Below are the top 10 TUG tips I have learned over the years. I have broken them down into categories relating to people and process.
Having a partner to lead a TUG and share the workload is key. My partner and I tend to permanently own specific responsibilities (like meeting planning, finding venues and recruiting volunteers, hosts and sponsors) rather than swapping ownership of individual meetings.
Sponsorship = Cookie $ BUT Sponsorship != A commercial (or necessarily a speaking spot). It is important to set expectations with sponsors that the TUG is about the community, and needs to relate heavily to Tableau. Most sponsors get this, but some may look to ride the coat tails of Tableau to promote themselves. Beware! Both consultants and software vendors make good sponsors. By the nature of their work, however, consultants will have a hard time not talking about themselves. Our best consultant sponsors have had a client speak on their behalf, or chose not to speak at all.
Having well known thought leaders as guest speakers are a great way to draw a TUG crowd. Thought leaders can come in many forms: Zen Masters, Tableau Execs, authors, industry experts, etc. While it may be intimidating to ask these superstars to speak at your local events, keep in mind that Thought Leaders have an interest in promoting their personal brand, or the brand of their organization. Most thought leaders make their presentations public, so you will be able to get a good sense of their talk ahead of time.
There is a marketing theory that evangelism is less about getting your evangelist customers to bring in new customers, but more about making the evangelists feel special so that they are retained as customers. The same goes for TUG members. Find the strengths of different members of your community, and promote them as evangelists to keep them coming back. We involve our users in a number of ways: as Tableau Doctors, members of panel discussions, "viz contest" winners, keynote speakers or 10 minute "TED" style talks reviewing a cool Tableau trick.
While your TUG may be local or industry specific, your network of support is not. If possible, visit other TUG meetings, attend Quarterly TUG calls run by Tableau and participate in the forums. You will never stop learning. One thing that is universal with the Tableau community, is that there is always someone willing to raise their hand to help.
Having a purpose for a TUG sounds obvious, but without it, the forces and energy of the user group community can quickly divert from core intentions. That purpose is useful to have when sizing up potential speakers, sponsors and even venues. For us, our purpose is to educate the local community and spread the use of Tableau, which in turn bootstraps the collective skills of the community.
The mission is different from the purpose in that is defines how you will execute your purpose. We use periodic surveys to our community to learn about their experience and interests, which in turn inform the mission. There are plenty of tools available for surveys (i.e. Survey Monkey), but my favorite is Google forms. Google forms is mobile optimized, which make use of them in a meeting setting very easy and efficient. They also natively store data in Google Sheets which can be connected to from Tableau to show instant results.
Communication is obviously important to facilitating a community. There are a number of different channels for doing this, from email to social media to your community page on the Tableau website. No one channel will work for all TUGs, and for that matter no one channel will work for all members of single TUG! The key is to diversify you communication strategy. Over time you will be able to track what works, and what does not. Also, provide content that will keep people engaged. Meeting notifications and tips and tricks are great, but job postings, for example, resonate on a whole different level.
Our meetings occur on more or less a monthly frequency. To manage the workload, we create a pipeline of two to three meetings, but keep the focus on the upcoming meeting. Once a meeting is complete, we shift our focus to the next meeting, and try to put another meeting idea in the pipeline. This keeps momentum going, but does not overwhelm us with too much work.
One of the best ways to keep people coming back it to make the meetings fun. As Boston is a big sports town, we have found that meetings at sports venues like Fenway Park (Red Sox), Gillette Stadium (Patriots) are a great draw. Think big! Reach out to the local Tableau sales director to see what cool clients might be available to host a meeting.