What on earth is the SpiceCorps?

I have written about what Spiceworks is, as a company, an application and a community.  I had to split this post in half to get my point as to what a SpiceCorps is.  Now I just finished splitting this one again into how to run a SpiceCorps (how I do anyway).

Their offline community, the SpiceCorps, is much like the Marine Corps except without all the violence… and there is a whole lot less swimming and running and jumping… and the training is more geek-centric and skips all the sleep-deprivation stuff… and the weapons all come with Nerf darts.  Okay, so the SpiceCorps isn’t a whole lot like the Marine Corps but there are more of us than there are of them.  Spiceworks has built the largest online community of geeks in the world.  At the time I am writing this post, the online community is made up of over 6 million IT professionals worldwide.

There may be a few home users and students surfing the threads but the vast majority of the members are IT Pros who make a living sitting in front of a keyboard 40, 50 or 100 hours a week.  The community actually has a group of moderators who actively seek out members who they believe are not professional IT people and point them to other online forums (or just show them the virtual door).

While the online community is amazing and has saved my butt more often than I can count, it is the SpiceCorps community that sparked a fire under my butt.  When I was looking for a tagline for some t-shirts we had done up for our SpiceCorps groups in Alberta, I came up with “taking the world’s greatest online community offline”.  Spiceworks apparently liked it a little since they are using my quote on their page promoting new users to start local SpiceCorps user groups.  It truly is what I see the SpiceCorps doing and in bringing that community offline for monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly meetings, they serve a need in IT Professionals on six continents.

What is a SpiceCorps User Group?


SpiceCorps Calgary - Ubiquiti - 2013-07-10

SpiceCorps Calgary – Ubiquiti – 2013-07-10

The user group is basically an offline version of the online community.  We have our own online group in the Spiceworks community where we have open discussions with one another, other community members around the world and vendors that are members of the community.  I remember a day when there were 50 SpiceCorps user groups on this planet.  There are now over 150 with the vast majority still in the United States.  Canada is making inroads with a SpiceCorps user group in almost every major city.  I think we currently have 11 in total in Canada from Vancouver to Halifax.

These meetings serve many purposes from bringing the community offline so members can actually meet and discuss everything from career planning to technical trouble shooting to introducing spouses and children to one another.  While most meetings have an educational component, there are some that have a different focus…

For those SpiceCorps Admins out there, please use your cameras.  There are some great resources to help you here but trust me when I tell you that you will really want some pictures of these events.  SpiceCorps Leaders (SpiceLeaders) have their own private area to share and discuss SpiceCorps groups within the community and there are a ton of great discussions happening in there.

Calgary SpiceCorps - HP Canada - 2015-02-24

Calgary SpiceCorps – HP Canada – 2015-02-24

For the meetings that do have an educational focus we split the meeting into 5 parts…

  1. a meet and greet… this gives those late comers the opportunity to stay at the office a bit longer without missing the meat of the meeting and the rest of us an opportunity to grab a bite to eat and chat a bit
  2. a vendor presentation… vendors sponsor our meetings by supplying food and often a door prize, but the real benefit of the vendors is to spend 20-40 minutes chatting about their product and services.  This is a technical conversation and not a sales pitch.
  3. the vendor Q&A… this can fill up another 20-40 minutes depending on the topic and attendees.
  4. a SpiceCorps round table… we sometimes have a demo of a new spiceworks release or a fellow spicehead showing off a new toy and sometimes we just go around the room seeing if anyone has a problem they are struggling with.
  5. Announcements and mingling… by 8:30 or 9pm we often wrap it up and let those who have a healthy balance in their life get back to families… the rest of us kick back for a few more hours (1am was the latest I ever stayed for) and chat about everything under the sun… building those relationships.  *smile*

Vendors


So what is in it for a Vendor?  They can join the community online with a free vendor account but they quickly see the benefits to paying Spiceworks for additional features.  Then they find out that they have the opportunity to reach out to the end users by sponsoring SpiceCorps meetings.  Other than buying a vendor booth at a SpiceWorld conference this is probably their best opportunity to interact one on one with Spice Heads.

Regina - Scale Computing - 2015-01-27

Regina – Scale Computing – 2015-01-27

Let’s focus on what the vendors can expect from a SpiceCorps sponsorship and what is expected of them real quick…

  1. vendors always supply an educational presentation either with their technical sales team or via webinar, this is not a sales or marketing pitch but more technical and informative.  Obviously the live presentation is better for everyone but by restricting vendors to live presentations you lose some of the larger and smaller vendors who either don’t have a travel budget or who focus on large trade shows for their marketing dollars.
  2. vendors typically supply food and drink (sometimes alcoholic – though we aren’t big on this in Alberta)
  3. vendors often supply door prizes.  These range from a dozen small gifts from pens to t-shirts to a $500 gift card (that was an awesome SpiceCorps meeting eh Betty?).
  4. vendors can expect an interactive and focused audience.  There might always be one person that just came for the free food but in my experience the attendees are not only actively interested in the presentations but in the vendors as well.  I can’t tell you how many times I met a vendor for the first time at a SpiceCorps meeting and gone on to support them for years.
  5. vendors can also expect some serious word of mouth buzz about their presentations, products and services.

We have additional issues in trying to get vendors to come out and visit our sites in Canada.  We simply don’t have as many vendor opportunities in a spread out land mass larger than the US with the same population as California.  We have solved this with a mixture of webinars and regional vendors who might feel lost in the vastness of the online community.  I still recommend that they all set up vendor accounts for one reason, it shows that they have an understanding of why and how the community works and why I value it so much.

These vendors might just have a staff member with a username in the community to start with, but it can’t hurt.  I have seen specific examples where a discussion at a local SpiceCorps group ended up helping a company find a vendor in another city for one of their remote offices.  Here is an example of one of my blogs helping a guy I have joined at dozens of Calgary SpiceCorps meetings in just this way.  This business would likely never have happened for that vendor if not for the networking that happened at a SpiceCorps meeting in a far away land.

We had a sponsor (Curvature) in Calgary on Monday and then Tuesday I was at Regina’s meeting and after Irvin from Scale Computing finished his presentation we talked about future meetings and what kind of sponsors the attendees were looking for and we ended up talking about the presentation the night before in Calgary.  Two weeks later I received a thank-you card from that Curvature, not for the Calgary meeting, but apparently for helping get new business from Regina.  They will be a sponsor in the very near future for Regina as well as Saskatoon.

Whether you think you can do this or not, whether the only vendor you work with is someone huge in the community like HP or someone a wee bit smaller like The Email Laundry, do not be afraid…

Just Do It!


There will be another blog right away on how I function as a SpiceCorps Admin and some tips I learned along the way.

If you are even thinking of starting a SpiceCorps meeting in your local area, or if there is one but they aren’t having at least four meetings per year, contact Jessica N in the community to become a SpiceLeader of your local group.  Keep in mind that many of the most successful groups with the greatest longevity have co-admins to keep people from burning out, go ahead and offer to be one.  If you want to start a new group please do not hesitate.  Even with my work schedule, putting 20 hours a week into my Scout volunteering, my church, our international children’s festival, being on the board of two other projects, and still having 6 kids at home, I still find time to help run 2.5 SpiceCorps.

I find the time because it is important.  The meetings I help organize and attend have saved my company a ton of money and time, made my life easier by improving my education and saved me a ton of effort by allowing other members provide input into my way of thinking (sometimes turned it right around).

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