We often use the term authority in blogging circles. Authority is about what you know and what you are talking about. Apart from the knowledge, as a leader you need to empower your community around your blog. Thereby other community members share their successes and experiences with others which will grow your readership in a very organic and personal way.
One of the best ways to empower the community on your blog is to create a niche social network or just a forum. The idea of creating niche social network doesn’t mean creating a Facebook clone. In fact, modern forum is not so different from social network.
Let’s learn how to create a niche social network on your blog using free plugins like BuddyPress.
Why Niche Social Network?
Since it is easier to build a community around a popular social network, question is why you should create a niche network on your site. It depends on your goals and commitments. Here are some of the limitations of social network site.
You don’t own the content
Who owns and controls your intellectual content and group on your favorite social network is not as clear as you might think. So if you have a long term plan and commitment better to create a self-hosted network. If you prefer to host it yourself you will have a lot more control on it and you could customize it as per your needs.
Limitations on sharing
People could not upload file attachments on a social network. Another problem is that the older posts easily get buried as there is no systematic arrangement for the content
Content is not focused as on niche network
For the most part no content is irrelevant since users are interested in the content featured in a niche social network
It couldn’t support their users as niche social network could
Normal social networks are tapped into the unique interests a person has online that they are interested in sharing with others. However, it couldn’t fully support their users the same way a niche social network could.
Monetization is not possible
There are many ways to monetize a self hosted social network. A niche social network can be a gold mind when it comes to targeting relevant users because the entire social network is relevant and share a common interest.
To create or not to create
Before jumping straight forward to build a niche social network, it is really important to know some of the harsh truth of owning a social network. Later on maintaining the site could be a tedious task and a headache.
Examine the purpose
Building a niche network would benefit your community by providing a space where members can work collaboratively which is visible to larger public. This will also help them to get opinion from other members. The benefit for you is that you can grow your existing blog community exponentially and it is also a nice place to cross-promote your existing relevant products and websites and to get more instantaneous feedback from the community.
If your only goal is to make money from the network, believe me, there are other quicker and easier ways to get it.
Launch a social network only when you have good traffic base
As like a forum you should never launch a niche network without an existing traffic base. No one would be interested to talk to wall. First create, then traffic strategy won’t work here. Nonetheless, a vacant niche network makes your site look spammy.
It doesn’t mean that you should necessarily have a high traffic site. If you have pretty huge and active fan base or groups on any social networks or email lists, you can think about launching a forum.
Running a community driven network is a lot of work.
It needs a lot of commitment. The more popular your network becomes, the more spam you receive. As an administrator your job is to monitor the content in order to hunt spam and to verify if it is posted in the right category. In addition, you should manage and update the software platform, resolve any problems users may have with their accounts and with other community members like harassment and abusing of community rules. Without this kind of commitment, the community would quickly fall.
Deciding between Forum or niche social network
The way people communicate online is changing day by day. If you consider creating an online community, you do have many options. You can either provide threaded discussion boards like forums or provide a niche social network where members can collaboratively work in a flexible and powerful way with a larger public.
Let’s see some of the main features of conventional forum and niche social network altogether.
- On a conventional forum you can create a thread, start discussions and comments on it but you could not create a group based on an interest or activity.
- Forums are limited to text based information sharing but sometimes it is harder to convey information only by text whereas social network has a feature of sharing multimedia files like audio, video and images.
- Private messaging is one of the main features of online community of any kind. Most of today’s forums offer this feature too.
The main difference is that forums are focused on content but social networks are focused on personal interests of members and it helps the member to organize tasks around his relationships and interests.
So analyzing the tools available for your need is critical. Before jumping to tools, it is better to understand that who your community is, how they use social technologies to get connected and for collaborative work.
Creating niche social network on WordPress blog
There are lots of options to create any type of community without paying a penny. Thanks for WordPress and the open source community. Here are some of the best plugin that let you integrate self hosted social network into your WordPress powered blog
One of the best things about BuddyPress Plugin is that it is completely free. But before jumping to install it on your blog, please note that currently not all WordPress Theme will support BuddyPress plugin. You need to install a BuddyPress supported theme or you should customize your current theme for BuddyPress. Fortunately, BuddyPress 1.7 release will make BuddyPress compatible with any WordPress theme. Download BuddyPress plugin here.
For adding multimedia features to a BuddyPress powered social network, you can use BuddyPress Media plugin so that members can upload/share photos, videos and audio with their friends.
If you need a discussion forum not a social network, you can use BBPress plugin. Learn more about creating a forum using bbPress here. It does not have social networking features like activity streams, extended profiles, friend connections, private messaging, groups and more. But it is one of the best plugin for forum.