Former Connect president Nina Buik, who's made a career in sales and marketing in the IT industry, has been hired as the user group's Chief Marketing Officer. It's a move that the group's executive director and COO Kristi Browder says will bring on new partnerships and alliances, along with increased awareness of the group's education.
Connect restructured itself last year, stepping away from a management contract with user group services company Smith Bucklin and taking its operations in-house. But the group didn't create a raft of paid staff posts to replace the fees paid to Smith Bucklin. Volunteers from the group's board picked up some of the work. Contractors helped with graphics, web design, publicity. Meanwhile, Browder and one part-time administrative assistant comprised the full paid staff for Connect, until Buik joined the group's payroll.
"Now that we have contracted in terms of our operating structure, the organization is poised for significant growth," said Buik. "In order for us to grow, you have to add people."
Browder said Buik "has worked tirelessly as a volunteer from Connect’s inception to create a strong brand and organization that now includes more than 50,000 members worldwide. The ability to bring in Nina as chief marketing officer with her strong marketing and sales background, coupled with her unique understanding of the user community. will benefit the Connect community for years to come." Both women have served as presidents of the user group, Browder before Connect was created in a merger of Encompass and three other groups.
User groups, once commonplace in the IT world, have become a rare species of networking creature. IBM's Series i retains its COMMON group, which claims to have a 50-year history. But few have dedicated a full-time paid marketing chief when their total staff is just three employees. Connect says it sees opportunity to reach out to more sponsor partners as part of its marketing push. It's got a vision of more events during 2011, plus vendor participation in getting a message to the HP community.
"So much of our organization is marketing," Browder said."We've got to have a person in place to give us the visibility, and make us relevant in the marketplace." The team wants to expand the organization's resources "without getting too financially heavy."
As the head of Connect's marketing, Buik will be looking at the group's product suite and make sure these products are continuing to provide for members. In July she resigned her post as vice president of sales and marketing for 4th Source Nearshore IT Services and Solutions and toyed with the life of retirement. But like some executives leaving the industry, she said she found IT user contact calling her back.
"My vision -- and the reason I got so excited to be a part of this -- is to be on a continued track of growth and relevance," she said. The more relevant you are, the more growth you're going to experience." The group added a Special Interest Group this year for enterprise customers using HP-UX servers, joining SIGs for OpenVMS and NonStop systems.
The HP 3000 customers making a transition to other HP systems have education and networking benefits to enjoy as Connect members. But the homesteading customers -- by some estimates more than 1,000 companies and thousands more systems -- remain without a user group's resources to assist in training and networking. An HP 3000 Technology Group was formed last year in the Connect myCommunity website. The 27 members include about half in the vendor-consultant category, even while the group's benefits are aimed at migrating 3000 sites -- for now.
"If a few people want to step forward and take charge, we would certainly welcome their inclusion in our community," Buik said. The group likes to think of its human resources as having headed into the cloud, far from the brick and mortar, deep payroll model which Interex took into bankruptcy. "It takes two willing parties to create that kind of relationship," she said, adding that there is a virtual cubicle available for a volunteer who'd want to use Connect to help organize HP 3000 homestead resources.
"That would be great," Buik said. "The folks in the HP 3000 community should reach out to Connect, to let us know you're interested and available." Email to Browder's desk, at [email protected], or a call to 512.592.7602, will get such group initiatives for the 3000 homesteader started.
In the meantime Buik is raising the message by posting a blog article on the Connect website every Monday, starting with insights this week about changes in HP's management. The group's vision is to drive its marketing message toward connection at the myCommunity web site, even though regular postings from community relations volunteer Kees DenHartigh have populated the Connect_WW feed up to now. Connect even hosted a "Tweet-Up" meeting at this summer's HP Technology Forum, packing the House of Blues with hundreds of members who wore buttons with their Twitter names.
"We're going to be changing our strategy a bit on the user of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn," Buik said. "All roads will point back to myCommunity. We'll be picking up on various conversations and content and pointing people back to the website." Buik said the group will be undertaking a new look for the site in the months to come, although myCommunity has included some notice of available jobs and spots for members to post qualifications while seeking positions. As a not-for-profit, Connect wants Buik to spread the gospel of help for HP users in need of education, or even just a job.
"The world has changed since the Interex days," she said. "We're looking to make sure that all of our members get something out of our organization. We're kind of like a church, if you will, where you go to get help when you need it. We're here to help people improve their skills so they can get a better job."