Categorize Your Content in a Way That Makes Sense

You’re wondering how to deal with your business’ growing collection of files, folders, and content.

Haphazardly putting things wherever and dealing with them later just makes more work for you in the long run.

You need a way to organize your stuff—inexpensively and easily. You want to avoid the the six figure investment and weeks-long staff training associated with taxonomy systems and their consultants.

In other words, you need a folksonomy or a tagging system.

The basis for social media’s ubiquitous hashtags, folksonomies are a manner of organizing resources where users tag content with digital tags in their own words.

Aside from social media, folksonomies work well for enterprises, small and medium business, or cross-department teams as an effective way to organize your stuff now with the aim of easily finding it later.

Read on to learn more about how and why you should set up a folksonomy for your business today.


Folksonomies help you find stuff easily.

Consisting of three main parts: 1) The content being tagged, 2) the user doing the tagging, 3) the tags being used, tagging systems let you draw on two of the three to find the third.

For example, you’re able to search the tags you (the USER) have tagged to find the content (‘resources’ in the above image) you’re after.

Tagging systems are also much more affordable than other methods of organizing on the market. Implementing a full-fledged taxonomy system for the office could set you back an easy $100K.

This is not so much the case for folksonomies where all you need is a content management system which allows for tagging and a willingness to participate from your team members.

Lastly, they’re very flexible. Your business is always growing and changing —and that’s how it should be. Dynamism breeds success, and you want a way to organize your things that can move with you.


This is a power to the people kind of system, which means that to truly capitalize on your folksonomy, you want to have an actively contributing community.

The more people contribute, the more robust and comprehensive a tag library you’ll build. These contributions will come as users retrieve older materials or create new ones and tag them accordingly.

In order to foster a willingness to contribute tags, we recommend making your tagging system as useful as possible to your users. See our tips below to find out exactly how.


  1. Leverage Badges to Bring Structure and Order to Your System

While traditional folksonomies are totally user-governed, we think the opportunity for some structure makes them better suited for the business world.

We’ve created Badges as a core feature of Shelf to help solve this issue. With the availability of Badges, an organization and its users have a best of both worlds situation where their user-governed tags are framed in a more structured way.

Badges are different from tags in that they are determined by the system administrator and are best used when centered around workflow indicators, conceptual topics, or terminology that’s commonly used within the organization.

Tags are a bottom-up approach to categorization, as the user creates them, while Badges are a top-down approach, as the organization designates them.

Badges will vary business to business, but may include:

  • Best Practice
  • Staff Recommendation
  • Most Popular
  • Core Value
  • Lesson Learned

See our September update about predetermining badges here.

  1. Be Consistent

How will you deal with plurals, capital letters, and spaces? We recommend you axe them all together unless you need them for specific business purposes.

For example, “report” is a cleaner and more inclusive tag that the alternatives of:

  • Report
  • Reports
  • reports

Keep it simple and condense the four options down to one. No capitals and no plurals. Over-complicating the matter is the opposite of what we’re going for here.

  1. Use Badges and Tags to Your Advantage

If you find that your employees are frequently using the same tags, consider making them a part of your organization’s taxonomy by re-purposing them as Badges.

Because Badges are more finite, being fixed and managed in a separate index, you’re able to designate company-wide meaning to them.

For example, say you’re the Shelf system administrator of digital marketing firm whose users are regularly tagging, “tips,” “tricks,” and “best practices.”

Consolidating all three into a Badge called, “Best Practices” will streamline your tagging library and, by the power of suggestion, make it more likely your users will identify content as such.

Additionally, you create an opportunity for a more dynamic categorization of the content; users can select the “Best Practices” Badge and then add more specific subcategories through tags. This will ultimately lead to a more effective find and retrieval process because you’re creating multiple routes to the same material.

  1. Match Your Badges and Tags with Your Business Goals

Base your initial Badges and tags around the business goals your company or department is focused on.

A taxonomic term, such as a Badge, confers a degree of authority to that term. For this reason, it’s important that your taxonomy is made up of the terms that are most important to your business, and nothing more.

In the context of Shelf’ Badges, it’s more valuable to have 5 really good Badges than it is to have 20, where 15 are of secondary importance.

Have a team brainstorm session where you discuss the various ways you regularly refer to and identify the content you handle most often. This will give you a good list from which you can narrow down the finalists.

  1. Review Regularly

Duplicates are bound to occur in folksonomies. To keep things clean and tight, schedule 30 minutes per month to review your tag library so you can make edits and delete redundant ones.



  1. Don’t Try to Micromanage Everything

We’re looking for the sweet spot, people. Do create fixed-tags through Badges in Shelf for the terms your employees regularly use, but don’t pre-determine all vocab, put them into a spreadsheet, and email them to your team members to use.

The great functionality of tagging systems comes from the human element of it—let your users tag as they see fit. By doing this, you are effectively crowdsourcing the categorization process. The end result will be a more comprehensive tag library as it’s built on the various insights and opinions each of your valued team members has contributed.

  1. Don’t Forget to Audit and Amend Your Badges and Tags Differently

We’ve already established that Badges are top-level designated “tags” which have a more permanent place in your tagging system as part of your taxonomy and require very little pruning.

Despite requiring less general upkeep, making changes to this set of core-concepts can be very powerful. By doing this, you create the possibility for change to your organizational structure in a very strategic way.

However, tags are dynamic and more prone to change. Thus the upkeep required to ensure that your Tag library is in working order is different. More of an administrative task, tag library audits and edits should be aimed at keeping the tag library list clean and streamlined.  

  1. Don’t Forget About Synonyms

Synonyms are destined to occur as folksonomies operate with different users tagging content. It’s highly likely that you’ll end up with people using different words or terms for the same thing.

Do yourself a favor and put some thought into this ahead of time. What are the terms that are likely to be used synonymously in your business? After your brainstorm session, decided which one you’d prefer your employees use and let them know when you debut the tagging system.

For example, would you rather you sales team use “sales_proposal” or “pitch_deck” to describe their sales material?



  1. In with the New

Do yourself a favor and start with current projects. Much like our post where we talk about taxonomies for your business, we recommend you begin with work that’s being done now.

You’ll drive yourself and your team crazy if you attempt to tag your entire company’s repository of content immediately.

Start small, and allow your users time to adjust to the new system by tagging current projects. Then, as they refer back to older content or pull up material, have them tag accordingly. This is an ongoing process.

  1. Decide on Some Badges Before Debuting the System

You know those Badges we keep harping on? Pre-determine a few of them before unrolling your new tagging system.

Everyone likes examples; they help us contextualize otherwise random information. By equipping your team with some fixed-tags in the form of Badges right away, you remove the need for them to produce categories on their own.

  1. Create a Strong Process Document

We’re trying to cut down on the ungodly number of emails that pour into our inboxes each day—make sure your team’s on the same page as you with a strong Process Doc to do the same.

Before debuting your tagging system, create a Process Document employees can refer to with questions and designate an owner to care for it.

Encourage your users to identify holes in the system, areas of confusion, and opportunities for improvement as they begin to use your new tagging system and email them to the document owner. Then, make sure this person updates the process document as least once a month to reflect current practices and incorporate solutions.

**Shelf Pro Tip** Create a Wiki Page directly within Shelf so changing the process is fluid and clearly visible to the users of the system.

  1. Keep an Updated List of Tags

Be sure you keep a running list of tags somewhere separate from the fixed or controlled vocab you have for other purposes. Shelf does this through it’s Tag Library feature.


We want to help our users help themselves by letting them organize content in their own words, through folksonomies and tagging systems.

Stringent folder and file pathways of taxonomies can be too rigid for many businesses and users.

Zero in on the content—not the path—with folksonomies and watch your employees increase productivity as they find the information needed to do their jobs faster and more efficiently.

Add a human element to your company’s organizational method with folksonomies. Allow your users to think and search in their own terms, and see what they can discover.