Ciara Brennan posted a link to an interview with current CEO Adam Selipsky, "Tableau Software - tackling the data mountain" Article in gigabitmagazine, and focused on the community piece of it. To recap:
From Adam Selipsky in the interview by GigaBit magazine, Tableau Software: Tackling the data mountain | Cloud Computing | GigaBit,
“The company also has this really unusual and unique asset – and that’s the Tableau community. It's an incredibly energizing group to be a part of and frankly, it's also an incredibly important asset for the company. It's not easily matched by spending money on it. It’s something I think has been very carefully nurtured over a great number of years.”
This is my commentary on it:
Adam is correct in that having a great community is not something that can be created by just throwing money at it and it does take time. Now, that's not to say money is completely out of the equation! Funding is necessary for hiring quality personnel for the social spaces and, in our community forums, for decent software. I'm sure monies are needed in other aspects of creating, building, and maintaining a customer community as well -- Zen and Ambassador programs, Tableau Conferences, swag, etc.
For over 20 years I've been in a lot of community forums (email lists and bulletin-boards before forums existed) -- both for my hobbies and for work. I even set up and admin'd a forum on my server for a buddy's automotive repair shop. While every forum will have its share of experts, it's the sense of positive community and friendships that can pull people together to build something that is greater. I've left a leading, subject-specific enthusiast forum because I finally had enough of the negativity. Having a thick skin is one thing but requiring to be armored for most conversations is ridiculous! Establishing and maintaining a friendly environment definitely takes more effort, predominantly on the house-side of the equation: The admin/moderation team must have rules that they enforce and model (i.e. walk the walk).
What I find unique about the Tableau community forums is that they are highly successful despite being owned & operated by Tableau. The majority of forums are started by an enthusiast and if it's created early enough it tends to be the leader; the one where most will solicit. The enthusiast-owned forums typically run pre-built forum software that is regularly updated, make use of custom settings, and a moderation team is quickly established. On the flip-side, corporate-run forums are typically sterile: Cheap software, minimal moderation, minimal answers from staff that require little product knowledge relying on canned scripts and end-users to fill the gaps. They tend to generate more frustration than answers when it comes to questions not readily found in the documentation. Tableau was smart to use a dedicated forum package and after a few years they finally implemented forum moderators.
While I believe the gamification (points & badges) assists to engage and encourage participation to help others, I think that there were a small yet active cohort of Tableau Desktop users that were the spark that started the strong community we see today. Their posts of gathering details and then explaining their answers, being professional yet personable and caring, set the tone of the forums. By setting a consistent example and encouraging others to learn and increase their own skills by participating in answering questions really got the "community" ball going! I think this was the "special sauce" that gave life to the Tableau community and what makes it unique compared to other corporate-run forums. With the inclusion of additional social media outlets the community grew and TC attendance -- putting faces to the names along with face-to-face interaction -- accelerated the maturation of community as we now know it.
Tableau's community is a rare asset that not only benefits the company but the users of the products it produces. It's a synergistic system that other companies could emulate to positively differentiate themselves from competitors and provide a more satisfying user experience.