The most obvious way of structuring your community is by creating various groups. They can almost be seen as smaller communities within a bigger community.
Groups can be a very powerful tool to build a community when done correctly. Be careful because having lots of small groups with very few members and activity can make your entire community look inactive.
If you’re worried that too many groups might fragment the community, as a site manager, you can disable the group creation function for regular users. Besides, you can also disable the creation of certain type of groups (public group, open group or closed group). This way you will have complete control over the community structure.
However, when you manage groups well they can provide great added value to your community and help you ease your workload by keeping it active. This is because you will basically end up dividing your community into smaller groups with multiple (volunteer) groups and/ or community members. Just be sure you don’t divide your community into groups too soon.
Groups can have a variety of purposes:
Local groups where users can ‘meet’ other users who live nearby
Groups related to a specific project or event
Groups related to an urgent matter
And so on….
Before inviting users: set-up a default group structure
If you don't want your users to start creating groups without a good strategy, then you need to define a group structure for them. Try to think of what kind of groups would be most interesting for the community. And if you have an existing community, find the right person who can manage it for you.
Set up these groups before inviting the users and welcome new users by explaining the group structure. Explain which groups are open to join and which ones might be interesting for them. Optionally, you can also point them to interesting groups that are closed and explain to them how they can get invited.
Define your group creation 'workflow'
After explaining the main structure, you can (and must) still encourage users to create groups if they think it would suit their needs.
Depending on the type of community, you could set up one of these workflows for group creation:
- Strict: your members should contact a community manager when they want to create a group. Let them briefly explain what the goal is and how they are thinking of managing it.
- Medium: everyone can create a group but community managers will contact the group managers privately to discuss their task/responsibilities. Also, you need to explain that inactive groups will be closed.
- Open: everyone can create a group and community managers will run through the list of inactive groups and take action on them once every X months.
- An effective way to manage your community once it starts splitting off into groups is by creating a group for all the group managers. This is so they can ask questions and share ideas about how to maintain an active group.
- Encourage users to start with a discussion topic, to see if the need for a group grows within the discussion topic.