WordPress has long been the home of online communities. Through forums, blogs, plugins, and comments, many people can interact on one platform. This is great for public communities, but what if you want to use these tools for a private community? Don’t worry, there are plugins for this exact purpose.
Some Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start
You’re about to spend money for premium plugins to make this private site. You need to ask yourself a few things first:
- Do you really need this to be private?
- Are you going to charge for access to this community?
- Is this going to be a social website or just a site with accessible content?
Choosing a Plugin
There are quite a few membership plugins out there. I’m just going to list two of them.
Membership is a plugin from the WPMU DEV team. It comes in two versions: lite, a free, but not incredibly feature packed, version, and pro, the feature packed, most functional version.
With Membership, you can control access to all content on your site. Users pay a monthly or annual fee to access chosen parts of your site. Sites such as the New York Times use this model for revenue.
The features of Membership include:
- Flexible membership options and a drag-and-drop interface to make customizing your membership site easy. You can choose the length of memberships and how often subscriptions should renew. You can also set different levels of membership and access.
- You can give access to all membership content at once or have access slowly be granted.
- Membership works with BuddyPress, so you can create a paid social network.
- You can offer free trials that turn into subscriptions after a certain amount of days.
Membership currently offers support for the following gateways:
- Authorize.NET AIM
- Paypal Express
Membership was built around the WP Multisite package. You can get the plugin by itself for $19 a month. For $39.60 a month you can get access to a full membership which gives you full access to all plugins and themes from WPMU and live support.
Wishlist Member claims to be used by over 43,853 communities, so it seems to have established a very strong reputation. They offer most, if not all, necessary features including:
- Unlimited membership levels: you can make every level from Gold to Polka Dot and charge different amounts for each one.
- Create free, trial, or paid membership levels.
- Member Managment: view all members, registration statuses, levels, etc. Easily upgrade, move, pause, or delete members.
- Drip content over time.
- Easily control content access.
- Integrates with PayPal, ClickBank, Cydec, Infusionsoft, etc.
- Multi-level access
- Protected RSS feeds
- Custom error pages
- Give sneak previews as teasers to non-members
1 year of updates and support is included. They offer a single site license for $97 and a multi-site license for $297. The multi-site license includes two custom themes, a webinar, and 300+ membership icons.
Configuring Your Site
Now that you’ve chosen a plugin, you’re going to need to configure a few things. The specific instructions for each plugin are different and can be found on their respective websites. Here’s a few common settings to configure:
- Set Up Your Membership Levels – You’re going to decide on multiple things in this category. You need to figure out how many membership levels you’re going to have, what their names will be, and what their prices and access levels will be.
- Create a Login/Register Area – You need to have a place where members can register and login. Depending on the plugin, this will either be a whole page or a box in the sidebar. Make sure it’s easy to use and access.
- Site Info and Guidelines – You should create a page that members are directed too once they login. You should include information about your community and set guidelines for how to join and act in it. Make sure to add a guidelines thread or post in the forum if you have one.
- Configure Payment Options – You will need configure ways for members to pay for membership, if that’s how you’re setting up your site. Most people use Paypal, but you can use whatever you want.
- A Cancellation Policy – You should make a cancellation policy or money back guarantee. This creates a comforting assurance for members. They may not want to stay forever, so making an easy way out is generally a good idea.
Now that you’ve made the membership part of your site, you should start developing the rest of your site. If you don’t have a forum, add one so users can interact easily. Add a poll or “suggestion box” so users can tell you what they want. Look around for plugins that will increase the functionality of your site for the purpose you made it for. Maybe add chat rooms so users can interact in real time or do occasional G+ Hangouts. Plugins such as BuddyPress can make your community more like a social network. What you do will really depend on your site’s aim.