As your community grows, it's natural for it to diversify. The traditional forum structure of discussion categories can start to break down when hundreds of users need special permission changes to access private areas on an ongoing basis. That structure also doesn't handle community events well. A popular workaround is to "Announce" an event's discussion until it's over, but that's really just a hack. In creating Groups, we set out to solve the membership and event problems.
Groups is a new addon immediately available to Advanced, Enterprise, and VIP clients on vanillaforums.com. Using Groups, you can create private or public groups with their own discussions; allow anyone to join or control membership; and schedule events for your group.
Before you turn on Groups and start adding them, here are a few important things to consider:
1. Is your site ready for Groups?
If you have less than a few hundred members, you're probably not ready for Groups. Groups can cause discussion to fragment on your community. This can be healthy in large communities, but can make your main forums look much slower and deserted on smaller communities.
When in doubt, we recommend waiting to use Groups. The feature will be there when you're ready for it, and your community will benefit from your patience.
2. Who will create new groups?
We strongly recommend reserving the ability to start a new group to administrators and (possibly) moderators. It's far better to have a small, curated list of groups with active participation than to allow a glut of groups to cause participation to become spread out. If you have 100 groups and only 3 are truly active, it will make your community look like a ghost town. If you have five groups and all five are healthy, your community will look vibrant and alive. Richard Millington at FeverBee.com has more great advice on restricting group creation.
3. Who will maintain each Group?
Groups can be assigned Leaders who are responsible for posting announcements, curating its discussions, and creating events. Without a strong leader for each group, they'll quickly fall by the wayside. When you create a group, have someone in mind who will be responsible for its health. If the answer for more than two groups is "Me!" then we recommend waiting to create more groups until you have more people ready to lead them. Most people quickly burn out if they're in charge of managing too many groups, and it will be your community members who suffer for it.
I'm ready for Groups
OK! To enable Groups, start by going to your Dashboard, then clicking "Browse Addons" in the menu, and then clicking "Enable" on the Groups addon. Now go to your main forum page and click "Groups" in the main navigation. (If you have a heavily customized theme, you may need to contact support to have this added manually. If so, go to yourforum.com/groups for now to see the new Groups page until it's added to your theme. Ask support if you're confused how to get there.)
To start a new Group, click the "New Group" button. You'll have some basic options for how you want the group to work, and two images to upload: an icon, and a banner. The icon is like an "avatar" for your group. It will show up anywhere groups are listed. The banner is a large image that will straddle the top of your group's homepage. It adds flavor and context to what your group is all about. A cropped photo (short and wide, like a landscape) works great here.
Once you create a group or two you'll have some more options:
- Start a discussion in your group to get things moving. Welcome folks to it!
- Invite people to join your group
- Pick 1 or more leaders (other than yourself) to manage the group
- Schedule any upcoming events to tell your group about them
Back on the "Groups" page, you'll see several sections: My Groups, New Groups, and Popular Groups. These will change as you add more and more groups and people join them. Keep an eye on this page to quickly see what groups are forming and growing the most.
We're really excited to bring you the new Groups addon and see how your communities use it to grow and organize. Let us know what you think of Groups and what you'd like to see changed or added in the future. We'll be using your feedback to hone and improve it in the coming months and years.