This guest post is by Jim Nelson of Tripawds.com.
With all the wonderful feedback on my guest post about how we utilize WordPress multisite and discussion forums to build community for our rather niche market, I thought I might offer some detail about specific tactics and network plugins we use to keep members informed, active and increasing in number.
Here are just a few social media nuts and bolts that keep the Tripawds Blogs community together. These methods work for us, as proven by growing membership and increased traffic to featured blogs and archived content.
My recommendations are by no means the only solutions for generating measurable success, though. Please do comment below with your own recommendations for encouraging social interaction on membership sites.
How to build community on membership sites
- The freemium model: Make it free, with perks for paid members. Offer free blogs and use a Supporter plugin to enable enhanced features, or set membership levels for accessing premium content.
- Create featured blogs: Post regularly to a set of sites targeting specific topics. Example: Tripawds followers will find weekly posts in separate blogs for Gear, Gifts, Nutrition, Downloads, and Amazon Reviews.
- Install Recent Global Posts widgets: Display recent posts from all blogs across your network, and bump your featured blog posts to pin them throughout the day.
- Update topics for featured blogs: Create specific forum topics for each of your sites and reply whenever your blog posts get kicked out of recent posts widgets. Encourage subscribing to topics for notification of new blog posts.
- Include member and blog directories: Provide searchable directories of all users and blogs. Edit directory pages to include descriptions and avatars of featured blogs and site administrators.
- Provide global site search: The WordPress admin bar only allows searching of the blog being viewed. Use a plugin that enables searching of all blogs and provide instructions for searching discussion forums and member or blog directories.
- Create a blog ring: Show network-wide global content in the headers and footers of all blogs across your network. Include links to your forums and directories or featured blogs. Here’s how we did it.
- Create a default New Blog template: Install a plugin that lets you activate a default theme for all new blogs complete with with settings, blogroll links, and text widgets, and use a Supporter plugin that lets you enable premium themes for paid subscribers.
- Welcome all new bloggers: In addition to customizing the default first “Hello World” comment from your WordPress settings, reply to the first real post published on new blogs. Also create a forum discussion for welcoming new bloggers, and update the topic after first posts get published. Encourage members to subscribe to topic for notification of new blogs.
- Thank paying members: If you offer paid premium accounts, create a forum topic for announcing all new Supporter blogs.
- Encourage commenting on blogs: Create global RSS feeds for all blogs and comments to facilitate the following of member activities.
- Display recent posts in the Dashboard: Use the Multisite Dashboard Feed Widget to show recent posts from all blogs in every user dashboard.
- Create a custom menu: Use a theme that supports custom menus and link to featured blogs and specific forums to make network navigation easy.
- Foster friendships: A Friends plugin can be used to help members connect and show their support of others with widgets on their blogs.
- Provide technical support: Create a forum dedicated to answering tech support questions, and have a featured blog for posting announcements of new features and how to videos.
- Use a discreet pop-up: Direct new visitors from external sites to valuable content or welcome them with encouragment to join using a Popover plugin.
- Branch out: Offer podcasts of interviews with community members or discussions about pertinent topics with the tools available at BlogTalkRadio. Direct traffic to a dedicated forum or featured blog for all show archives and the upcoming program schedule.
- Keep it fun: Start an “Anything Goes” forum for allowing members to rant and rave about whatever they wish. And consider creating a fun blog offering some sort of comic relief. Tripawds has the KillBarney blog which follows the travels of our dog Jerry’s favorite toy as it visits members and their dogs.
- Teach members to help: Encouage members to engage in all aspects of the community by showing them how to post in forums or publish a blog. Provide information about RSS feeds and how to use a reader, tell them how to subscribe or watch forum topics, and provide them with links to popular posts that should be shared with all new members.
Most importantly, engage with your community. Maintaining a multisite network for any cause can be time consuming. The more passionate you are about your work the easier it will be. Lack of passion is easily identified by members—especially paying ones—and can result in quick burnout. I have certain boilerplate comments with links to our most frequently recommended content, but I rarely use them and always edit them when I do to avoid appearing disingenuous.
Examples for all of the above tactics in use can be seen at my blog. The BuddyPress plugin is also available for building community among WordPress multisite members, complete with groups, forums and activity streams.
For those like me who have never played around with BuddyPress, however, I hope the tips above help you make the most of your multisite network. The vast majority of plugins I use to accomplish everything I’ve discussed come from WPMU Dev. If others have suggestions for different plugins or arguments for using BuddyPress, please share them in the comments.
Jim Nelson is co-founder of the Tripawds Blogs community and an active member of the WPMU Dev discussion forums. He and his wife Rene were featured in “Nature, Why We love Cats and Dogs” on PBS with their three-legged dog Jerry.