One of the major questions you have to answer as a community builder is how to structure and organize your community.
At PeerBoard we often hear this question and we've been thinking and learning from our partners to understand what works best. Here are some of the best strategies we found.
Strategy 1: segment by topics
Segmenting content by topic is the go-to strategy for many community creators since an online community forum is usually organized around a set of specific themes.
For example, if your community is about photography, it's logical to assume that your members would like to discuss their gear (cameras, lights), their processes (shooting, post-production) and their works. Structuring your content this way helps them to navigate around and pick topics of interest easily. Here's how it may look like:
Here're a good example of a community doing it this way:
Strategy 2: add segmenting by intent
This is sometimes harder to do, but it pays off nicely since this makes it easier for the members to map your categories to their actual intents as they are creating new posts.
What's cool is that you can often make your topic into an intent. In my example above with the photography community, you can actually change Cameras into Choosing your camera and Clients into Finding clients. This narrows the area down in a way, but here's where our two level structure comes handy. Instead of having a single Finding clients or Selecting camera categories you can create a two level structure.
Note that it's always better to start with intent and then add a topic, since this more closely follows sentence structure with verbs going before nouns, e.g. "I'm looking to buy this camera".
In this case our example would look like this:
- Camera manuals
- Light manuals
Buy and sell
- Cameras for sale
- Lights for sale
Showcase your work
There's inevitably a bit of duplication, but at least you can now provide a very clear mapping of your content to the author and reader intents and topics.
Here's a good example of such a structure below. Jehu did a good job combining topics and intents in a single simple one-level structure. Having topics like "powerwall" and "solar" live next to "share your project" and "request to join".
Strategy 3: segment by audience types
Lastly, I found this to be helpful myself: if your community have very different audiences that don't overlap much, you can create top-level categories for them. We use it in our own community to have separate section for our customers who use WordPress, Shopify and such since they have very different topics that are not relevant to other groups. And, of course, you can combine that with other strategies - topic or intent based.
Check our community for an example of that model:
Refrain from large category trees. Having too many options makes it (confusing for users) to navigate your community. It also potentially decreases post creation, as users can be confused by the excessively wide array of choices, resulting in decision fatigue. Ideally, start with ~5-7 categories total and expand with the time (which will happen inevitably) into up to 20-25, moving to have two levels somewhere along the way.
Don't forget that we have search. Relatedly, don't go too deep into categorization of everything. For example, if you want your members to discuss specific products, don't create individual categories for that, just use post names. Our search works great for finding posts and comments based on a search phrase. For very specific topics search will always be the main way to find things.
Have one catch-all category. So your members can use it when they are not sure what to post about. This also gives you a great tool to collect feedback on what people want to talk about. Call it something like "Other topics" and keep it at the very end so people are not using it by default. When you see a bunch of similarly themed posts accumulate there, create a new category for them and optionally move them to this new category to seed it with good examples.
Have one "release your steam" category. And hide it from your feed and from emails. People always would want to share their complaints and giving them a dedicated outlet for that helps since it also allows you to hide this content from other members.
Share your frameworks and recommendations for all of us to employ!