It’s About Identity
If the topic isn’t part of a member’s identity, you can’t build a typical community.
No-one is in AT&T’s community by choice. Something broke and they want a quick resolution. You shouldn’t try building a sense of community, initiating off-topic discussions, and interviewing your newcomers*.
The name of this game is speed and quality. You need to solve a member’s problem before they’ve had to ask a question. That’s the gold standard you edge closer towards each day.
If the topic is part of a member’s identity, you’re playing a different game. Your members don’t want answers, they want a place to belong. They want to know their peers and see how they compare. They want to achieve a positive distinctiveness.
Most successful communities today are like AT&T. They are customer support based. Members want good answers to tough questions.
If you’re not sure, here’s a simple test. Ask members of your audience to describe themselves. If they mention your topic (e.g. “I’m a programmer”), you can build an identity-based community. If not, build a support community.
Both types of communities work. The secret is being clear about which you’re building.
* you can build a community of superusers among this group.