Community Structure


(Ruari Fairbairns) #1

Hi @HAWK, @richard_millington @todd_nilson, @alenarybik and @bruno_boutot.

I am working on a community in buddypress. The Site will go live with some friendly 20-30 users in the next week or so. But I need to know how to structure the Forum so as best to create a welcoming environment for our new users. (Surely this is something everyone goes through, so apologies if its a silly question!)

Users signup to take 90 days off booze and focus on diet, exercise and the mind. We send them 90 days of content with links back to the forum. A day might be - Restock your fridge from Alcohol to Non-Alcoholic beers, or Call the ring leader in your group and get him onside before going to the pub on friday. etc.

The Content is broken into Sprints each two weeks long, so we thought perhaps segment it by sprint. But I don’t think that will mean much to people.

Also - For anyone who knows buddypress well, I’m worried its very clunky. I haven’t worked out how to segment Groups vs Forums and how that should flow. Perhaps I leave that all for the users to map out my community? But my gut tells me the rooms and areas need to be laid out and planned well prior to their arrival to foster the right environment.

Any help appreciated. many thanks.

(Sarah Hawk) #2

In my experience, people find it hard to put aside their own biases tend to build forums for how they think people will use them. The reality is usually very different, so they end up with lots of empty sub-forums, which doesn’t give the impression of a busy, healthy community. People will be influenced by the behaviour of others, so you want the place to look thriving if you’re going to motivate people to participate.

Start very small. You can see that we only have 4 public forums here (and only 1 of them is actually for discussions). Once you have enough content, you can make decisions about what categories you need based on the behaviour of your users.

You need to design intuitively so that people can quickly and easily post without having to invest lots of time thinking. If you don’t, they won’t bother.

You don’t need to worry about people finding posts, because they won’t scroll through them, they’ll search.

Without a deep understanding of your community, I’d suggest 1-3 forums to start with. Maybe one for discussion, one for resources and one for forum support.

(Richard Millington) #3

Agree with @hawk here.

One thing I’d think about is what you call and name the community. Is it sharing advice that’s going to be the hardest part? Thinking about how AA functions, they tend to use sponsors people can call when they feel tempted/pressured. I’d think about introducing a community side of that. People to just write in when they’re feeling tempted to break the one year of no beer challenge.

(Ruari Fairbairns) #4

@richard_millington, @HAWK

That is all extremely helpful stuff. I will start with 3 simple Forum segments and populate a bit of content and see how we go.

I’m slightly sad to see how simple it is to post and comment on this forum vs our current buddypress configuration. It seems to be vastly overcomplicated and clunky. I will hope to hear from your buddypress pro’s above and perhaps they could shed some light on its usability. We previously were going to use Muut, but I thought it was too bland… hey ho!

@richard_millington - yes really good thinking. We hoped in time for a user to be able to engage with support / community via the app. So far our users have just been whatsapping us when they need help but that’s unsustainable. Maybe a Slack group would be a useful place for instant support / chat form the community? Or maybe its possible within buddypress but I think v unlikely. We are also using Intercom on the site but that’s for OYNB to interact with customers, rather than the community support itself via instant messaging etc.

(Sarah Hawk) #5

I think you’ll probably find that with any old vs new technology. Buddypress is great as an entry level solution, especially for WordPress based platforms in organisations with very little technical resource, but I agree with you – it isn’t at all slick.

(Angelo Luciani) #6

I agree start small, encourage folks to use labels and tags and as you find discussion growing around a specific topic, it may be useful to create a new forum around that topic.

We had a lot of forums and I pulled back and consolidated. As discussion grow around a topic we consider creating a forum for that topic.

Fewer forums, deeper discussions rather than more forums, with little activity.

(tophee) #7

I’m surprised that this topic has not created more discussion. Perhaps most of us are taking over an existing forum rather than building one from scratch?

In any case, I’m wondering if we could put together something like a generic forum structure that could be adopted as a template for different communities and, - important! - which is easily expandable as the community grows?

To be clear, what I have in mind is a set of generic categories (the term used on discourse forums like this one). Apart from categories, forum software usually gives you a second structuring tool: tags (or keywords). As I see it, the big challenge is to identify which dimensions to tackle with tags and which to put into categories.

So, for example, if your forum is about parenting, chances are that members will discuss books about parenting. Do you want a book category or a book tag (that will work across categories)? In this example most will probably opt for the books tag because chances are that books come up across different categories and so the tag provides a way of finding all topics about books across categories.

But if your community is for students of nursing, a book books category (or maybe literature more broadly) might make sense because books obviously play an important role for students. These are maybe not the best examples, but I hope you get the idea.

So, to start with, what can we come up with a rule of thumb for categories vs tags?

My first shot at this would be something like: categories are for different activities or purposes that people would pursue in these categories (classic example: the marketplace or classified category) and tags are more about the content of that activity.

The advantage of activity based categories would be that they could function as inspiration for new or potential members regarding what kind of things they can do on this forum. And once a category grows a lot, it should be easy to identify different types of topics going on in that category and create sub-categories for these (e.g. the marketplace could be subdivided according to geographic location or type of product, depending on what makes more sense based on what’s been going on in the past).

So then, how about some generic categories that we often see on forum? Do they work or do CMs just keep reproducing them because they seem to make sense? Examples might be:

  1. General discussion
  2. Meta/site feedback/forum support/help
  3. Introduce yourself
  4. News and Updates / Announcements
  5. Instrumental discussions: A category where members can achieve a specific goal such as give/receive advice and mutual support
  6. Non-instrumental discussions: A category for story telling/ sharing of experiences/ links to stuff on the web “just for fun”

That’s already six categories! And note how only the last two are specific to your community. What do you think? Does that make sense in your community?

In mine, I also have a “Research” category, dedicated to academic discussions (whereas the community as a whole includes both academics and practitioners) as well as a “Tools & Methods” category, which is somewhat on between the instrumental (called How-to on my forum) and non-instrumental (called Stories & Pics) because it invites the sharing of tools and methods regardless of a specific use case.

(Katelyn MacKenzie) #8

I would love to see a generic forum structure! I will be building one from scratch if we get the support from the C-levels. Ours will be more support driven, but wouldnt mind seeing a template

(tophee) #9

So this one won’t work for you?

(Sarah Hawk) #10

I’d tend to go even more streamlined in the first instance, until you know what people will use.

I’d go for Forum Support (or meta), Off topic, and then one or two categories that relate to the subject.
I’d split out more categories from the last one or two as you grow.

I’d avoid a whole Intros category – it’ll be filled with rubbish. Most people don’t read back through them so a single topic should do the trick.

(Richard Millington) #11

@katelynrae sounds exciting to launch a new community.

For a support community, you probably want to base it around your product lines or categories.

Check out Lithium’s twitter feed for new communities they’ve launched. Then see how they structure their communities around product categories. You can start with nothing and then expand early on as you see each category emerging. But you probably don’t need an introduce yourself an area for it.

(Waldemar Helm) #12

A bit late, but maybe it helps someone with a similar question.

Our community is support/service driven too ( We structered our community by product categories. We had for years a very big structure with a lot of boards. For example a category for Routers and then one board for every Router modell the company released and are still in use. Same structure in many other topics. Our experience was that this was to much for new users. Users which are very often in a community and have more technical knowledge like such a structure. But for new users it is to complicated. And we had a lot of boards with not much activity because this sub-topic was too small or the product was old and not as many people used this product anymore. We wanted to reach with our community all our customers, not only the technical one.

So we changed 2015 the structure and streamlined it. We now have only 4-5 main categories for the main product categories (for example Home, Mobile, E-Mail, Software, …) and then one category for community related topics (community life). In this main categories we try to have max. 5 boards for more specific product categery (for example in Home, Contract & Bills, Telephone & Internet, TV, Smart Home. Devices). Heavy users which need to filter more deeply (for example if someone is an expert in a specific router model), can filter the categories and boards with tags. This worked very good for our community and helped our community to grow and get more active in most of the boards.

We will restructure our community again this or next month because our community has grown and has new offers (for example a place for product consultation/sales or a test laboratory where we test new products/software with our customers/community members, etc.). But we still use the same approach for structuring our community.

@katelynrae: How did you solved it in your community?