How to Transform Your Blog Into a Community Site
At its core, WordPress is widely recognized as the world’s leading content system for publishing blog posts. By and large, a lot of people choose this platform because it allows them to effectively write and publish stories at their leisure. However, this isn’t the only way in which the WordPress blogging platform can be used. Eventually, when your site starts to grow and attract new readership, you’re going to be faced with a choice.
And that choice is related to building a community. Do you keep your blog as a content-only platform where you share articles and stories, or do you turn it into something more? Of course, going from publishing only to a community approach has its own difficulties and challenges to overcome.
As an example, you might have to start thinking about things like management, revenue sources, and most importantly, delivering value to the people whom you now consider as your community members. Although a scary decision to make, it’s one that can pay off big time in the long-run.
By which I mean that a lot of bloggers start out as simple writers. They share and writers stories on their passion, but once there is a substantial amount of people reading your content. You suddenly realize that you have the choice to earn even more revenue by offering special products, deals, and other forms of paid content that were previously unavailable to you.
Pat’s blog Smart Passive Income is one such great example of this. At first, Pat was simply sharing his knowledge and learnings on earning a passive income online. Gradually, his readership grew and so did his ability to offer premium resources to a very large audience. Today, Pat has published numerous books, runs podcasts, and is frequently invited to give keynote talks and prestigious events all across the globe.
All of that started simply from his passion to write and share about passive income. And I think it’s fair to say that any of you could meet the same fate with the right determination. So, with that said, we thought it would be nice to look at some community options that WordPress provides.
Sure, the default comment section can serve as a means of community engagement, but if you’re going to be serious about building a community with WordPress — you’re going to need some sturdy plugins to help you execute on your vision. And we’ve got just the thing for you.
What makes a great WordPress community site
I think it’s fair to say that WordPress makes a lot of things extremely easy to accomplish. And creating a community is no exception to this rule. However, time and time again people jump towards this idea of starting a community site without truly understanding what it means. As someone who has built community sites in the past, here is my best advice for you to succeed.
Yes, I failed many times, and most of those times it was because I didn’t realize the responsibility of maintaining a community site. Nevertheless, along the way, I learned to learn from my mistakes and found ways in which a community site can be managed without much stress or overthinking.
#1: Know your long-term strategy
Starting a discussion board with WordPress is as easy as grabbing the bbPress plugin. One, two, and you’re ready to go. But the real question is, how are you going to use this forum to either grow your business or to expand your brand presence? Some people prefer to run online forums because it brings together a lot of people. But in the days of social medial, digital communities like forums have been thrown under the bus many times over.
Do you wish to use your forum to eventually bring people together in some kind of a real-world environment? Would you like to use your forum for discussing topics that don’t get enough attention in the world? There are more questions to ask than there are answers.
Always try to have a specific direction for which you wish to take your forum. This will help you with things like maintenance and bringing people together for one single cause.
#2: Run by you or the community
This is yet another huge factor to consider. Do you plan to run your online forum/community by yourself or would you like to give some of that responsibility to your community members? The most practical way of doing this is by letting other members become moderators. A moderator can keep an eye on people who are either being too cavalier in their attitude or simply bring forth unnecessary flavor that you would rather avoid.
All in all, see if you can find people who can help you maintain your community. Don’t try to eyeball every single discussion and wonder if you need to make an individual decision every time someone posts something controversial. The discussions that need to be addressed immediately will make themselves known rather explicitly.
You can find plenty of insightful information on the web in relation to online communities. We all know that social media is consuming the entire world, but there are plenty of people who’d rather stay away from all that and stick to niche communities instead.
The following WordPress plugins are hand-picked solutions for creating basic discussion communities, all the way to more full-fledged communities that included paid memberships and more. The WordPress ecosphere for community plugins is vast and highly accessible. So, hopefully, this post helps to inspire you as to which direction you wish to take yourself.
bbPress is the gold standard in creating a community around your WordPress site. For example, while comments on blog posts can cultivate a sense of discussion and engagement, it’s not necessarily the best way to pull together people in like-minded discussions. One of the caveats for comments is that many comments can get either buried or lost altogether.
So, a forum installation such as bbPress can really help to alleviate a lot of these problems. With bbPress, you’re able to create and manage multiple forum sections for specific subjects and topics. And, as a result, members can join discussions that are relevant to them.
Another positive side effect of this is that people get to create an account on your site. And you can use this data to either promote newsletters or to encourage specific discussions. Needless to say, getting started with bbPress is extremely easy.
All you need to do is grab the official plugin and install it on your blog. Afterward, you can add new frum sections and specify rulesets that you wish people to obey. These days, most WordPress themes integrate with bbPress seamlessly. So, on the design side of things, you’ll almost always have the exact same design type as your original theme.
Moving on, we have a much more powerful plugin for starting a WordPress community. And, just like bbPress. The BuddyPress plugin is under careful development by the WordPress developers. If you want more than just a forum, but more of a socially-oriented community site, then BuddyPress is one of those plugins to keep an eye on.
After installing it on your site, you’ll have the option to do one of the following things:
- Enable user profiles that users themselves can modify.
- Create forum and group sections within which people can participate in discussions.
- Enable social features like badges and reward systems to encourage engagement.
- Private messaging so that users can talk to each other in private.
- Notifications system to notify users whenever one of their posts or messages have had an interaction or a response.
- Activity streams which showcase the latest activities either by your own profile or by a profile from another community member.
Fortunately, we have covered BuddyPress extensively here on StylemixThemes before. Specifically, we wrote an entire article dedicated to showcasing the best community themes for BuddyPress. That collection should put you in the right direction for finding a community theme that fits your goals and/or your brand image. Last but not least, as a highly popular community solution, finding interesting and engaging add-ons for BuddyPress is an absolute breeze.
In our article about creating an online forum with WordPress; we briefly mentioned Discourse. A new-generation forum system that is now adopted by companies like Blizzard, Codecademy, GitHub, and many others. In that same spirit, Discourse deserves a mention in this article as well. It’s a stellar discussion board software that takes into account the latest possibilities in web development.
And those possibilities include:
- A linear discussion system where the latest content is always seen at the top of the page.
- Easy navigation from post to post as you browse and engage in new or old discussions.
- Lots of customization options for displaying user-profiles and their respective submissions.
Further, Discourse’s easy to work with the theming system lets you adapt its style to whatever existing theme you’re already using. Sure, you’re going to need a separate instance to run this discussion board. But, in terms of performance and usability it provides –, it’s a worthwhile investment.
As far as we know, one of the best ways to set Discourse up is through DigitalOcean. One of their plans includes full-on Discourse installation on a machine for as little as 5$ per month. And that covers optimal performance as well as one-click installation.
Communities come in many different forms and shapes. And other than discussion forums, answer sites have also become somewhat of a standard in building a community. First and foremost, an answers site will always encourage discussion because you and other site members are actively trying to solve other people’s problems.
Further, it’s a great method for generating some much-needed search engine exposure. Just look at sites like Quora or Stack Overflow. Whenever you search for something specific only, you’re almost always guaranteed to come across those both sites as the first search results. And why is that? The simple answer is that both sites provide an invaluable amount of resources for finding answers to both common and though questions.
The plugin, AnsPress, implements a similar functionality inside your WordPress site. And unlike other well-known platforms, you could tailor your answers site to one specific niche. E.g. If you run a food-related blog, you could focus your Q&A site section entirely to food-related questions and answers. In the long-term, with enough activity, Google and other search engines will start to recognize that your site has a lot of content to provide for the specific queries that people are searching for.
And, also, you could implement some much-needed SEO practices to ensure that Google can interpret your content in the best way possible. By doing this, you’ll help yourself get featured in featured snippets amongst other SEO features that Google is adding on a regular basis.
On top of being a beautifully designed plugin, AnsPress is also completely open-source. You can download the entire source code over at GitHub. And if you have the chops, you can contribute to the project yourself as an open-source developer. There’s a lot of interesting features this plugin provides, which are best experienced through the official demo page.
So, overall, the first couple of plugins have been really focused on the idea of discussions and broader community engagement within WordPress. As it stands, that’s what most people understand as the term “community”. As such, how is the UserPro plugin different from other solutions that we have mentioned already?
First and foremost, UserPro is focused entirely on the idea of building user profiles. And doing so directly within your WordPress platform. Anyone can create an account of your site if you enable user registration. But the problem with the default user system is that users don’t generally get a chance to create a custom profile for everyone to see.
Which is precisely the area in which the UserPro plugin specializes in. With this plugin, any existing or newly registered members can create Facebook-style user profiles that get access to additional site features. Those features are:
- A custom user dashboard that can be customized with wallpapers and user information.
- Private messaging so that users can send private messages to other community members, including administrators and moderators.
- A social wall where anyone can come and submit comments and/or praise for someone’s contribution to the site.
- A real-time chatting experience by using the concept of Live Chat. This let’s site users to chat with one another in real-time whenever they like or need to!
As you can tell, it’s a plugin that covers more than just a basic user profile concept. With UserPro, you can open up your WordPress site to much deeper social interaction. And, as a result, foster a community based on the interaction between the site’s users. And the fact that more than 20,000 webmasters have purchased this plugin speaks for itself.
Next in our list of the best WordPress community plugins, we have to give proper mention to MemberPress. This is a membership plugin that’s been around for nearly a decade and still continues to grow at a very rapid pace. Unlike open-ended community solutions, MemberPress focuses solely on the paid aspect of building a community.
So, for example, if you’re a publisher or you create online courses, you’re going to need a way to manage your premium subscribers without sacrificing usability and user comfort. This is why MemberPress is perfect for sites who use WordPress for their back-end already. In short, MemberPress gives you all those wonderful features to not only charge your users for premium content but also make it easy for premium users to access and engage with that content.
This includes things like private discussion boards, creating protected content, and fledging out step-by-step courses. All new members can be assigned specific roles so that they can access only the content they have paid for as a subscriber.
If you have used PayPal for doing business in the past, you’ll be happy to learn that MemberPress integrates with all the latest PayPal features and transaction methods. This ensures that you can start charging for premium content on day one. Though, the best part has to be that MemberPress won’t override your default WordPress site.
You can still write blog posts, share articles, or publish any other types of content. The only thing that changes is the way in which you reward your premium users. Once they decide to sign up to your service, you’ll be able to share with them a dedicated page (and login details) where they can enter the premium area and access all the content you have to offer.
Each of the plugins listed in this roundup provides a unique approach to starting a community with WordPress. Whether you’re a WordPress veteran or a complete beginner, either of these solutions will suit your long-term needs. At the end of the day, it’s all about starting and experimenting versus trying to find the ‘best’ solution. The best solution will reveal itself once you figure out the direction you wish to take.
Let us know about your experience with building a community with WordPress. What tools did you use? What kind of plugins have you found to be helpful? And most importantly, what lessons did you learn along the way?