When going to conferences you always hear "join a local user group, and if there's none in your area you're the person who needs to start one". But then what? Where do you get started? How do you organise a PHP user group? Basically, you're left in the dark and you're missing out of all the great stuff everyone else can enjoy.
So how do you get started?
You've attended a conference or visited a remote user group and you're completely pumped up to start a local community in your area. But how do you organise a user group meetup? How do you let people in your area know, you've started something for developers to meet each other, learn from each other and have a good time?
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to these questions though, most of it depends where you're located and what the penetration level is of PHP developers.
The easiest way to let everyone know you're organising a PHP meetup, is using Meetup.com where you can announce your meetups, create a user group profile and more. You can even use meetup as your user group webpage if you don't want to invest in setting up a seperate web page.
Everyone who's already a member of Meetup will receive a mail informing them there's a new meetup in their area: yours!
Meetup costs about $ 2.00 per month
If you don't want to invest money in setting up a user group, you can use also Facebook and create a group for your user group. It doesn't inform members there's a new user group in their area likeMeetup.com does, but via facebook sharing you might get some traction throug your peers.
As a professional, most likely you have a Linkedin profile. If not, I can highly recommend it as it is your professional network hub which you want to use anyways when networking during user group meetups.
Another benefit of Linkedin is you can search for PHP in your area and get to see companies and people currently doing "something" with PHP in your area.
I love Linkedin as it allows me to connect with local businesses and fellow PHP developers in my area. Through their social network services, I can keep in touch with my peers and follow up on their interests.
One of the nice features of Linkedin is searching people and businesses in a particular area with keywords. So if you would like to know which businesses are doing PHP in your area, you can filter on "php" in your area. This will give you a list of companies in your area who you can contact to see if they want to host a meetup or want to sponsor for drinks or pizza.
The main resource for PHP developers is still php.net and thanks to the efforts of Ben Ramsey there's a whole page dedicated to PHP user groups. Find it at php.net/ug. Here you can search for a local user group or register a new user group.
The first meetup is going to be really exciting as you have high hopes many people will come and will congratulate you for taking the initiative.
If this is the case, you're in luck. Most of the time you get only a few people just checking out what it's all about or none at all. But don't despair, keep the faith and continue with planning meetups. As an example: our first meeting had just 2 visitors. Now we're between 50 and 80 attendees.
I think Michelle Sanver said it the best:
I knew no PHP developers in Groningen managed to get a venue and just holding my thumbs someone would turn up the first meetup. In the end the first meetup was just a "How do we do this?" meetup and I had 3 attendees, which was awesome. The next meetup we were 15 people and since then a steady stream of between 10 - 20 people depending on topic and interest, most of them have never been anywhere in the community before, so if there is no community people - Make them.
Know you're not alone out there. There's a network of PHP user group leaders available that will help you getting the word out and mentor you to grow your community.
User Group Wiki
Over on php.net there's a whole wiki created for user groups with access to the mailing list and user group handbook. Don't forget to join us on irc in channel #phpgroups where you can find further assistance in getting your community of the ground.
Don't forget to inform the Godfather of the PHP Community Cal Evans that you started a PHP user group and provide the twitter handle to him, he keeps a list of user groups on his twitter account.
Did you know there's a genuine PHP magazine out there? It's PHP|Architect. Send a mail firstname.lastname@example.org and notify her about the user group you created.
Whenever you have a big event or something, you can ask to have them to include it in their newsletter and if necessary have a community article or ad about it in the magazine.
Zend Technologies, Inc. is the company behind PHP and are offering professional services to businesses and governments. And they too have a newsletter. You might want to inform them about your newly created user group so they put it on their website as well and announce news reports from your community.
Thanks for stepping up and start becoming a community leader. I can't say it's a simple task, but if you keep believing in it you will succeed and become the go-to community leader for your area. Remember, we've got your back on this!