BuddyPress is an amazing piece of software. It is the perfect foundation for the development and deployment of enterprise-level social networks and online communities. However, it is only part of the technical solution. In this post, we look at the key elements that go into making an online community and look at the role BuddyPress has to play.

A community is much like building a house

Trust me, the metaphor works. Mostly. Building a house is done in stages and requires many different elements to work together. There’s rarely a one size fits all solution and the more time is taken with each individual element, the more likely you are to get the house of your dreams. Here’s how the analogy works with a BuddyPress community:

WordPress: The land you build on

WordPress is an enormously successful content management system. Originally designed as a blogging tool, Automattic, the owners of WordPress and a global team of individual developers and development agencies have transformed it into a flexible platform that can be used for a wide range of use cases. WordPress has become so popular that it now powers over 28% of the web. It is a robust, flexible, scalable and secure platform from which to build an online community. It provides the basis that everything else can build upon.

BuddyPress: the foundation

BuddyPress offers a suite of core social networking features and functionality. It was initially developed by passionate third-party developers. It was so successful, Automattic hired the developer who created it and brought the project under their roof.    

One of the main benefits of using BuddyPress as a solution to an enterprise level social networking community is how much you can do with it out of the box. It is packed with features and functionality that make the creation of a world-class community attainable. However, just because many great features are readily available, simply installing Buddypress does not mean the work is complete. In order to meet the exacting standards of any serious project, BuddyPress needs to be manipulated and honed.

We spend a lot of time working with clients and planning community projects, using BuddyPress as a foundation. In our experience using BuddyPress means asking three questions of our clients and ourselves. For the sake of clarity, these questions exclude front end design:

  • Features and functionality needed for the project, that require little or no modification. These represent out-of-the-box features. These can be up and running with minimal development time and resources. The main work involved with these features is ensuring the user experience is in line with the brief.
  • Features and functionality needed for the project, that need to be re-engineered to fit the purpose. These are parts of the BuddyPress framework that, while useful, are not an exact fit. In these instances, it’s necessary to spend development time to ensure a fit with the brief. A commonly recurring example of this is the use of BuddyPress groups. Groups are an excellent piece of social functionality but in our experience, how they are utilised can vary dramatically from one community to another
  • Features and functionality that need to be switched off. Less is so often more when it comes to online communities. Adding unnecessary features, just because they are readily available doesn’t make sense. Not if their inclusion cannot be justified from a user perspective.     

Once these questions have been asked and answered, the foundations of your community can be laid down, ready to build upon.

Read our post using BuddyPress as an enterprise level social network.

Plugins and good code are the bricks and mortar

This is where the analogy breaks down slightly. After all, BuddyPress is a plugin itself. Putting that aside, BuddyPress can only get a community so far. Ultimately, you’ll need a range of other plugins. Some of these will fit and run straight away. Others will need tweaking and refinement. But don’t worry, as we’ll see in the next step, a great development team will take care of everything!  

Read our post on understanding WordPress plugins.

A great development team: Your architect and craftsmen

Of course, you can do it yourself. After all, WordPress is pretty easy to set up. But be careful! Installing WordPress, adding BuddyPress and starting to add plugins without proper planning and consideration is a recipe for disaster. You run the risk of a site that’s slow to load, doesn’t work as planned, performs poorly in SEO ranking and ultimately offers a poor user experience.  

That’s where your development team come in. They’ll help you plan your community and ultimately weave the components together. They’ll customise, optimise, refine and expand. Broadly speaking, the role of a development partner breaks down into three elements:

  • Planning. Perhaps we are biased being a development agency ourselves, but it’s our belief that any development team worthy of building your community should also have a few ideas on how to improve and refine the concept you take to them. Even if the front end of your community is planned down to the last pixel, there are always ways to optimise the user experience.
  • Building. Installing BuddyPress and the plugins you need is just the start of the job. Good developers will review every element and ensure they work in concert. Need to link to third-party services like Facebook? Want to leverage Social Login to make onboarding easier? Developers will make sure this is all put in place while ensuring your page load times are optimised and security is maintained.   
  • Fit and finish. These are the finishing touches, primarily covering the design and usability of a community. It also includes back end elements such as analytics and creating a focused experience for the various roles within your organisation.

Read our post on how to plan and launch a successful community.

Every community is unique

Ultimately, the requirements from community to community will vary. There’s no one size fits all solution. At least in the majority of cases. For anyone serious about building a community, the level of complexity, across the elements detailed here will vary. Some projects will only require minimal customisation and development. It all comes down to a great brief, a focused purpose and a clear idea of available time and budget. These will ensure you build the ‘house’ that’s right for you.