BuddyPress is a plugin for WordPress that offers a set of social networking and online community functionality. BuddyPress Groups are a foundation feature of the BuddyPress tool set. In this article, we take a top level look at what groups are and how they can be used to enhance your community.
What are groups?
Fundamentally, groups allow you to create communities within your community. Networks within your social network. The power of this functionality can be seen in mainstream services such as Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, etc.
The most prominent feature of a group is the activity wall. This is a chronological list of community generated content, made up of text, pictures, videos, comments and ratings. Groups allow members to talk, share, plan and collaborate together. They are administered by one or more people, either admins of the whole community or community members themselves.
Groups allow communities to address a diverse range of member interests in a manageable form. While they share similar characteristics, groups should not be confused with forums or live chat.
Focus on BuddyPress groups
BuddyPress groups provide some great default features and functionality:
- Community members are able to search, discover and join groups.
- Members who have joined a groups can post text, pictures, links and video to the group’s ‘activity wall’.
- Members can comment and reply to activity wall posts.
- Notifications and email alerts keep group members engaged.
- Individual community members can be offered a personalised activity wall, bringing together recent activity from all groups they have joined.
- Privacy and assignable moderation controls offer added flexibility for group management.
These features are more than sufficient for many community requirements. But when in the hands of great developers, groups can be taken to another level. They can be used as an extremely flexible and powerful foundation, with the ability to deliver unique user experiences and services.
Getting the most from BuddyPress groups.
When planning how to best use groups within your community. We’ll focus on just two core questions that we feel are the most important to ask.
1: Who will set up and manage my BuddyPress groups?
Do you want members to be able to create and administer groups? This can be a great hands off approach to scaling up your community and offering members ultimate flexibility. However, you need to be mindful of long tail effects, that is to say, multiple groups overlapping similar topics.
Or do you want to set up groups then allow members to join them? This approach prevents group topics overlapping. But it can stifle the expansion of your community.
Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Good planning will help identify the best approach for you and help uncover middle ground options. For example, allowing members to request the creation of a new group, then having administrative control over the actual creation.
Administrative control can also be handed to community members where appropriate. This means you can create a group and then let engaged community members moderate and steer groups, and the members that post to their groups.
2: Should groups be public, private or hidden?
Public groups will be accessible to all community members. Hidden groups are not visible within your community, only to the members of the hidden group. Hidden BuddyPress groups are perfect for internal staff to communicate amongst themselves, or for sensitive topics. Private BuddyPress groups, like hidden groups require an invitation to join. The key point of difference is private groups are visible within your community and members may request membership.
3: What features should I add to my BuddyPress groups?
Out of the box, BuddyPress groups are simple, focused tools. Anyone who has used Facebook groups will find them very familiar. So we would recommend caution before adding too many bells and whistles, a good rule to follow in general. That being said, many communities benefit from additional customisation that enhances and refines the user experience. Popular additions we’ve helped our clients with include:
- Custom fields – When you create a group, you add a title, about text, background and main image. Simple, easy and effective. But some community groups can benefit from additional structure. The range is as diverse as your imagination and needs! The key is to plan the structure in advance.
- Forums – activity walls are a great way of getting people talking. But the way content is managed, with newest posts always pushing older content down, can be fleeting. Forums offer a more persistent way for members to engage with each other in the form of more focused conversations. Brining forum functionality to groups brings focus to your community. Examples of where forum-like behaviour can be useful include conversations for events, or FAQ sections for self help groups.
- Sticky posts – Activity streams are great but as we just noted, content can be fleeting. Sticky posts lets group admins promote older content to the top of the page and can be used to highlight topical forum conversations.
- Widgets – Small boxes of content that sit around the activity wall. Examples include adding a calendar for an event group, a fixture list for a sport-based group, text widgets for sharing group rules, list of external links and to related groups. The opportunity to add widget functionality is as varied as the ways groups can be used.
- Paywall – This feature allows you to restrict access to specific groups until a one off or monthly fee is paid. This can be great source of revenue, provided your community has appropriate content to merit paying.
- You ideas here – In the right hands, groups can be shaped to fit a wide range of needs. This probably includes your idea! So talk to your friendly developer, or reach out and talk to us.
BuddyPress groups offer an incredible platform for delivering core community functionality. As is often the case, the devil is in the detail. Getting groups ‘right’ comes down to effective planning. The user experience is brought into focus by removing the features you don’t need, providing members with the features they need and developing functionality to enhance core services, in line with your goals and ambitions.