•How would you define a user group?
I define a user group as a gathering of people getting together to discuss, learn and share information about a particular topic or technology. Ours happens to be about SharePoint. :) They are often free and/or sponsored by various organizations but are intended to remain neutral by having a variety of participants and contributors that often have varying or competing opinions and solutions.
User groups allow people to learn the benefits, features and shortcomings of products and methods - allowing each attendee and participant the opportunity to contribute and learn from one another. Attendees have the opportunity to have one or more experts available to ask their specific questions to.
User groups should be the cornerstone of a community - be it a local or a virtual one. A community that builds personal and business relationships around a common theme, topic or technology.
User groups should be driven by the needs of the attendees.
•What would you say are the benefits of a user group?
Collective learning. Hopefully user groups have presenters that are able to bring their knowledge and experience to a larger audience and are skilled in communicating that information effectively and without a sales pitch.
They're usually free. Though it may take considerable effort to prepare for and present at a user group, they are usually free of charge for participants. That's good ROI. :)
They're usually driven by people that are passionate about sharing information and about the topic the group is all about. This generally makes for good groups, topics and events.
•What doesn't or shouldn't a user group do?
User groups shouldn't be preachy or overly sales focused. Attendees want to hear about the availability and features and functionality of products, but not get the car salesman pitch.
User groups should not adversely effect a community - they are for the benefit of the community and attendees.
I'm one of the organizers of the Minnesota SharePoint User Group (MNSPUG - www.sharepointmn.com). We meet once a month and will be celebrating our 6th anniversary in May. We generally get 130-160 people between our local attendees and online attendees.