We all like to think our website content and blog posts are riveting enough to keep visitors coming back for more. If you’re doing your job right, that may be working for you to a certain extent. However, since websites and blogs are built around niches, there is significant potential to addict people to your website for a topical fix of conversation, connections, information and resources. This is especially true of niches specifically targeting Canadians. A sure way to turn your website into an addiction is by taking it to the community level.
A thriving online community offers exciting benefits:
- New and repeat visitors to your website/blog
- A community will allow you to be more engaged with your audience than you ever dreamed you could be.
- Familiarity increases trust in you and your brand
- As you get to know your audience you’ll achieve friend status. People like to support their friends through social sharing, referrals, and purchases.
- There will be countless opportunities to promote your own products and services and/or those of your affiliates. Plus, there will be no rules or moderation to stop you. It’s your party and you can sell if you want to!
- Statistics show that shoppers need to see a product/ad numerous times before they purchase, which is assured with repeat visits.
- You can turn a one-time purchase into a lifetime customer.
- Create a whole new revenue stream with “member only” access to some parts of your community.
- An active community will provide you with tons of blog post ideas gleaned from discussions.
- Community participants can build your content for you, which will be organically optimized for search engines by default. Your keyword count will automatically skyrocket.
- Items like forum posts and classifieds listings count as updates and more frequent updates will bring search engine adoration.
- Easily provide customer service and your community members can help each other too.
Building your Community on the WordPress Content Management System (CMS)
There is no shortage of plugins available for community building with WordPress, to a point that it can be overwhelming. Your selection should be based on what works best for you and your visitors. However, there are other important considerations that should factor into your final decision, including WordPress version compatibility, resource consumption, available support, recent updates, ratings and current reviews. I’ve provided a few community plugin suggestions here to get you started. The majority are free and the rest are well worth paying for.
Discussion Forums are one of the oldest forms of online communication. A member posts about a topic and others are able to offer information, opinions, images, etc. in the “thread”. Social media has given people an alternative, but it’s not the same as being able to easily access and follow a discussion.
BB Press – A simple forum plugin specifically designed to fully integrate with WordPress (or BuddyPress) by the same company. There are plugins available that can be installed on top of it for more features. The “plug & play” functionality makes it a perfect option for beginners launching a new forum.
WPMU Dev Forum – One of the easiest forums to implement, installing this plugin is as easy as dropping the code into a page. You’ll then have a Forum tab to click for customization and can place it anywhere with shortcode.
Vanilla Forums – This forum plugin is used by some pretty big names, including HubSpot and Mozilla. It includes a native mobile version for use with any mobile device. You can either pay to have a hosted forum, or install a free plugin to host it yourself. Self-hosting requires somewhat intermediate skills and it doesn’t include support. Vanilla is a great option for those who need to migrate from other forum software.
Simple:Press – A feature-rich forum plugin for advanced users. It is an external forum (in that you must upload it to your server), but otherwise it is fully integrated with WordPress.
Most of us are familiar with chat sites, although they were more popular back in the early days of the Internet. An active chat room can be addictive, so it’s a community option worth considering. Today, there are more chat options available for websites, from video to live visitor support.
iFlyChat – Visitors can select from a list of online users to chat with each other privately or together in chat rooms. The chat window can be embedded or in a pop-up. The usual chat features are included, such as emoticons and new message notification.
Quick Chat – A self-hosted chat solution for WordPress with options for group or private chatting. Features include emoticons, avatars (including Gravatars), IP banning, language translation, etc. Quick Chat integrates with WordPress user accounts.
WPMU Dev Chat – Professional, live chat sessions for visitor interaction. This plugin features unlimited live chats, customization, logs, social log in, Gravatars, and emoticons.
OpenTok – A full array of video chat options are offered with this plugin, including one-on-one or group chats and broadcasting options.
Membership sites or locked communities offer a way to sell premium content, downloads and features. You can offer a one-time fee, or recurring monthly or yearly access.
Paid Memberships Pro – Easily set up paid or free membership levels for your content or apps. This plugin facilitates one-time and recurring payments through several payment processors.
WPMU Dev Membership – A powerful, yet easy to use WordPress and BuddyPress content manager that allows you to split access to your site. This plugin boasts a drag and drop interface, multi-level access, gradual membership access, free trials, customizable payment gateways, and overall flexibility.
Wishlist Member – This plugin offers a paid membership management system. Turn any WordPress blog into a fully featured membership site. Complete with protected, members-only content, member management, unlimited membership levels, and shopping cart integration.
Classifieds and auctions are still popular and can be a treasure trove for those focusing on a specific niche. You can charge for ad placement, but there are so many free options that you’d probably be more successful if yours was also entirely free. You can still charge for extra features, however, like the inclusion of a website link, higher placement, or featured listing status.
WPMU Dev Classifieds – Features include paid or free ads, auto-expiration, basic image editing, e-mail, PayPal integration, and compatibility with WordPress, BuddyPress or Multisite. Payment options include recurring payments, one-time payments, or credits. I love the credits feature included with this plugin, which boasts the option to send credits as gifts.
Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin – Everything that most bloggers need in a Classifieds system is included. Featuring paid or free ads, moderation, blind email system, geographical search capabilities, images & video, social media integration, auto-expiration, AdSense advertising, etc. Premium modules are available for purchase.
WP Auctions – This plugin is designed for website owners to auction their own items. Optional private auctions makes it perfect for membership sites. Other features include a choice of three bidding engines, reserve price, and ‘buy it now’.
Much like classifieds, directory and review websites will be most successful if they’re free with paid premium options. Their primary value is usually measured in website traffic, allowing for indirect monetization.
Business Directory Plugin – A directory plugin for either free or paid listings with a range of optional modules for extra features. The geographic search capabilities and rating feature makes it extra sticky.
WPMU Dev Directory – This directory plugin offers a fast setup, color and other customizations, shortcode embed option, profiles, automated billing, payment processing, ratings, and affiliate plugin integration.
Connections Business Directory – A simple directory manager with basic templates (premium templates also available). Localization and geocoding features are included.
An event calendar usually looks like a regular calendar. Event entries are often linked to a page with more details. Niche events are tough to find with your average search engine, which gives event calendars high bookmark potential. You can also include novelty holidays related to your niche to make it fun, as well as acknowledging cause & charity months.
All-in-one Event Calendar – Enjoy a month, week, day, or agenda view of upcoming and recurring events. This plugin includes color-coded categories, sharing with Google Calendar, Apple iCal, MS Outlook and other iCalendar (.ics) compatible feeds, and Google Maps. It also comes with an upcoming events widget for your blog.
The Events Calendar – This events management system boasts multiple views, 3rd party integration (such as Google Maps), and a selection of premium add-ons.
Everyone likes to feel their opinion is valued and it’s interesting to compare our opinions to others. Polls make your site more interactive and can be used to entice people to visit and vote. You can also use polls to gather valuable information about your visitors, from their purchasing habits to what products they’d like to see you develop.
Polldaddy Polls and Ratings – A fully featured plugin for those who use PHP5, the Polldaddy plugin offers polls and the ability to embed ratings in pages, posts or comments. Features include live poll results updates, a range of styles, and customizable options. This plugin comes with a “Top Rated” sidebar widget that ranks posts, pages and comments of the day, week and month.
Yop Poll – This feature-rich polling system offers a variety of options for scheduling, display, selections, voting permissions, results management, public archive access, animations, shortcodes and widget functionality.
Social Polls – This plugin ties social media into its poll features, which results in a tool for bringing traffic to your website via social networks. Features include social log in, results filtering, sharing, themes, and voter following.
Notes of Caution:
- Always back up your blog before installing a new plugin and/or create a test site.
- Be aware that a successful community can place a heavy burden on storage and bandwidth. Success may come with a cost, but if you monetize it effectively you should enjoy far more gain than loss. Choosing an “unlimited” hosting solution like GreenGeeks will give you lots of wiggle room to get started and can easily facilitate your growth without interruption when/if the time comes to upgrade.
- When selecting plugins, I strongly recommend going with those that offer updates and support, even if you have to pay for it. You don’t want to have your community go down when you’ve worked so hard to build it up!
- If you’re using several community plugins, your most economical option would be to get them from one developer that offers a blanket support plan for all of the plugins. For example, WPMU Dev membership comes with excellent support, guaranteed compatibility, and functionality updates.
The most difficult part of starting a WordPress community is the lack of participation. Having been involved in more than a few community launches, I can tell you that the first year will involve consistent, constant effort on the part of you and your friends or staff. Often the only people posting on a forum will be you and your moderators, for example, but it’s crucial that the community look active to draw in more participants. Eventually, you’ll find the community is more self-supporting and the demands upon you will decrease. The good news is there is little competition for truly thriving Canadian communities because most people give up in the early stages. You will not be one of those people!
It’s important to use various methods of enticing people to visit or return to your community. Paying for advertising is the obvious method, but you can (and should) get creative here too.
- Promote certain forum posts on social media and in your newsletter.
- Have contests
- Feature active members
- Be business friendly by allowing text links and other controlled promotion.
- Have special guests
- Work with other communities in mutually beneficial arrangements, such as banner or newsletter ad trades.
- If you intend to have a paid membership community, offer free access until things get moving. Make it very clear that this will happen, however, or you’ll have some very angry members on your hands.
- Allow people with free access to earn paid access or additional features for a designated period of time. For example, have a draw for a one month paid membership from those who have made 10 or more posts in your free area, or special contests for those who share your content on social media, post the most reviews, etc.
- Be active in other online communities and include your website link with your signature (if permitted). If there are member profiles available, make sure you include your link there too.
- If you would like to bring in more traffic to your community with automatic SEO optimization, try SEOPressor. It can be used for traditional content, forum marketing, chat rooms, etc.
Creating a community is a rewarding challenge for those who want to tackle it. It’s a demanding, long-term commitment that you may want to approach with baby steps. Try installing one plugin and focus on it until that part of your community is humming along, then add another plugin and do the same. If you can afford to hire someone (like myself) as a community manager, I strongly encourage you to do so. A talented community manager will make your success his/her number one priority while you work away at the rest of your empire.
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