During a member research interview this week, a member noted ‘I don’t really know the difference between groups and categories’.
That’s not a surprise. Most of the time there isn’t much of a difference. In fact, most of the time the group should simply be a category. It attracts more participation and is easier for members to use.
Groups typically serve one of three purposes:
1) Keep most discussions relevant. A group might be created to prevent the main discussion area from being overwhelmed by a topic which a small group of members are really eager to discuss but the majority aren’t. This is important when a homepage pulls in all the latest discussions. Groups also often serve as places to support different languages without replicating the entire community experience.
2) Provide a place for private, intimate, discussions to happen. A group of members want to be able to share details about themselves or their challenges where only trusted others can see. In this case, groups are typically smaller (often 8 to 12 people).
3) Coordinating actions. Provide a place for coordinating action amongst a small group of members (i.e. superuser groups). People can coordinate activities about what to work on next and it’s an easy means for the community manager to distribute news to all superusers at once.
There are some exceptions. In Salesforce communities, for example, groups serve as a place to post announcements that all subscribed members can see. But this isn’t the best medium to do it.
If your group doesn’t obviously fit into one of these molds, I’d suggest starting a category instead.