Building a Community Platform using WordPress

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A few things you should know about WordPress

Security

You need to keep your version of WordPress up-to-date. If you are maintaining a number of WordPress sites, you may want to bookmark their Roadmap. Other precautions to take in this regard include: a login-limit plugin, a security plugin and/or a great managed hosting provider. WordPress is more prone to vulnerabilities because hackers see it as an easy target, not always from a code standpoint, more so because so many people have WordPress sites that the target audience is very, very large. 

Load Intensive

You can code for this. Like any platform, there are things you can do to ensure your site loads quickly. There are many places that can increase load time, like themes or plugins. Themes control the appearance and overall functionality of where features may aesthetically appear, however, they can also have functionality integrated into them as well. Plugins add functionality to your website and theme. Both themes and plugins can add to load times. Pantheon, my preferred managed host, offers New Relic integration with their performance plans and above. New Relic is a fantastic resource to dial in on your page load speeds and which parts are causing the most concern.  

Like any code, you can experience problems in a variety of ways. My advice to you is to ensure you have done your research, and if you don’t have time for that, make sure your site is hosted on a reputable managed host that offers answers to some of these concerns. If you are seeking a performance plugin to help reduce page load and increase performance, check out WP Rocket.

Hosting

Of all the decisions you make with your WordPress site, this is the most important one. There are a few key things to look for when it comes to WordPress website hosting. If you are not experienced with WordPress, I would strongly recommend a managed host. Managed meaning that they have already optimized the server to serve WordPress in the best way possible. This usually includes security measures, caching, SSL, CDN, etc. 

I have a few recommendations in this space—I am VERY opinionated when it comes to WordPress hosting.

  • Pantheon—besides the fact that I used to work there and know the platform inside and out, it is by far, in my opinion, the best managed host out there. Why? Because it is built for developers and has Git integrated into every aspect of the site. You can create instances of your site, called Multidev, to allow you to test new features and implement changes without affecting your live site. That is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what it can do over others. They also used a containerized server structure, which is miles better than other managed hosts who are reselling you shared hosting.
  • Kinsta—they’re my go to when I need to set up a Multisite instance. Multisite allows you to create a site network that controls what themes and plugins you can use, but allows for multiple sites that are very similar. If you were creating a series of events and wanted a different website for each, this would be a great path to go. However, there can be some drawbacks to Multisite, so be sure to do your research first. Kinsta is also containerized, which is why they are my next go-to.
  • Gridpane—The great thing about Gridpane is that if you have server requirements set by your company or need specific legal clearances, Gridpane gives you the benefits of a managed host but allows you to choose your preferred server host. Huge fan of theres as well.

There are thousands of WordPress hosts. There are many not listed that are still incredible, but there are a few to avoid. A few honorable mentions include Pagely, GoDaddy Pro & Bluehost WP Pro. In this case, you truly do get what you pay for here.

Building Our Site

Most managed hosts setup your WordPress instance for you, so you are ready to start building immediately! The first thing I like to do when I am building a WordPress site is to change the settings—like timezone, permalink, whether users can register, media upload folder structure, etc. Be sure to check the settings area of your WordPress install first.

After configuring the settings, I am ready to install my theme and plugins and start configuring them to work together.

Community Theme & Plugin

The theme I use is called BuddyBoss. They also have a plugin that is a major part of the whole setup. Their entire offering is built on top of BuddyPress, a widely known community-focused plugin. The theme + plugin powers most of the community website including features like:

  • Member Registration
  • Member Profiles
  • Connections
  • Private Messages
  • Groups
  • Forum Discussions
  • User Invites
  • Member Search
  • Activity Feeds

BuddyBoss theme is a commercial product that requires a valid license.

Other Features

Gamification (Growth driven)

If there is one thing you should learn about me is that I am a BIG fan of customer advocacy or influencer programs. Do your job well and people will want to talk about you. Embrace this through gamification. GamiPress allows you to do just that. You can create points, ranks & challenges to encourage your community members to get involved. You can use this to grow your community, help sell a product, promote an event and more. GamiPress is very powerful and bit tricky to setup the first time around, but once you get acquainted, it’s incredible. You can also get an add-on that will allow you to create an ecommerce store using WooCommerce that allows folks to use their points to buy things—think Swag Store!

GamiPress is a is a commercial product that requires a valid license.

Job Board

Free, simple to use plugin called WP Job Manager. You can either control all the jobs listed, or allow your community members to add them. There is also an integration with BuddyBoss to display a users job listings in their profile and an integration with GamiPress to gamify the job board a bit.

Events

The Events Calendar is a very robust commercial plugin that allows for event listings, tickets, RSVP’s, promotions and more. In it’s present state you have to use a workaround for virtual events, but I’ve been told there is a release coming this summer that focuses on hosting virtual events that I am very excited to try out. Bonus: it integrates with both BuddyBoss and GamiPress.

Add-on’s for The Events Calendar are considered a commercial product that requires a valid license.
Use the coupon code: devrelcon from now until May 31st to receive 25% off your total purchase.

Elearning

Offering courses or teaching your community members how to do something is a very powerful offering. There are two really awesome options in the WordPress space, LifterLMS & LearnDash. Both integrate with BuddyBoss and GamiPress to encourage community involvement and gamification of your learning experience.

Both of these plugins may require the purchase of commercial versions or add-ons of somekind.

Donations

GiveWP is a very robust donation management plugin. The features are incredible and both integrate with BuddyBoss and GamiPress—encouraging your community members to donate themselves as well as grow your audience through challenges.

GiveWP core plugin is free, but you may need a commercial add-on or two in order to fully complete your setup.

Affiliates

Although BuddyBoss does offer an invite users feature, you may want to encourage your community members to share about your offering more. GamiPress can definitely help with this in terms of gamification, but if you want to track click throughs and reward with monetary benefits, then AffiliateWP is what you need. It integrates with both BuddyBoss & GamiPress as well, so the more creative you are, the more you can really grow your community.

AffiliateWP is a is a commercial product that requires a valid license.

Documentation

My recommendation for documentation, in terms of plugins, would be BetterDocs Pro, however, I only have minimal exposure to this plugin and admittedly had to do quite a bit of frontend coding to make it appear the way I wanted. Easy workarounds though for styles if you are a bit less picky than I. Other alternatives could be pages structured nicely under parents to facilitate documentation or using forums. You have many options when it comes to content in WordPress.

BetterDocs Pro is a is a commercial product that requires a valid license.

Forms (robust!)

I say robust because Gravity Forms can do some insane stuff. Sure, it’s a form plugin at the end of the day, but if you’re creative you can build some amazing stuff with it. One time I built an interactive calculator tool that quoted the cost to build a WordPress website with many conditionals and dynamic calculations. On top of its overall functionality, they have TONS of add-ons that integrate with our fave products like Slack (instantly invite new members to your Slack team), Trello (create cards from form submissions) & Hubspot (just to name a few). I used Gravity Forms + Gravity Whiz’s Nested Forms to create a CFP form that allows for multiple talk submissions within one single form.

GravityForms & Gravity Whiz are commercial products that require a valid license.

Increase Attendance

If you are creating an online event or just want your users to share about something important, there is a great plugin called RafflePress that allows you to award entries (to a raffle drawing of some kind) for sharing. For example, if someone registers for your online event, you could push RafflePress to them after registration to encourage them to tell their friends through email, Twitter, Facebook and much much more. You obviously have to have a raffle prize to award, but this is an easy thing to do if you know that folks are literally feeding you leads through their engagement.

Integrations

WordPress is so widely used by so many individuals, companies and organizations that your options for functionality are truly endless. Your only limitations are your creativity. Most companies have WordPress plugins they maintain and provide either free or for a low fee, to offer integration with their product and your WordPress site. Great examples are Hubspot and Mailchimp. Bringing the product right inside of your website is incredibly convenient and makes your life easier.

Community Resources

The best part of WordPress is the open-source focused community that stands behind it. There are a variety of WordCamps, WordPress User Groups & online communities that you can turn to when you need help.

WordCamps — localized conferences that include a variety of content for designers, developers, marketers & business leaders all over the world.

WordPress User Groups — localized Meetup groups that occasionally host monthly or recurring meetups with presentations and networking.

Advanced WordPress Facebook Group — very large group that includes many industry leaders as well as beginners that are always willing to help answer your questions.

Post Status — pay-to-play professional WordPress community. There is a membership fee, however, the membership benefits are pretty stellar, and if you are planning to continue to manage a WordPress site, I strongly recommend it. You will find the best-of-the-best in terms of providers within this community.

Help!

If you are still struggling to wrap your head around the complexity of your community site—believe me, giving you this list of plugins is easy, but making sure you are getting all the integrations and add-on’s to take advantage of every feature can be tricky. You are not alone! Please reach out, I have a great network of folks that can help you build your website, while you still remain in control and understand functionality.

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