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Behind the Scenes at Your Online Community: Why Backend Planning is a Must

By: Christian Britto 17 Mar 2016

online community content strategy

A community manager is like a stage manager in many ways. They're in charge of coordinating a lot of moving parts, responding to issues as quickly as possible, and keeping everything running smoothly for the audience, regardless of what's going on behind the curtain. 

Would you hire a stage manager to help produce a play without a finished script or costumes? That's how a community manager can feel without the proper tools and content organization in the backend. Backend strategy is a crucial piece of the content strategy puzzle. It often gets overlooked, yet it is the best way to maximize content's value, analyze user activity and measure engagement. 


"The word 'backend' sounds too technical for me..."

Don't think technical. Think strategic organization!

All strategic content initiatives are rooted in understanding the audience you're targeting and how you want them to interact with your organization. Being confident about insight into your target's mindset plays into have well organized, relatable content, which is facilitated by a good backend. The best approach to beginning a backend structure is to draw up the relationships between user interactions, user journeys, and how they're related to your UI. Once you can define how all of 3 of these things are related, you can begin to frame a backend community structure.


Clarify purpose and frontend features first 

Frontend and backend planning are not mutually exclusive. Both strategies need to be in line with your organization's specific goals (both on a large scale and on the smaller user journey scale). So before you get into the nitty gritty of structural talk, when starting an online community, you first need to:

  • Communicate clear goals for the platform
  • Refine a list of features
  • Choose the appropriate base structure for the platform 
  • Define rules about accessibility and membership (if applicable)


online community backend planning









Discuss user needs and folksonomy

Folksonomy is key to understanding how your users mentally organize and consume your content. Essentially, it is the model of how they structure, classify and digest your content in their own minds.  

Understanding user needs and folksonomy involves understand not only what type content they want, but how they expect to access and interact with it.  Structuring communities, features and topics all according to your ideal audience's mentality is the ultimate objective. But accomplishing this will undoubtedly require some upgrades and adjustments along the way. Over time, behavior data and user feedback will be useful in telling you which features to modify, add or retire, along with how you need to adjust your content's taxonomy. These types of changes within your folksonomy and community structure are not only inevitable, but necessary in order to maintain relevance and keep up with technology and expectations. 

Backend design and content management 

Structural maps and white boards will be your best friends throughout this process. Visualizing the content management journey is the best way to identify optimizations and potential roadblocks, so don't be afraid to go all "Beautiful Mind" with this.

Being thorough and imaginative is important, but don't get too carried away with the complexities. You need to stay grounded and make sure that you're not planning for a community structure that exceeds your scope or budget. Communities don't need to be expensive to be effective, but starting at a manageable place and picking a platform that can scale up with you is the best approach. In the end, your backend strategy must make it easy to:

  • Manipulate and leverage content for reuse in different mediums
  • Respond to content from both the organization and other users 
  • Organize content for easy retrieval 
  • Plan distribution on multiple platforms 
  • Avoid content repetition (by both platform and subject)
  • Personalize keywords and content based on the user's location or access source

You should also take special care to avoid a process headache backstage. Having clearly defined roles and permissions for your team members who write, review, approve and publish content is a must. Publishing posts before they're ripe, accidentally deleting content, or throwing off an outline are common mistakes that you can avoid through smart process design. 


Online communities need to be colorful, consistent, and engaging. But not paying enough attention to what's under the hood can lead to limitations and growing pains. Make sure your organization takes backend structural planning seriously and has a clear understanding of how it syncs with the frontend, what you want your user journeys to be, and how you can maximize your content with smart planning. 


Christian Britto

Written by Christian Britto

17 Mar 2016 in community structure, content strategy, online community

Christian is the Operations Manager at rasa.io

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