When a lot of people think about Community they jump straight to forums.  But the reality is that forums are just a tool in the community toolbox.  To use an analogy, if you think about a plumbers toolbox the tool he uses the most is probably his wrench, forums are the most common tool used in developing community because they are focused on two way communication.  That being said, it is not a requirement to have forums to have a community just look at Amazon (ratings and reviews), Wikipedia (wikis), or even eBay (social eCommerce).

But forums themselves are not all the same, there are many variations of them out there built on different technologies with differing user experiences.  It is important to understand these differences and how they map to your user personas to know which will make the best for your strategy.

forrest lymburner


The Different Styles of Forums

The Two Main Types of Navigation

While this doesn’t apply specifically to forums I do want to take a minute and talk about the big choice you will need to make with your Community on navigation as it deeply affects your user experience.  There are two “high-level” ways you can architect your community…

Both of these models are used widely.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

forrest lymburner


How Many Forums Are Too Many?

There is a great temptation to build out all the topics and categories you need when building your community but it is important to remember that you only get one chance to make a first impression and convert a visitor to a community members.  Because of this I recommend following these guidelines…

A key thing to remember is that every time you add a new section or forum to the community you are splitting off a section of your community membership.  This is a necessary thing to do (Imagine the chaos if Apple didn’t have a separate area for iPad users and iPod users) but you don’t want to do it any more than you absolutely have to.  Remember its a hell of a lot easier to expand then to shrink a community layout.

In a future blog post in this series I will talk about more advanced forum topics like engagement, moderation, guidelines, SPAM, etc but the next blog post in the getting started section will focus on Blogging 101.

Feedback is always appreciated!