This is one the most interesting articles about online user communities written by Kathy Sierra. Available here We have condensed it below to give you an idea. We actively support these ideas in our forum.
Work Connexions Team
There Are No Dumb Questions and There are No Dumb Answers
The best way to grow a user community is to get even the beginners to start answering questions. The more they become involved, the more likely they are to stick with it through the rough spots in their own learning curve, and we all know that having to teach or explain something to another person accelerates our own understanding and memory of the topic. The problem, of course, is that the beginners are… beginners. So, here are a few tips used by javaranch, one of the most successful user communities on the planet
1) Encourage newer users–especially those who’ve been active askers–to start trying to answer questions
One way to help is by making sure that the moderators are not always the Ones Who Know All. Sometimes you have to hold back the experts to give others a chance to step in and give it a try.
2) Give tips on how to answer questions
Post articles and tips on how to answer questions, which also helps people learn to communicate better. You can include tips on how to write articles, teach a tough topic, etc.
3) Tell them it’s OK to guess a little, as long as they ADMIT they’re guessing
4) Adopt a near-zero-tolerance “Be Nice” policy when people answer questions
Don’t allow other participants (especially the more advanced users) to slam anyone’s answer. A lot of technical forums especially are extremely harsh, and have a culture where the regulars say things like, “If you think that, you have no business answering a question. In fact, you have no business even DREAMING about being a programmer. Better keep your paper hat day job, loser.”
5) Teach and encourage the more advanced users (including moderators) how to correct a wrong answer while maintaining the original answerer’s dignity.
And again, zero-tolerance for a**holes. All it takes is one jerk to stop someone from ever trying it again.
6) Re-examine your reward/levels strategy for your community
Is there a clear way for new users to move up the ranks? Are there achievable, meaningful “levels”?
Also, before you point out counter-examples of successful communities like slashdot… remember, I’m talking about user communities–people using a particular product or service–and not just any community. I’m sure there are tons of, say, political forums where a “be nice” policy is not only unneccessary, but most likely impossible.