I’ve touted before all of the different things WordPress can do as a content management system. It’s no secret that I’m a WordPress advocate, but I’ve just recently discovered one of the project’s most impressive features– running a social network. With the help of the BuddyPress plugin, you can turn your website in to the perfect hub for a group of people. No, you’re not going to create the next Facebook or MySpace on a simple WordPress website, but it’s a great (and cheap) alternative to social network creation engines such as Ning or Grouply.
BuddyPress markets itself as “social networking in a box.” It provides all of the usual staples of a social network: activity streams, status posts, photo sharing and customizable profiles. A unique feature of the plugin, however, is that every single one of your users can create their own functioning WordPress blog housed under your WordPress website. As the admin, you’ll be able to track the posts and comments of each of your users, so you can control the amount of freedom you’d like to give your community.
More impressively, BuddyPress has its own network of plugin developers – offering further add-ons you can install to create additional functionality. In other words, this plugin has plugins! Any features you’d rather not used can be easily disabled and almost every aspect is customizable.
Will BuddyPress replace the need to manage a Facebook page or replace other social networks? Never. But a custom social network can bring together a smaller community – all usually interested in a common topic, and provide a level of freedom over your network that you can never get when using someone else’s service. You’re in full control. Using the Facebook “Like” button tool and Twitter’s ReTweet button, you can easily integrate your social network into the top existing social networks.
Before jumping to set up your network, consider a few thoughts. Make sure you have a strong community that will be interested. Make sure you have the time to be involved yourself. Would you have ever signed up for Facebook if there were only two other people on it? Also consider the levels of freedom to give your users. How much will you censor and where will you draw the line on what can be discussed?
So, do you think a custom social network could benefit your brand?