The practical elements of community, and how they apply to a formed customer community:
A recognized and respected leader or leaders
Encouraging and calling out a leader - a "mayor" or "general" - of the customer community can be a fun marketing initiative (run a contest) and a way to start the process of self-regulation (take the pressure of determining what is acceptable and unacceptable off the company and put it back on the community).
A gathering place, physical or virtual
Giving customers a place to gather - likely online, but perhaps an actual space even if only sporadically (conventions and the like) - can be a means of either controlling or at least monitoring the dialogue, which will occur regardless of a company's involvement.
Rules (formal or informal)
All communities have rules. The most important ones are normally the ones not written down, such as "don't talk politics in the club, it is frowned upon." It is better if rules for membership in a customer community are developed organically by members, but it doesn't hurt to have the company in question start the process by establishing two or three starter rules.
Rituals, traditions or unique "oddities" tied only to the community, and celebrated over time
Rituals probably form the greatest marketing opportunities for companies with their customer communities. Monitoring traditions as they are established and entrenched over time in the customer community - and then playing to those traditions or rituals through either advertising campaigns ("honouring" what customers have already developed themselves) or special promotions at points in time around rituals - can lead to increased stickiness and immediate revenue opportunities.
Special to the Globe and Mail