When Max and I started a restaurant a few years ago we knew that the core of our business had to be regular customers. We began with just a few people who came in almost every day, and we made sure that they felt special, and that other customers could see how valued they were. We'd do stuff like refer business to them, or occasionally give them and whoever they're with a free round of coffees. This not only kept them coming back, but it also created a sense of aspiration among other customers who also wanted to be recognised and valued. The business gained a phenomenal amount of regular customers, and became virtually immune to the usual seasonal boom and busts that many other restaurants in Cape Town experience.

This same principle of having a conspicuous hierarchy of regular customers applies very strongly to building and sustaining online communities. Digg, for example, used to have a list of "Top 100 Diggers" which was very hotly contested because appearing on that list gave those users power and reknown. Unfortunately Digg has now removed the list from their site, and is already starting to lose top users. One of them, Greg Hartnett writes:
So this is how I see it playing out: more and more top users will continue the exodus, which will in turn contribute to the deterioration of the quality of the content being submitted. The SEO crowd, and others trying to game Digg, will continue with their efforts, and an even greater percentage of front page stories will have gotten there through artificial means. Average users will grow tired of the spam (or perceived spam) and return less and less often. Daily visitors will diminish over time, resulting in a front page story that generates a couple of hundred visitors. At this point, the SEO crowd will realise that the ROI is no longer there, and they'll move on to the traffic generator du jour. In their wake, they'll leave Digg in shambles - a mere shell of the site it had once been.

In the end, Digg founders and investors will be left scratching their heads at what went wrong.  You should have nurtured your top users - not screwed them.