but I am not your company mouthpiece. I don’t even work for your company. I came here to present, because, well I enjoy presenting on the topic and interesting questions ensue commonly following. And you are kind of a douche bag.

[/Yet Another Conversation with User Group Owner]

This is the fundamental, underlying problem with *some* (Edited For Clarity) SharePoint user groups; it isn’t about a passion for SharePoint, or even collaborative technology in general. If the hot thing that year was shooting flaming bunnies out of a water balloon launcher at your face, companies like this would have a user group for it. I am not alluding to that companies like this don’t merit something back for their efforts, but if you are having the fucking venue at your company, there are copious other avenues for creative advertisement without polluting the genuine content that people are interested in. Introducing such blatant advertising is both disrespectful to the presenter, and to the users it is just plain vulgar and boorish.  People go to user groups to learn about technology, not about the damn service offerings that your company provides. From my point of view, it is the collective mingling and the interchanging of ideas which really birth the interesting conclusions procured from user groups, not what companies offer what.

Anyways, I don’t think I will be going to anymore SharePoint user groups. Unless there is a bunch of free food or something.
[/rant]

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27 Comments

  1. Matt Taylor says:

    Hi Adam

    Pretty strong language, you obviously feel very strongly and seem to have had a pretty bad experience.

    If you’re ever in the UK then I would strongly recommend trying to factor in an SUGUK.org meeting. In my experience these are always brilliantly organised, the hosts are always very generous and always demonstrate perfect etiquette.

  2. Todd Kitta says:

    I think it’s pretty weak that you are way over-generalizing here. I’ve been exposed to several SharePoint UGs and have never seen anything like this. Nothing says you can’t start your own UG either. To be fair I think you should clear up your statement.

  3. Bob Fox says:

    Adam,
    This is rediculous. Can you forward me the name of this group and its owner? If they are a part of the ISPA i will step in to talk to the owner. This kind of UG meeting is one of the reasons we started the ISPA and its promotion of properly run UserGroups. SUGUK and a lot of others are not run in this manner. Lets talk

  4. Adam Buenz says:

    Matt:

    Yes, strong language. But appropriate for context IMHO. If I ever get over the to UK I will check it out!

    Todd:

    While it might appear to be over-generalized, I think the applicability of it is consistent. I am not going to call out the specific guy, I am not that petty.

    The primary issue / problem is consistent, UG’s should be around love of technology, not love of $ that comes as a result of the use of the technology. While it might not apply to all UG’s, for my particular experience the content remains germane.

  5. Kanwal Khipple says:

    Sorry to hear your experience was not that good with SharePoint user groups. I have had nothing but positive experiences from the attendees and sponsors for the Toronto SharePoint User Group (TSPUG). If you are ever in this part of the world, drop me a line and we’ll set something up for you.

  6. Adam Buenz says:

    Bob:

    The point of the post isn’t to chastise the person, if it works for him it works for him. I don’t really care, I just don’t want something that is supposed to be tailored to evangelism turning into a money grubbing sales centric crap fest.

  7. Adam Buenz says:

    Kanwal:

    Toronto has a good backing, which I think is the difference. I mean, you got Reza :)

  8. Natalya says:

    I have personally seen it happening. Usually after good conversation about a difference between community and business opportunity these user group leaders would come to their senses, but Adam I’m with you… it’s the initial intend to host a user group that is fundamentally wrong here

  9. Tobias Zimmergren says:

    Seems like you just stumbled upon a group led by the wrong kind of peeps. Over here – we pretty much don’t do any advertising in any matter, however the sponsor-company for the evening gets a few minutes to talk about their business – but that’s basically all when it comes to promoting. Then we go all-in on SharePoint as usual :-)

    Don’t give up on User groups because of one (even if it was really bad) experience.

    Just my two cents.

  10. JD Wade says:

    Adam,

    Your post does make it sound like you are ruling out all SharePoint Users Groups because of your bad experience with one so I can’t really agree with that position in my opinion.

    I completely agree with you that a user group should be about passion around a technology. In fact, if I had run into this situation and especially if the company you speak of is a MS Partner, I would actually be contacting the local MS office and discussing this situation with them.

  11. Adam Buenz says:

    Natalya:

    Thank you, THAT was the point I was trying to make. I guess I will have to edit the post to clarify.

    Tobias:

    Yeah, I guess so. I will see if there are others.

    JD:

    Perhaps the title was misleading.

  12. Paul Galvin says:

    You make a lot of good points, but in the end it sounds like your main point is something like: “I tried Japanese food once. The restaurant sucked, so Japanese food sucks.”

  13. Adam Buenz says:

    Paul:

    Incorrect, as that would be applicable if I was talking about user groups as a whole. In that analogy, I am saying the Uni I had tasted like crap.

  14. Dan Lewis says:

    wow – that sounds like a rough time. However, I would have loved to have seen the guy’s face when you said “And you are kind of a douche bag”.

    Thank goodness that not all of the user groups are like this. There are times that I can feel our group is slipping a little torwards too much of a ‘marketing’ get-together. But luckily there are some in the group that try to keep a healthy balance in place. Just recently we’ve started breaking into track sessions, with a technical and a not-so-technical presentation.

    If someone sponsoring the meeting wants to advertise, we let them set up a table with pamphlets, banner, whatever – and users are free to take one, or leave it. It’s not forced on them. And we’ll mention the sponsor at the end of meeting. ie: and now for Free food and drinks thanks to COMPANYNAME that does ETCETC.

    What you experienced is definitely overboard and down-right absurd in my opinion. People loose sight that user groups are about the users. It’s sad.

    – Dan

  15. Paul Galvin says:

    Adam, Your edits change everything and are spot on I think in terms of clarifying your point. A first read of the unedited post came across to me and lot of others as a blanket indictment of SharePoint user groups.

  16. Adam Buenz says:

    Paul:

    Good, that’s what I was shooting for. I think I got overexcited when I first wrote the post. My bad!

    Dan:

    100% agree!

  17. Bob Fox says:

    Shut up Beunz :)

  18. Brendan Law says:

    “If the hot thing that year was shooting flaming bunnies out of a water balloon launcher at your face, companies like this would have a user group for it.”

    Hahahaha! Love it. :)

    Shame this has left a sour taste in your mouth though, user groups could use your calibre of speaker at their meetings.

  19. Dennis Bottjer says:

    Adam,

    Sorry, you had such a bad experience. I guess I’ve been fortunate to be involved with some great user groups (.NET and SharePoint). I promise you though your experience is the minority.

    Dennis

  20. Chris O'Brien [MVP] says:

    Hey Adam,

    Interesting – as others have noted, the UK group is completely not like this (IMO) – I had no idea that kind of crap went on at other user groups, and I think you’re right to raise it (even though it might not reflect the norm).

    I think you’d go down great as a speaker at our group, we’d love to have you.

    Cheers,

    Chris.

  21. Andy Burns says:

    Wow! Ditto what the other’s say, don’t give up based on this experience. The couple of user groups I’ve been to (for SharePoint, the UK one!) have been nothing like that.

    Maybe ask someone you trust about good groups they’ve presented at?

    I agree, there are plenty of more subtle ways of promoting one’s company. Branded beer bottles was one I saw at a design company in New Zealand – that was pretty cool.

  22. Adam Buenz says:

    Chris:

    I would love to get the chance to go to the UK. You let me know!

    Andy:

    The beer bottle option is a damn good idea.

  23. Shadeed Eleazer, MCTS says:

    Sounds like you had a bad experience, this (of course) is not the behavior and practice of every User Group you will encounter, I assure you.
    As a SharePoint User Group supporter and organizer based in the Mid-Atlantic region, I can tell you that having speakers (especially MVPs) come and speak at your User Group is not to be taken for granted, and is typically viewed as an honor.
    Whether you decide to report the details to ISPA is your choice. I would hate for another SharePoint professional to go through that experience.

  24. KAnwal Khipple says:

    Toronto does not have one awesome SharePoint MVP but we have two: Reza and Eli !

    Either way Adam, I agree with Bob Fox, this kind of things turns people away from technology. Alot of people also loose sight of what makes user groups so important. It’s not about chastizing but making sure the user group leader understands where he stands.

  25. Marc says:

    Fantastic! Keep being honest, well done. I wish I was a fly on the wall when you told him off.

  26. Adam Buenz says:

    Shadeed:

    True, it would be better to report the owner and just get it over with. However I question whether that would rob people with, although polluted with marketing, a good SharePoint experience from an educational perspective.

    Kanwal:

    Forgot about Eli, he and I share some fond memories involving Tequila. I agree, it is not about punishment, but rather finding a proactive resolution.

    Marc:

    Ask any other SP MVP, they will tell you I can’t keep my trap shut. :)

  27. David Walker says:

    Hi Adam,

    I am glad you modified your post. Mostly due to the fact that I certainly hope this is a rare exception.

    Every User Group I have ever been involved with or attended has really made a conscious effort to avoid this type of stigma.

    In fact, it’s very rare we even vendors do presentations and even then it has to be a non-product presentation. :)

    So for readers of this blog, please don’t assume this is every user group.

    Any user group that does adhere to the horrible practices that Adam was sadly subjected to will more than likely not have a very long existance.

    In fact, I actually challenge those in that area to start a new member driven user group, so that in that area this poor excuse for a user group isn’t the communities only option.

    Thanks,
    David Walker

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