Category Archives: Help

Level Up Your Community Management Skills with Vanilla Certification

Here at Vanilla, we work hard to pair robust functionality with intuitive design. Why? Because our customers need simple ways to meet their complex needs.

Still, customers come to us with questions—not so much about how to use the software—but how to make the most of it. They’re ready to take their communities to the next level, and they see Vanilla as the catalyst for making that happen.

Does that sound familiar?

Today, we’re pleased to announce our first-ever training course: The Vanilla Certification Program.

In this course, you’ll learn how to use our software to become a rock-star community manager. After successfully completing the program, we’re confident Vanilla will become the #1 weapon in your community management arsenal.

We’ve specifically tailored the course content for whoever handles community management in your organization. It consists of three core components:

  • Online video lectures designed to let you study at your own pace
  • A live session with one of Vanilla’s seasoned product experts
  • A comprehensive exam to prove you know your stuff

Here’s the course in sequence:

Module 1 – In this video lecture, we’ll give you a comprehensive introduction to Vanilla’s software. You’ll also learn how your customers interact with the forums.

Module 2 – In the second lecture, you’ll learn how to properly set up your community on Vanilla. Our instructor will share with you the best practices you need to build a solid foundation.

Module 3 – This third video lecture will show you important features for forum moderation and will teach you essential techniques for effectively managing discussions.

Module 4 – The fourth and final video lecture will acquaint you with Vanilla’s various administrative features so that you can confidently tweak your forum for optimal community interaction.

Module 5 – In this live web session, you’ll learn from one of our product experts about the philosophical, theoretical, and mindset issues that go into community management as well as how best to measure success. They’ll also get you ready for the final exam.

Final Exam – No, you’re not back in college. The final exam is designed to test what you’ve learned and help you identify areas for improvement. Trust us; you’ll do just fine.

Upon successful completion of the course, you’ll receive an official certificate documenting your proficiency in Vanilla. Print it out, put it on your wall, or take it to your boss and demand a raise. Whatever you do with it, you’ll have our official imprimatur as a certified Vanilla pro.

The cost of certification is $200 per person. Contact your Customer Success Manager for more information.

[Product Post] How to Structure Forum Categories for a Growing Community

When setting up a community forum, the last thing you want is conversational chaos. A simple way to keep that from happening is to create categories. As your community grows, you’ll want to revisit your category structure to make sure it provides optimal usability.

Here’s what you need to know about structuring your forum:

Start Simple (Basic Categorization)

Fight the urge to over-categorize.  In a new community, that’ll spread what little content you have too thin. The better move is to concentrate on a few categories and subdivide as your community grows.

Along similar lines, set your community home page to display recent discussions rather than a category listing. A list of recent and active discussions across all categories is more engaging, especially to the first time visitor, than a stark list of categories.

Adding Categories (Nesting and Sub-Categorization)

As your community grows, pay attention to discussion topics. When a topic seems to command sustained attention, consider giving it its own category. As the conversations continue to develop, you may want to subdivide categories. Vanilla lets you nest sub-categories several levels deep. The process is simple: just go to the category management page on your dashboard, click, and drag (see below)

Once you have a large number of categories, lots of traffic and lots of content, you might consider switching your homepage to display a list of categories instead of recent discussions. When making this decision, think from the perspective of your community members, and your community’s subject matter. This decision should not be made based on number of categories or traffic alone.

Higher-Level Organization (Sub-Communities)

If you manage a larger community, you may find yourself grappling with an array of conversations organized around multiple products or different languages. Vanilla’s sub-communities feature can help you make things easier for these different groups.

Let’s say you want to divide your community into three language groups: English, French, and German. Using sub-communities, you can create a unique set of categories for each. This way, you’ll spare your French members the difficulté of slogging through German Diskussion threads to find what they’re looking for.

When Categories Become Unwieldy (Flat Categorization)

There may come a time when your community has more categories than your members can handle. Rather than force them to scroll through dozens of nested categories, you can help them find what they’re looking for with ease. Use our Flat Categories feature to display your entire list of categories in alphabetical order. Members can then navigate directly to the topic that interests them. Even better, they can use the embedded quick search module to find their category immediately.

For more specifics on setting up your forum’s category structure, take a look at Vanilla’s Category Management Documentation.

Community Management 101: Everything You Wanted To Know About Building Your Community From A to Z

community management 101

Launching an online community may be one of the most important things you do for your business or brand. If you’ve never embarked on this path, it can be equal parts daunting and rewarding. It creates a hub of information and interaction between your organization, your fans and customers.

It is a long-term project, not a short-term solution. You must be prepared to build and guide your community towards success and create an atmosphere that fosters engagement from your audience and good will towards your brand.

Properly done, online communities are being used by businesses and organizations just like yours in order to:

  • Gather support of fans and customers
  • Provide support
  • Increase awareness of new and existing products
  • Source valuable information about your target customer
  • Gather feedback on new ideas or existing products

There are a lot of components that go into creating the successful community, and many factors to take into consideration.  We have created this step by step guide in order to support your efforts in creating your community and give you the guidelines you need in order to be successful.

This is a long post. If you want to jump to specific chapters, click on the links below:

Continue reading

Our New Vanilla Documentation Center Refresh

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.46.03 PM

We’ve refreshed our technical, help and training documentation. Here’s a quick recap of what we have done.

As Vanilla evolves and grows, so does the need for better ways to help our customers get more out of their online community forum. We’re also in the process of adding a mountain of new content to this site, which is scheduled to take place over the next 4 months.

We’ve segmented the documentation for our two core audiences:

  • End-user help and training – this section focuses on the perspective of members, moderators, and administrators in their day-to-day use of Vanilla. Here you’ll find lots of step-by-step tutorials, in-depth feature documentation, helpful blogs, and tips on how to get the most out of your community.
  • Open source technical documentation – This is for developers using our Open Source product and that have a functional understanding of PHP, HTML, CSS and Javascript and that are hosting their own community. It can be found here:

The section devoted to API documentation for our commercial version (hosted Vanilla Forums) can be found here.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our technical team and we’d be glad to help you!


Using Forum RSS feeds in a Slack Channel

It’s hard to ignore the impact of a tool like Slack has had on many businesses. It’s an easy way to stay connected to your team, even if you have a distributed team across the country or the world. One tip you may have missed is how you can leverage RSS feeds and Slack – this can help you be more efficient in managing notifications and bringing in content from various locations into one area.

Here is a quick tutorial on how to use the RSS feeds of your community (powered by Vanilla) and a dedicated slack channel.

Identifying the feeds you need in Vanilla Forums

Before you integrate the RSS feeds, you’ll need to decide which feeds you want to follow. With Vanilla, you have access to RSS feeds to public categories, profiles, and activities. To use content from any area of your Vanilla community,  add “/feed.rss” to the end of the URL. Some for example, you want the RSS feed of a category it will look like the following:

If you uncheck the “view” in the Guest roles & permissions, these will not have a public RSS feed and therefore will not be able to be used with this solution.


Get the RSS feed add-on from Slack…or not

Once you have the RSS feed you want you now you need to grab the RSS add-on from Slack. This will allow you to import the information from any RSS feed to any channel you think makes sense. All you need to do is click install.


The other option, is just to use the Slack command /feed subscribe and then the URL or the RSS feed you want. You can do this within any Slack channel you want or create a new one.

To create an area for comments on our blog, I created a new channel. I personally thought it was easier.


Now I need to subscribe to the RSS feed from my Vanilla community. We have all comments going to it’s own category, called “Blog Comments”. As I’ve explained earlier, I just add /feed.rss to the end of the category url, to grab a feed.


We can now enter this command into our Slack channel


SlackBot confirms it’s working and now anyone on this channel will get notified of any new comments on our blog.


Now that you know how to find your RSS feed, tell us how you are using it. Are you using it with Slack, Zapier or another solution?