In reading Patrick O’Keefe’s Managing Online Forums, the most significant lesson seems to be that starting an online community is a significant endeavour (there’s a long chapter on “Banning Users and Dealing with Chaos”). Another significant lesson seems to lie in the fact that the “Making Money” chapter is very short. If neither of these lessons are a deterrent, the book is a good survey of important considerations when creating a community, and has a few insights into the area of motivating users to contribute (“user promotion,” “member of the month,” “awards programs”). Like many real-life constructed communities, in my experience, online communities can start with a fury of activity and attention, and then slowly dwindle, and usually the path of least effort is going where your users already gather (Facebook, Linkedin, etc). But if you have the resolve to create your own, this book is a good reference.
The goal of customer experience management (CEM) is to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate. When you match customer advocacy with a social media channel such as an online community, you can end up with the customer as the service, where advocates answer questions and provide solutions to other customers’ issues. As noted in Shel Israel’s post about the SAP mentors initiative: “When customers defend a company, it has greater influence than anything a company spokesperson could hope to accomplish.” This can definitely relive some of the burden on your technical support team, but they’ll still need to listen to the conversation, even if they don’t always participate.