No matter what kind of website you’re running, you’re always on the lookout for ways to retain and engage your visitors. And that’s where WordPress community plugins come in.
Quality content can go a long way, but creating a community around your website or business can take this even further. Adding community functionality to your site can be an excellent strategy for growing your business and forming a long-term bond with your users.
Luckily, WordPress makes this easy. With the ever-growing selection of WordPress community plugins on offer, adding community functionality to your site can be seamless.
In this post, you’ll learn what an online community is, what WordPress community plugins you can use to add community functionality to your site, plus how you can make the most out of your new community site.
What is an Online Community?
An online community is a group of people who communicate and interact via various digital tools, whether that’s through a forum, chat, email, or even social networking.
An online community can take several forms and either be entirely free or have a paid membership fee.
Here are some of the most popular formats:
The most important question for you to answer is: what type of community do you want to create?
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you build out your community site:
- What value do you want to provide to your members? Private content, a like-minded community, etc.
- What’s the purpose of your community? Does it exist online anywhere already?
- Do you want to create a paid community or make it free forever? Or do you want a mix of both?
- How will you generate new members?
- What type of content will you create for your members?
You must have a definite direction for your community site before you start building and adding features.
Why WordPress is Perfect for Building a Community Website
Right out of the box, WordPress is equipped with features that make it easy to create a community website. For example, you have a built-in post and commenting system, along with a robust CMS.
So the base for your community website has been taken care of for you just by using WordPress as your foundation.
Then on top of this, there are certain features you’ll need to create a thriving online community:
- A way for members to sign up, log in, and create a user profile;
- Ways for you to engage with the community and for your community to engage with each other – through likes, comments, or sharing;
- A way for members to chat privately or send non-public messages.
These features aren’t native to WordPress, but there are various WordPress community plugins you can use to add these features to your site.
5 Best WordPress Community Plugins
If you want to create a community website, here are some of the five best WordPress community plugins around!
The following WordPress community plugins don’t compete with each other; instead, they integrate with one another and enhance overall functionality. You can pick and choose between the features you need to create the perfect feature set for your community site. With the help of the following plugins, you’ll be able to add nearly every feature you could think of to your community site.
1. Profile Builder Pro
Profile Builder Pro is a powerful user management tool that lets you create detailed user registration and login forms, plus user profile pages and a member directory. The flexibility of the tool allows you to add registration forms nearly anywhere on your website.
Profile Builder Pro includes all kinds of advanced modules you can take advantage of when building your community site:
You’ll also find a handful of advanced add-ons you can use to extend the functionality of the plugin further:
- WooCommerce Sync allows you to manage the WooCommerce Shipping and Billing fields directly in Profile Builder forms and extend WooCommerce checkout page with custom fields added by Profile Builder.
- Social Connect allows your users to utilize social login via platforms like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Email marketing service integrations. These let you sync Profile Builder fields to your email lists. It offers support for Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and MailPoet.
- bbPress allows you to add advanced Profile Builder user profile tools to forum profiles.
- BuddyPress allows you to extend the functionality of BuddyPress user profiles with Profile Builder user fields.
Price: There’s a free version that will work for a lot of sites, as well as a premium version starting at €69.
BuddyPress is a free, open-source plugin that can help transform your WordPress site into your own social network. This plugin is packed with extensions and features that’ll enable you to create a truly unique social community.
It’s a highly flexible plugin, so you can create a fairly simple community or enable all the features and offer your users multiple communication methods, change color schemes, utilize detailed content management, and more.
Here are some unique features of BuddyPress:
- Let users send direct messages to each other
- Create friends lists and add or remove friends
- Create groups and join groups
- Answer questions in the forum or create forum threads
- Sign up for email notifications
Another great thing about BuddyPress is that it has its own great collection of plugins you can use to add even more features to your site.
Here are a few additional plugins you can try out:
- BuddyBoss Wall. This premium plugin lets users write on each other’s walls, similar to what you can do on Facebook.
- BuddyPress User Blog. This plugin allows you to give your members the ability to create their own blog with an interface similar to Medium.
- iFlyChat. This plugin adds live chat functionality to your site, integrates with BuddyPress friends lists, and shows online users.
Be aware that some WordPress themes won’t be compatible with BuddyPress, so you’ll want to use a BuddyPress compatible theme if you are going to use this plugin.
You can also integrate BuddyPress with the Profile Builder plugin from above to get more control over your community’s registration and edit profile forms.
Price: The core BuddyPress plugin is 100% free, but many third-party BuddyPress plugins are paid.
BuddyBoss is technically more of a WordPress-powered community “platform” than a standalone plugin. More specifically, it’s a combination of a WordPress theme and a plugin, as well as an optional mobile app that lets people access your community on the go.
It’s a fork of the BuddyPress plugin from above and shares a lot of the same development team members. The BuddyBoss team was frustrated at the slower development pace of BuddyPress, which is why they decided to launch BuddyBoss.
Because everything is bundled together, you can quickly get started with a fully functioning community site.
Here are a handful of the features offered:
- Custom member profiles and activity streams with fully editable fields;
- Social groups let members create groups within groups, including private groups;
- Private messages can be sent to individual users or groups;
- Users can upload photos and create albums (similar to Facebook);
- Users can create interactive forum discussions and communicate with other members;
- Responsive design across a range of platforms.
There are also other advanced features:
- Sell subscriptions to your members-only content and generate revenue;
- Create and sell online courses with the LearnDash LMS integration;
- Add rankings, points, and rewards when users accomplish specific tasks;
- And much more.
Because it’s a fork of BuddyPress, BuddyBoss will also work with pretty much all BuddyPress extensions.
Price: The BuddyBoss theme and plugin start at $228/year. If you want the mobile app, that costs $179 per month, so it’s definitely a big investment to use the app.
Many other forum plugins are clunky and can significantly slow down your site, harming the user experience and pushing away visitors from your discussion board. bbPress’s slimline code makes it fast and responsive for the best experience possible, while leaving it open to in-depth customization.
bbPress’s unique features include:
- Support for over 11 different languages;
- Compatibility with almost every WordPress theme without modifying theme or plugin files;
- Over 100 add-ons and templates to add even more features to your forum.
This last point is worth emphasizing – the fact that bbPress has been around so long means that you can find tons of third-party extensions to add features like the following:
- Allow private messaging between users;
- Customize the notifications users receive;
- Flag discussion board content that’s inappropriate;
- Generate user reports.
You can also integrate bbPress with Paid Member Subscriptions (the next plugin on our list) to restrict access to certain forums based on a member’s level.
Price: The core bbPress plugin is 100% free, but many third-party bbPress plugins are paid.
5. Paid Member Subscriptions
It allows you to easily add membership functionality to any area of your website, including your existing content, bbPress forum, or even WooCommerce products.
As the admin, you have complete control over the kind of membership you want to create. You can offer free plans as well as one-time or recurring paid plans.
Plus, users have access to their accounts to edit their account information and upgrade or downgrade their subscription plans.
Here are a few ways you can create membership-based content:
- Restrict premium content for members of a certain level
- Control or restrict post and page content
- Restrict custom post types
Here are a few ways you can create an eCommerce-based community:
If you want to add premium functionality to your community or create a membership site, this plugin can let you do that with ease. Plus, if you have a product-based community centered around your WooCommerce store, such as a members-only discount club, this plugin can enable you to create multiple subscription tiers.
Price: There’s a free version that can work for simple membership sites, as well as a premium version starting at €69.
Youzify, formerly known as Youzer, is a popular WordPress community plugin at Envato’s CodeCanyon marketplace. It used to only come in a premium version, but the developer also recently launched a limited free version at WordPress.org.
Youzify is not a standalone plugin. Instead, it’s based on the free BuddyPress plugin that we detailed above. However, Youzify builds on the foundation of BuddyPress to make it more user-friendly and add lots of extended features including:
- User activity stream
- Member directory
- Friend requests/connections
- Private messaging
- Option to follow users
- Points and badges for gamification
- Likes, comments, and replies
Basically, it turns BuddyPress into a more social, user-friendly experience.
Price: Youzify has a limited free version at WordPress.org. To add more features, there’s a premium version that costs $49.
ProfileGrid is a freemium WordPress community plugin focused on helping you create frontend user profiles and member groups/communities.
It also includes social network-type features like private messaging, an activity feed with notifications, a friends system, and even the option for users to create their own blogs within your community.
In terms of member groups, you get a good amount of flexibility. For example, each group can have its own registration workflow, its own membership limits, different privacy levels, manual admin approval for new group members, and so on.
So if you want to create a community where users are free to create their own groups, this might be a good option for you.
Other notable features include:
- Custom registration pages for member registration
- Public member lists
- Charge for access to groups
- Content restriction
Price: ProfileGrid has a limited free version at WordPress.org. To add more features, you can purchase a bundle of all add-ons starting at $79.
How to Make the Most Out of Your WordPress Community Website
Here are a few tips for helping your online community thrive:
1. Have a Clear Goal
Your community needs to serve a specific purpose. Your community shouldn’t be for just anyone; if that were the case, your users might as well be using Facebook.
There should be a specific reason for your community to exist, for example:
- A community workspace for female online entrepreneurs;
- A freelance writer forum where writers can share tips and tricks;
- An eCommerce store that sells discount products to paying members.
2. Introduce Community Rules
One way to help cultivate a community is to create a set of community rules and guidelines. This will establish the tone of the community: what’s allowed and what isn’t. It goes without saying that you may wish to have rules against inappropriate or offensive content, but some successful online communities make a name for themselves with unusual community guidelines or content restrictions.
For example, if you were running a hyper-short story forum, you might limit post length to just 100 words, or require all posts to be formatted as if they were a play script – it’s up to you!
3. Manage Your Community Wisely
It’s not enough just to add community functionality, open the doors to members, and call it a day. You not only need to be active in the community but need to manage it as well.
This means you’ll need to moderate new users, approve comments, and even deal with trolls or ban certain users – especially if they’ve violated the community guidelines you created above.
4. Keep in Touch with Members and Listen to Their Feedback.
You’ll probably spend a lot of time engaging with your community and your members. Please pay attention to any criticisms or feedback they have. Even if it’s negative, you can use this to improve your community and add new features.
Start Building Your Online Community Today with WordPress Community Plugins
A WordPress community site can help to engage and retain your visitors over the long run, plus earn you more revenue. Creating a feature-rich community site is easy with the right WordPress community plugins.
You don’t have to use every plugin highlighted in the list above, but many of these plugins can pair well together, so you can certainly use more than one.
- Profile Builder Pro can help you create custom user registration forms and easily manage your users.
- BuddyPress can help you add basic social networking features entirely for free.
- BuddyBoss can help you add a fully-featured social network to your site right out of the box.
- bbPress is a free plugin that can help you add a forum to your WordPress site.
- Paid Member Subscriptions can help you add membership functionality to any content area of your site, including WooCommerce.
- Youzify builds on top of the BuddyPress plugin to create a more user-friendly experience.
- ProfileGrid has a focus on creating multiple user groups, each with its own rules and membership requirements.
By choosing the right WordPress plugins, you can create a feature-rich community that adds value to the lives of your users.
Have you tried any of these WordPress community plugins? Let us know about your experience in the comments section below!
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