We are new to the Community philosophy and have created our first portal for our customers. Our company has a number of different product lines. Our product team now has some concerns showing all the customers all the Knowledge Base and Discussion groups for all the products. Has anyone had any experience on segregating out product lines with roles or any other methods? Any concerns, pro / cons?
Mileage will vary significantly based on use case. I've always been of the impression that letting users have access to information about your entire product line makes them much more likely to expand their business with you. If they can't see what your other products do and what people are saying about them, how are they supposed to know what to buy next?
That said, I'd love to hear more about the concerns your team has around this. I have seen some situations where it was advisable for various reasons to only grant access to products/KBs for products which the customer has purchased.
In both my former community and present community, we've had some level of product segregation to contend with. Here's what I've learnt in the process...
In my prior community, we had all the products mixed together under one big community in individual boards. Nothing was separated by roles or categories, so all members had access to every single product. Just to give you an idea of size: well over 500,000 members, well over 100 products, something like 483 boards at the peak (was eventually trimmed down and many boards were archived).
Pros: No role headache chaos; easy for members to move between the various products they were proficient in; shared staffing; easy for us to add new boards; no issues with top level or public search.
Cons: Lots and lots of confusion from members over where they should be posting; increased staff necessary for moderation since everything was so open; not enough guidance or restrictions when it came to making new boards since it was so easy.
In my current community (one of two), we have what we call sub-communities. Each sub-community is independently staffed, trained, and expected to handle themselves with guidance from the admins (I'm one). Some sub-communities are public and don't require a role to access while others are role specific. We use a customized SSO portal to automatically check job codes and assign roles. Size: 6 sub-communities and ~30k members and growing quickly.
Pros: Very little confusion over where to post; not much of a need for top level moderation; able to keep it very neat and trim since adding a new sub-community is a lot of work and requires approval and training.
Cons: Lower successful search rate due to so much information being behind permissioned walls; occasional role assignment chaos.
Hope this helps a little bit. I don't think there's exactly any right or wrong way to do this. Ultimately it's whatever fits your resources and business model best.
We just did a restructure of our English Community where we simplified the top structure (our categories) and consolidated and expanded (depending on the product line) our sub categories or forums.
What was the purpose?
We recently combined products from our Commercial and Consumer product groups and needed to realign those products with the product division's needs. We had the same structure for the forums that we had when we launched way back in 2009, customer and power user feedback was that it was difficult to know where to post a question, and we had to many places to post.
Bottom line was we made sure that customers could easily:
Navigate the site
Our final structure was designed to group similar products into categories, and the forums under those categories were based on major areas of concern from our product divisions. Right now we don't use TKB's because we have such a large web presence and KB articles are located there. But I think the key thing about it was mentioned by @BrianOblinger is that the more information you give your customers, the more transparent you become to your customers and the more they trust you and will buy from you again.
So in a nutshell I'd say:
Build a structure based on what you think are the most important parts, based on input from stakeholders
Make it easy for users to perform the tasks they come to your forum for
Be transparent and provide as much information as you can, there are always some limitations to this...but put what you can out there
Hope that helps