Simply put, BuddyPress adds social networking features to your WordPress site. With BuddyPress you can build a social network for your church, school, or charity all built on the solid and familiar WordPress platform. Like WordPress, it is completly free and Open Source, with the biggest support and developer community you could wish for.
What is BuddyPress?
With BuddyPress you give your users the ability to create an account and identity, with which they can contribute to the social network, through status updates (like facebook and twitter), publishing on their own blog and through engaging with Groups on the network. The Groups feature of BuddyPress lets you create public, private or hidden groups. These can also include a forum as well as other features if you install additional BuddyPress plugins.
Global, personal and group activity streams with threaded commenting, direct posting, favoriting and @mentions are all part of the core BuddyPress experience.
Of course, I am particularly interested in how BuddyPress could transform the way people interact as a church online. If you have visited my blog before, you know I have been a strong advocate for WordPress for churches for a number of years (since 2004 to be precise), and now that 15% of the web is powered by WordPress more people now believe too!
It could make your church online a place to hang out, rather than just a place to read about your doctrinal position and download a 40 minute sermon.
With BuddyPress you could for example set up groups for each of your ministries or cell groups, giving space for interaction inbetween meet-ups. You could even use the tool to encourgae engagement with the wider community, by making the church social network a focus for sharing of ideas and engament with your local community and open to people who don’t even attend church. It could make your church online a place to hang out, rather than just a place to read about your doctrinal position and download a 40 minute sermon. In fact rather than download the sermon, you could have a group engage in theological reflection and help form the sermon for next Sunday all in a group on your BuddyPress enabled web site!
Getting Started with Buddypress
Given all that BuddyPress adds to your WordPress site, installation really couldn’t be simpler. It is packaged as a plugin that can be found and installed through the WordPress Dashboard in the plugin library. Now at version 1.5, it is a pretty robust plugin too. You can install it on a standard WordPress site or if you install it on a network enabled site your users can have their own blog too.
Once installed you will need a BuddyPress-compatible theme. And of course (shameless plug) my latest themes, Xi and Pure are both BuddyPress compatible. The default theme that comes with BuddyPress is also greatly improved in version 1.5.
If you visit the Pure Theme demo site, you will also be able to give BuddyPress a bit of a test drive.
A word of caution though. You do need a little thought about strategy and about how the features of BuddyPress translate into real life and benefit in your organisation. A church, school or volunteer group is a community of real people, so a social network needs to help and enhance, rather than dominate or obstruct. BuddyPress may actually be too easy to install for some. You could end up with just another overwhelming facebook clone which nobody uses.
You might wonder why anybody needs another social network, when we are already rather too consumed by the likes of facebook, twitter and of course the new Google Plus. Well, I think the answers lies in the need for smaller, more focussed social networks where there can be greater intimacy and commitment to common causes. Churches, schools, charities and volunteer groups are all about communities, so perhaps it’s time to dump the static and rather dull church web sites and turn them into places of community; places where people want to hang out.
It is possible that BuddyPress could transform the way people engage with your organisation online. It is easy to try, so why not give it a go?