WordPress is powerful, but can it do social media? Turns out, it definitely can – quite well, too. We’ll show you how WordPress can make your website go social. One of the biggest driving factors behind WordPress’s immense popularity is its flexibility – owed to its extensive library of plugins and versatile source code.
Taken together, this means that, in the hands of a savvy developer, WordPress can be used to create just about any type of website one might desire. That includes a social network of virtually any size. That’s what we’re here to talk about today – how can you use WordPress to create your own social network?
That’s actually a tougher question to answer than one might think. It’s not simply a matter of selecting a plugin and diving into the design phase. There are a few things you’ll need to attend to before that.
Step 1: Figure Out Why You Want To Go Social
The first, most important question you need to ask yourself – before you even think about selecting a plugin – is “why?”
What’s your end goal in creating this network? Are you designing a private social media hub for employees of a particular organization, or a large-scale community for an educational institution? Are you creating a small network for a niche market, or are you looking to transform your social network into a successful, profitable business venture?
Your network’s going to look and operate differently depending on what you plan to do with it. Keep that in mind. Facebook didn’t get where it is today by setting out with no clear idea of its target audience.
Step 2: Make Sure Your Host Is Suited For The Undertaking
Once you’ve figured out your basic plan, it’s time to track down a host that’ll work with you on it. Although it may be possible to start yourself off on a high-end VPS, it’s very likely that – as your social network grows larger – you may have to turn to a dedicated server or the cloud. In addition, whatever host you choose must offer quick, easy scaling as well as the capacity to support rapid growth and traffic spikes.
See, social networks can be fairly resource-intensive, especially those with a burgeoning user-base. Choosing the wrong host or hosting plan could mean your business venture will die before it even gets started. Can you imagine what would have become of Twitter if all its users were consistently unable to connect to the platform in its early days?
Step 3: Choose The Right Social Media Plugins For Your Needs
With your host and a basic idea of what you want your network to do nailed down, it’s time for you to select a plugin. While it’s certainly possible to code everything from scratch – remember, versatile source code – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you’re a PHP expert and none of the plugins currently available fit your needs. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
Anyway, as far as your plugin’s concerned, there are plenty of different choices, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve compiled a few of the most popular below. You can click on the links provided for a more complete idea of what each plugin does – and which one is the best fit for your site.
- BuddyPress: By far the most popular plugin of its kind, BuddyPress is a powerful, modular plugin that provides pretty much every functionality necessary to create a social network. It’s got a thriving development community who are designing new features for it all the time, and the flexibility to support virtually any type of network.
- WP Symposium: One of BuddyPress’s biggest weaknesses is theme compatibility – it doesn’t always play nice with premium themes. Another weakness is its relatively long development cycle. WP Symposium has neither of these weaknesses, and almost as many features as BuddyPress. Plus, it’s extremely user-friendly; always a plus.
- WP Mingle: Unlike BuddyPress and WP Symposium, WP Mingle is completely free. Established with the goal of providing users a social experience that doesn’t require WordPress’s login or administrative functions, it features a layout similar to Facebook’s old-school design.
- GRA4 Social Network: Another free plugin, GRA4 Social Network is a bit more feature-light than the other plugins, designed more to add social networking functionality to a WordPress blog than it is to develop a network entirely from scratch.
Step 4: Maintain Your New Network
Last but certainly not least, your job’s nowhere near finished once you’ve got your social network up and on its feet. You need to actively maintain your new network – an incredibly involved undertaking. The whole time, you need to consistently ensure the most positive user experience possible, rolling out regular updates and bugfixes in the process.
Yeah. It’s not easy, especially if you’re looking to profit from the venture.
Step 5: Profit?
“Creating a successful social network is no easy task,” writes Forbes’ Freddie Dawson. “Making money from it is arguably even harder.” Dawson points to WAYN co-founder and CEO Peter Ward as a perfect example of this – and offers up some of Ward’s own advice as to how social networks can succeed and be profitable in such a highly-competitive market.
“The networks that succeed are the ones with a clear commercial mindset,” explains Ward. “New startups try to be social and then make money typically don’t survive beyond a point.”
The key, says Ward, is to provide tie-ins with other products and services, using the data gathered from said tie-ins to better tailor the experience for one’s users. He further adds that, without a clear commercial objective, a niche area of interest, and the determination to push through whatever challenges one faces, there’s not much chance of success.
What? You thought it’d be easy?
Time To Get Social
WordPress is a powerful, versatile platform that can be used to create just about any website you desire, no matter how big or small. That includes social media, naturally. By making use of WordPress’s Multisite feature and one of the many plugins on the web, you can cobble together an awesome social network.
Of course, you need to make sure you’ve a clear goal and the resources to maintain that network before you set out – otherwise, you probably aren’t going to get very far.