Interview with HP user group president Nina Buik

The advent of social media has made a big difference at Connect -- the independent user organization representing 50,000 professionals using Hewlett-Packard technology products and services."We used to conduct a worldwide survey of our members and have to wait until all the data was compiled and analyzed before we knew what issues our members were concerned with.

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The advent of social media has made a big difference at Connect -- the independent user organization representing 50,000 professionals using Hewlett-Packard technology products and services.

"We used to conduct a worldwide survey of our members and have to wait until all the data was compiled and analyzed before we knew what issues our members were concerned with. Now, we do it in real-time thanks to our hosted discussion groups and monitoring of blogs and other social media," says Nina Buik, president of Connect.

Newer social media technologies such as Twitter are also being used. "I was at a Tweetup last night and was asked a technical question and I was quickly able to get a response from a HP executive," says Ms Buik. "That impressed the people that I was with."

Connect would like to be able to host most of the discussions about HP on its web site but Ms Buik is also willing to "let the conversations happen where they happen."

Here are some further notes from our conversation:

- The organization has 32 chapters and is adding seven additional chapters. It will hold 88 meetings this year. "I like to call what we do 'positive influence for positive change.'"

- The demographic is "key influencers, systems integrators, and system administrators."

- Current hot topics among Connect members are virtualization and storage.

- There is no moderation on the Connect community platform and users are encouraged to use their real names.

- HP executives pay close attention to Connect and take part in the discussions.

- The funding for Connect comes largely from sponsorships and selling exhibition space at events such as the HP Technology Forum, and a smaller amount from membership dues.

- Connect would like to attract students. "They speak the language of social media and that's how we can reach out to them."

- The organization relies heavily on volunteers. This week it honored two women volunteers for their work, with awards at an event in Las Vegas. "It's great to celebrate these women because there are so few in the tech industry."

When I met with Ms Buik, Brad Harwell, HP's Director of Marketing Communications for TGS, was also present, and answered some of my questions that were directed to Connect. I pointed out that this might send a mixed message about the organization's independent status.

Ms Buik said that "we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for HP." She stressed that the organization was very independent and that she has had some very candid conversations with Mark Hurd, the CEO of HP, on several occasions.

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