The world’s most successful online businesses are more than just websites; they’re also platforms that power entire communities.
This makes sense, considering the user community makes a brand powerful in the first place. Popular online communities like GoodReads, DeviantArt, or CouchSurfing work because they empower users to meaningfully interact with one another in ways that other websites do not.
But the focus of online communities is not limited to hobbies like reading, drawing, and traveling. They also play an important role in the commercial enterprise – just look at Amazon’s comprehensive review community and the company’s crackdown on illicit community abuse.
Amazon customers rely on one another to choose from the e-commerce giant’s network of third-party dealers. The user community is an integral part of what makes that platform valuable in the first place, and this value can extend to any online business today. Product leaders and web developers who design with user communities in mind position themselves for market dominance.
How to Design for a Community of Users
Since the advent of social media, almost every online company has worked to incorporate community interaction into its core business – some more successfully than others. Web entrepreneurs who pay attention to the industry’s successes and learn from its failures are best positioned to become the leaders of tomorrow’s online marketplace.
Designing website functionality for a community of users is an inherently user experience (UX)-focused task. UX design experts use the following strategies to encourage user contribution and grow their websites into reputable web platforms.
1. Design for Value-Oriented Contribution
Web developers must solve two problems simultaneously when developing for user communities. They need to show the value of the community itself and make it easy for users to browse through and contribute to that content.
The most practical way to achieve these goals is simple: Design the website with a consistent focus on its users’ purpose. TripAdvisor offers a great example of how this works in practice. Whether browsing or posting about hotels, flights, restaurants, or vacation rentals, there is no part of the TripAdvisor website that isn’t designed for the goal of planning the perfect trip.
2. Accommodate Users at Every Stage
To design a community website for value-oriented contribution, you must define those contributions for users. Most users follow a predictable pattern – starting as casual browsers, becoming committed searchers, then turning into valuable contributors. The website should accommodate every stage of that path.
One of the most effective and popular ways that community websites do this is through an activity feed. Having a unifying website structure that accommodates every stage of the user journey prevents UX friction.
3. Develop Separate Home Pages
One of your website’s most important pages is its homepage. This is every user’s first impression, and it needs to adapt to their expectations as well as their stage in the user journey.
The easiest and most effective way to do this is by developing a homepage for website visitors who aren’t signed in, and a similar homepage for users who are signed in. While the structure of these pages should be visually similar, the content must be completely different. First-time visitors need to glimpse at the breadth and depth of the content your platform offers, while signed-in users need immediate access to the content that interests them most.
4. Excellent Navigation and Usability
When it comes to UX design, innovation isn’t always a good thing. While there are many opportunities to advance upon the most popular principles of the user experience, overengineering can paradoxically make things harder while you attempt to make them easier.
This is especially evident in website navigation. Studies have shown that adhering to well-known UX patterns that rely on users’ existing expectations and psychomotor skills produce better results than navigation and usability innovation. Online communities tend to have a very large surface area and must be easily navigable from any page to almost any other.
5. Highly Personalized User Profiles
Because your community’s users are its most valuable asset, you want to encourage them to contribute as much as possible. Users with highly customized profiles tend to spend more time creating and sharing content. Nudge your users towards creating more complete profiles to encourage greater content volume.
This also plays into UX design for business communities, where unique employee profiles can make it easier for users to identify official employee or executive accounts when communicating or planning events with one another.
Be Your Users’ Social Facilitator
A great community website acts like the gracious host of a formal party, introducing guests to one another and fostering a sense of togetherness that would not occur on its own. This approach guarantees sustainable user contributions, whether your user community is made up of unknown website visitors, existing leads, or even company employees.