As a flexible content management system that’s here to stay, WordPress is an excellent place to set up your online community. However, you may only be accustomed to using the platform for blogging, and not sure how to best adapt it for a community website.
Fortunately, you can create just about any type of online community you can imagine, thanks to the variety of relevant plugins that seamlessly integrate with WordPress. There are tools that will help you build fan sites, support networks, interest-based groups, and more.
In this post, we’ll talk about why you might want to create an online community in the first place. Then we’ll highlight a few of the best plugins for doing so, and introduce their key features. Let’s get started!
Why to Create an Online Community
An online community – such as a forum, social media network, web page, or membership site – is a platform where like-minded individuals can join together. These communities can be intended for support, for networking, or even just for fun.
Creating your own community brings a number of benefits, whether you’re a business owner, a blogger, or just someone looking for a place to hang out online. For example:
- If you’re a business owner, it can help you to stand out among your competitors and more deeply engage your target audience.
- If you’re a blogger or influencer, you have the ability to reach out to a specific, niche audience and build a dedicated readership.
- No matter what your community site’s purpose is, you can control its content and design, unlike on a restrictive platform such as Facebook.
Of course, every community site has its own unique purpose and goals. Fortunately, WordPress makes it possible to design yours to meet your community’s needs with a number of useful plugins.
How to Expand Your Online Community
We’ve chosen the five tools below carefully, focusing on ratings, reviews, and key features. While it’s not an all-inclusive list, we believe these are the best choices to get you started on the right foot, or help you expand your existing site. Let’s jump in!
BuddyPress enables you to create a social media network for your colleagues, special interest group, family, or anyone else. It offers a simple but customizable platform for building and engaging with your community.
With BuddyPress, the members of your network can build personal profiles, connect with other users, and even create and interact within their own groups. You get all the benefits of your own, exclusive social media platform, without any coding required.
The best thing about BuddyPress is that it’s free, and there are a lot of other plugins that expand its functionality. For example, User Blog gives network members the ability to contribute blog posts, while Member Types gives you control over different membership groups and their abilities.
2. User Submitted Posts
User Submitted Posts enables you to turn your WordPress site into a multi-author blog. This is similar to the BuddyPress-compatible plugin User Blog, but with more functionality.
As a standalone plugin, User Submitted Posts is a great option for sites with a content focus. Whether you’re running a hobby group, industry community, or special interest website, your users can become part of the community by offering their own insight and experience. Of course, this plugin enables you to fully control the posts that are approved. To enable those posts, you simply need to copy and paste a shortcode onto a page, post, or widget.
The plugin is free, and includes a basic submission form and limited support. However, you can upgrade for as little as $40 and receive a lifetime of updates, full support, and additional submission form customization options.
3. Facebook Page Plugin
Facebook Page Plugin is a lightweight feed plugin that enables you to bring your active Facebook community – and all its followers – onto your WordPress site.
With the addition of a shortcode on a page, post, or widget, you can add your Facebook feed directly to your WordPress community website. Even better, users can interact with your feed – liking, sharing, and commenting – all without leaving your website!
This plugin’s simplicity and clean design make it a great addition to any site. Plus, its easy-to-use dashboard makes customization simple. As with the other plugins mentioned on our list, Facebook Page Plugin is absolutely free to use.
4. Simple Membership
Simple Membership is a website membership plugin that’s lightweight, user friendly, and customizable. With this plugin installed, you can easily create a membership site for your online community.
Whether you want to build a more private site – only allowing approved members to participate – or offer varying permissions to different membership levels, this plugin will do the job. Simple Membership enables you to create unlimited subscription levels, both free and paid. With paid subscriptions, you have the additional benefit of accepting secure payments through PayPal.
This plugin is free and, as it focuses on simplicity, no additional plugins or add-ons are offered. It is fully functional on its own, and will get you up and running in no time.
bbPress is a forum plugin that enables you to create a full-featured forum on your WordPress website, and it’s a great way to get the conversation started on your blog. Since forums are a simple way to connect with like-minded individuals, this is a great plugin choice if you want to get your online community started quickly.
What’s more, this plugin is well-designed for both for beginners and experienced forum moderators. With bbPress, you can set up and moderate your forums easily. In addition, you can divide your site into sections, and even allow user-created content.
As open source software, bbPress is free to download and use. Also, there are many bbPress-compatible plugins – such as Private Replies and Notify (No Spam) – that extend the tool’s functionality and improve its user experience.
Whether you want to offer support, build a fanbase, or provide a place for like-minded individuals to hang out, WordPress is a great platform for creating your online community. In fact, there are dozens of plugins available for that very purpose.
In this post, we’ve introduced you to five of our recommended community-building plugins. To recap, they include:
- BuddyPress: A social network plugin that helps you create your own WordPress-integrated social platform.
- User Submitted Posts: A community-building plugin that provides users with the ability to submit their own posts.
- Facebook Page Plugin: An advanced Facebook feed plugin that enables users to interact with your integrated Facebook page on your website.
- Simple Membership: A membership site plugin that enables you to create unlimited membership levels, free or paid.
- bbPress: A fully-functional plugin you can use to create your own community forum.
Which of these community-building plugins interests you most, and why? Let us know in the comments section below!