When setting up your community forum for the first time, there are many feature and design choices to consider. It’s sometimes tempting to either just turn on everything or leave the default settings in place. Before making configuration decisions, it’s worth spending some time thinking about your audience and the kind of user experience you want for them.
A good place to start is to build a few personas. Personas are realistic representations of the people that will be using your community. The persona should include goals, demographics, physical environment, devices used to access the web, etc. For example Katie is a college educated first time mother taking a maternity leave. Katie is looking for advice from other first time mothers. She’s usually accessing the community from her phone using one hand while taking care of her baby with the other. Bob is an IT help desk professional inside a large corporation. Bob is glued to his desktop PC and can handle up to 50 tickets per day, many of them urgent. Bob takes pride in being an expert when it comes to configuring Acme access points and switches. Here’s a great video on how to develop complete personas. http://uxmastery.com/create-ux-personas/
Once you have your main personas defined, you can step into their shoes and get to work configuring your community.
Layout and theme design
Katie is probably engrossed in the content, not so much the stuff that goes around it, she also wants a very user friendly mobile experience. A minimalist design would work for her. Bob on the other hand is a power user who will appreciate more navigation and search options. There are many more design considerations include font size and colours. For example, gamers that are on the community late at night will find a dark background easier on the eyes.
Too many plugins might confuse community members and distract from the task at hand. Ask yourself, which plugins and features are going to add the most value to my specific customers? Some plugins are designed to solve specific problems and some add ‘nice to have’ functionality. Katie loves having and extended emoticon set because a picture is worth a thousand words. Bob needs advanced search and really appreciates the reputation plugins that allow his own reputation to be displayed alongside his posts.
One of the most difficult choices to make is around the amount of text formatting control you’ll give your members. Do they get a full WYSIWYG and the ability to apply HTML formatting or will it be restricted to plain text. Sometimes the user experience also has be balanced with aesthetics and unwelcome user behaviour. If you are a luxury brand, you probably don’t want posts written in orange 48 pt Comic Sans.
One last consideration which your may or may not consider to be part of configuration is putting in place guidelines and how to resources for new members. Having defined good personas will help you create resources that have the right content and tone. Katie hasn’t participated in online communities and appreciates lots of help and a welcome video. Bob just wants to jump in.