When you think of social networks the big three jump out at you, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Social networks offer something that traditional sites can’t offer to the same degree: community. On all of these websites there is a constant flow of communication between its members and to the public and that is something that you may want to take advantage of.
You may be hesitant to use one of the big three for your own purposes though. They are liable to change the functionality of the service so that it doesn’t do exactly what you want anymore. You may simply be talking about confidential information that you don’t feel comfortable having on a third party server somewhere no matter what assurances you are given.
If that sounds familiar then the answer to your problems could be BuddyPress. It is a WordPress plugin that according to its creators, Automattic, is “Social networking in a box”. In this post I’m going to explain what BuddyPress is, why you may need it and show you how to install and expand on it.
Why You Should Use BuddyPress
While the current crop of social networks are extremely useful at building a large community, they may not be ideal if you only want to create a small social network for your company, niche interest, sports team, or something else altogether.
You may have a company where you don’t feel comfortable creating a group or area on an external website, or those sites just aren’t exactly what your looking for. You want your employees to be engaged with each other online in a social way, but you want to have complete control over everything about the website they use.
BuddyPress gives you these options and is extremely easy and quick to setup on your own server. Using BuddyPress gives you a more private and intimate social network. It can be a social network where you control every aspect and use only those features you think are necessary.
Let’s take a look at how you install BuddyPress.
How to Install BuddyPress
If you decide to try BuddyPress then installation is simple. All you need to do is search for it in the WordPress plugin directory (which when you’re logged into WordPress is under Plugins > Add New) and click the “Install Now” and then “Activate” button.
Once the installation is complete you will notice a new BuddyPress option under your Settings tab. This is where you are able to choose your BuddyPress features, pages and more via 3 main sections.
The first section is for Components. I would recommend leaving the components for “Extended Profiles” and “Account Settings” active, and then selecting a few others that you think you will use. For example you might want to enable “Notifications” for your users or “Private Messaging” to encourage users to get to know each other one on one.
Next is the main Options section, where you can enable or disable various member features. This is also where you can choose between the legacy or nouveau BuddyPress design.
Then if you click on the Pages section you’ll find the options to set (you guessed it) your main BuddyPress pages. Depending on the components you enabled you’ll have different “Directories” page options.
Also, if you’ve enabled the “Membership: Anyone can register” option on your main WordPress Settings page, then you’ll also have the option to choose Register and Active pages for new members to signup for your social site.
Note: If you haven’t created or set a page for one of your components, you’ll see a notice like the one in the screenshot above. Just click the “repair” link to automatically create and assign a page for your component to quickly solve the issue.
BuddyPress Menu Items
After you finish the basic setup for BuddyPress you may see a few new tabs in your WordPress dashboard. These may include Activity, Groups and Emails.
Activity is a running feed of everything that happens on your BuddyPress site. This is only available for the admin, and it lets you filter the activities by type, such as “Created a group” or “New member registered”.
The Groups tab allows you to create and manage user groups on the site. These groups come in three types:
- Public: These groups are open to every member of the site. All communication within these groups can be seen and searched through.
- Private: These groups are open to every member of the site. All communication within these groups can be seen and searched through.
- Hidden: These groups are completely hidden from everyone and can only be accessed through invite by the group admin. They never show up in the group directory or through any searches on the site. Content can only ever been seen by members of the group.
The Emails tab includes all of the default email messages used by BuddyPress. This includes email address verification for newly registered users, account activation, a notification email for when a member replies to another member’s post, group invitations and more. Depending on the components you have active you will see more or less email templates. You can customize the text and design of your emails using built-in options – here is a great guide on how you can customize BuddyPress email templates.
You are also given a selection of new sidebar widgets to use. They are:
- (BuddyPress) Groups
- (BuddyPress) Members
- (BuddyPress) Recently Active Members
- (BuddyPress) Who’s Online
As well as these widgets a login widget is created in your sidebar for members to use to login, or register an account if that is something you allow.
Key Features of BuddyPress
We mentioned a few of these briefly above, but let’s dig into the juicy key features of the BuddyPress social plugin.
The fundamental feature of BuddyPress is the Activity Stream. Each member can post updates to their own activity stream from their profile.
Each stream can be followed by any member using RSS or email notification. And using the @ symbol followed by the member username allows you to mention that user in your stream, in a very similar manner to the one currently used by twitter.
Streams can be commented on and tagged as a favorite by members to enhance discussions. Each group also has its own activity stream that is controlled by the group visibility.
We’ve already touched upon one of the key features of BuddyPress: User Groups. Creating multiple groups allows you to segment the communications occurring between members of your site and allow them to have focused discussions within each group.
They also allow you to keep conversations private to a selection of people if that is something you need to do. An example of ideal group use would be for a company that wants to separate their discussions by department, or location.
Members and Friends
BuddyPress extends upon the core WordPress user system. Users are now “Members” and can do several things that are more in line with your social media user expectations. Members can be friends with other members allowing for a more focused social connection. They can follow other members activity feeds, as well as participate in various group discussions and communicate directly with other members.
Extended User Profiles
The basic user profile in WordPress doesn’t offer a great deal of customization. BuddyPress changes this by adding new options and features. When users log into their profile they’ll see new options for their activity, notifications, messages, friends and groups (again depending on the components you’ve enabled).
When users click on their Profile > Edit option, they’ll be able to edit personal info like their username, profile image, cover image and any other custom fields you’ve added.
And speaking of custom fields – BuddyPress does include an option for you to add completely new fields into the user registration. You can make these fields a requirement in order to register or simply a means for the members to share more information about themselves within their profile.
Extending Your BuddyPress Installation
As with WordPress, BuddyPress can be expanded upon using a multitude of plugins created specifically for it. Here are a few plugins to consider.
While there is one blog associated with your site, this plugin allows you to extend the Groups options to add a single blog to each group created. From there group admins can assign user roles for the blog.
BuddyPress Activity Plus
This handy plugin makes it easy for users to promote each other’s posts with familiar Facebook-style share buttons. The plugin also allows members to embed images, video or links into your activity stream that makes sharing media on your site simple.
Youzer Advanced User Profiles
Youzer is a premium plugin (unlike the other free add-ons we’ve mentioned), however it’s a definite must-have if you’re serious about building your own social network with BuddyPress. This plugin adds options for badges, emoticons, social login, comments, at mentions and so much more (checkout our full Youzer review to see what else this plugin can do).
This plugin adds collaborative documents to your BuddyPress community. This way members and groups can collectively work together on projects, events, meetups and more.
rtMedia Gallery for BuddyPress & bbPress
rtMedia adds a new media tab for BuddyPress user profiles and groups. This way members can connects and share images, videos and even slideshows of themselves or group events.
The Best Private Social Network?
BuddyPress is a simple and highly customizable solution for creating small social networks. It may be exactly what your looking for if you need to make use of a social community while retaining the privacy and control of your own website. The best way to find that out is to download a copy, install it on you server and give it a try.
Are you a BuddyPress user? What do you think of this social network for WordPress and what recommendations do you have for extending its functionality? Have you tried BuddyPress and decided that it’s not for you?
Please let us know your answers to these questions in the comments section. If you have any other questions or comments about BuddyPress, we’d love to hear them too.