Well you probably have a set of questions that you know people either have asked or will ask. Your first Topic should therefore be FAQ and you can list each one of your questions and the response. I’d suggest that you close this topic, so that users can’t simply add more comments or responses – set up a separate Topic for them to do that. Best to keep the FAQ section clean as it will be somewhere that you would expect a lot of traffic.
Developing the community
Allow new topics to spring up in something like an “Ask the Community” topic or subforum. You could divide this from the start into “Questions” and “Successes”. Encourage users who have a query which isn’t covered in the FAQ to put it in the Questions section. You will naturally need to haunt this forum in order to provide answers, but you may well find that there are other enthusiasts who take part regularly. If some of these are genuinely helpful and keen, it could be worth your while to set them up as official “gurus” with some kind of incentive. As these are people who are not employed by you, you must remember to add some sort of disclaimer about answers on the site being given in good faith, and that views expressed are not necessarily representative of the Company.
As your community develops, you will need to keep a close eye on the content of your forum. If it starts to really get going, you may no longer be able to manage moderation (i.e. policing the content) yourself and you may need to rope in other moderators. This is where enthusiastic community members could perhaps be enlisted if you don’t have enough people in-house to manage it. You’ll need a set of clear rules for the forum, to ensure a consistent approach and avoid argument. Moderators should be invited, and some sort of incentive such as a discount for long-service or answering a particular number of queries could be a good idea. Special “rank” seems to go down well. Don’t forget that if the moderators themselves operate their own websites, and they are allowed to use a signature including a link, then that gives an additional benefit of increasing traffic to their site and is an incentive in its own right.
Don’t forget to collect more FAQ from regular queries in the forum. Your main aim is customer service, and a customer would rather be able to go straight to the right place for an answer. I’ve seen too many boards where the answer to a common question is buried in a long discussion somewhere.
Which leads to another Must – make sure you have a good search facility as the forum grows. Only the desperate are going to spend a long time looking for an answer to their query. If they don’t find it quickly, they’ll search elsewhere and you’ll lose control of the answer they are given….