Build a Social Network App with WordPress and BuddyPress

buddypress mobile app

If you’re an experienced WordPress user, then you’ve probably come across its powerful social networking solution, BuddyPress.

WordPress makes it easy for non-techy website owners to set up a fully functional social networking platform in a few simple steps with the free BuddyPress plugin.

The developers behind it describe it as a social network in a box. It allows members to sign up, create profiles, connect with other members, and share status updates – just as they would on any other social network.

In addition, building a social networking site with BuddyPress is great for online business owners, niche communities, institutions, and other organizations who want to create their own social network for team members, customers, and friends to communicate and share content.

With BuddyPress, you get:

  • A complete social networking solution that integrates seamlessly with WordPress.
  • An intuitive and user-friendly interface that’s incredibly easy to use.
  • An open-source platform that is extendable through add-ons.
  • Your own social networking platform!

For a guide on BuddyPress, keep reading below as we discuss why BuddyPress should power both your website and mobile app as well as how to get started.

The Benefits of Building a Social Network with BuddyPress

Building a social network with BuddyPress is easy. Installation is simple. Configuration is quick and intuitive. And, just like WordPress, it comes with all the functionality you’d ever want for your social network.

Building a Social Network Website with BuddyPress

Just because it’s easy to use, does that make BuddyPress the best solution for building your social network website? Here are just some of the things BuddyPress gives you the power to do:

  • Register users and members.
  • Share custom feeds with users based on their preferences.
  • Send relevant notifications to users about activity in their feed and community.

And don’t forget about what it does for your users who can now:

  • Create more robust user profiles for themselves.
  • Manage their accounts.
  • “Friend” one another.
  • Participate in private chats.
  • Post, comment, favorite/like, and tag others.
  • Create and join sub-groups based on shared interests, locations, and so on.

In addition, because BuddyPress is open source software, it can be extended using a number of BuddyPress-compatible plugins.
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BuddyPress Compatible Plugins

BuddyPress also works with any standard compliant WordPress theme. So, if your website already exists and the social network is something you’re adding on, you don’t have to worry about ditching the old theme to find one that’s BuddyPress-friendly. That said, there are a number of WordPress themes designed specifically for BuddyPress websites, so be sure to keep reading for a list of suggestions.

Ready to kickstart your BuddyPress website growth?

Discover 3 of the most essential BuddyPress plugins in our downloadable PDF!

 

The Advantages of Mobile Apps for BuddyPress

Once you have built a community site with BuddyPress, you now have the opportunity to build a mobile app for it.

comScore’s 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report showed that, in general, mobile apps (both smartphone and tablet) comprise 57% of all time spent with digital media.

comScore - Digital Media Time

When you look solely at how consumers spend time on their mobile devices, there’s no contest. 87% of time spent on mobile takes place within mobile apps.

comScore - Mobile Media Time

Clearly, the convenience of mobile apps is far superior to relying on a mobile browser to access frequently used sites and services. Smartphone users want an easy way to access their favorite content and services. Apps offer just that, with several added benefits for you, as the site owner:

Capture more of your target audience. A Pew report from 2018 shows how quickly social media usage has grown across all age groups over the last ten years.

Social Media Usage by Age

That said, it’s quite clear that it’s the younger users that gravitate more towards social networking. Further, it’s the younger generations that spend the most time in mobile apps.

comScore - Average Hours in Mobile

Essentially, mobile apps give you a chance to capture more of your target audience.

Familiarity. The experience of walking through a website can sometimes be a surprise. With mobile apps, however, there is a formula to designing a user experience that works. It’s this level of familiarity that makes users instantly more comfortable in this environment.

Greater productivity. For social networks developed for professional purposes, you’re giving businesses a chance to be more productive within their own operations. As productivity and profits rise, word will spread.

A direct communication channel. Push notifications allow you to establish direct interaction with your site’s users, alerting them to new content, events and anything happening on the site.

A constant reminder of your community. Beyond push notifications, having your app’s icon on your user’s home screen is the best way you can remind users to log into your site.

A presence on the app stores. People are increasingly relying on app stores to discover new services and social apps. Your presence there means you have a chance to be found where people are actually searching.

Simplified login. Many apps now make use of social media login functionality (usually through Facebook, Twitter, or Google) for easier and quicker access inside.

Native social sharing. Your app can rely on the user’s installed apps for social sharing, which means it’s now easier and faster for them to share your content.

Native advertising. Mobile apps can integrate native Mobile Advertising solutions like Admob, Google Ad Manager, Mopub and others. As a site and app publisher, this means you can integrate your monetization strategy with an app-specific solution which is effectively immune to ad blockers (there are also other ways to monetize – check out our Complete Guide to Mobile App Monetization here).

Offline access. Building a community app to supplement your site gives the end user direct access to it from their device and can make it available offline (provided the functionality is supported by your site).

It’s another learning opportunity. Every digital channel through which you engage with your audience is a learning experience–and one which you can profit from. Learn what really gets your community excited, so you can continually build a better social network.

Of course, a mobile app is only one piece of the puzzle. So, let’s walk through how to get you started with a BuddyPress website and then look at the work involved in creating your mobile app.

Get Started with a BuddyPress Website

BuddyPress Plugin

To get started with a BuddyPress website, you first need to install the BuddyPress plugin from the WordPress repository.

Within WordPress, navigate to your Plugins menu. Click on Add New and search for BuddyPress:

Activate BuddyPress

Install and activate the BuddyPress plugin once you’ve located it.

Because every BuddyPress social network site is going to be different, it’s important to spend some time configuring it so that it matches your exact needs.

Configure BuddyPress Settings: Components

You can find settings for your BuddyPress plugin under the Settings > BuddyPress menu.

BuddyPress Settings Menu

The first tab for configuration is called Components.

BuddyPress Components

This is where you’ll determine what sort of features you want to make available to users. These include:

  • Extended Profiles
  • Account Settings
  • Friend Connections
  • Private Messaging
  • Activity Streams
  • Notifications
  • User Groups
  • Site Tracking

To change the default configurations, simply check the features you want or uncheck the ones you don’t. Then click the “Save Settings” button at the bottom of the page.

Note that upon activating some of these components, new menus will now appear in the WordPress dashboard for you.

BuddyPress Components Menus

Activity lets you know what “authors” have done on the site in terms of registering accounts, updating profiles, friending other users, and so on.

Groups allows you to create new sub-groups that users can join–including configuring unique settings for each, adding a logo, and adding users. You can also check on the status of all your BuddyPress groups from this menu and stay on top of which ones are most active, have the most members, etc.

Emails is where you customize and create new automated messaging based on your social network’s activity.

Under the Users menu, you’ll find three new settings as well:

Manage Signups: You can register and approve new users. However, in order to activate this module, you need to visit the Settings > General menu.

Settings General Menu

Click on “Anyone can register” to enable this component.

Profile Fields: Use this to customize which fields are available to your newly registered users when they create and update their profiles.

Site Notices: If you want to issue a welcome message or notice to users once they’ve logged into your website, create it here.

Configure BuddyPress Settings: Options

Return to the BuddyPress Settings menu. Click on the Options tab.

BuddyPress Options

From this tab, you will determine how much flexibility and control users have over their accounts and profiles. This is broken down into four categories:

  • Main Settings: deals with interface options as well as the ability to delete accounts
  • Profile Settings: mostly pertains to personalization of profiles with images
  • Groups Settings: allows users to create their own groups and personalize them with images
  • Activity Settings: check this if you want to allow for user engagements within activity streams

Save your settings when you’re done.

Configure BuddyPress Settings: Pages

Finally, let’s talk about what pages you’ll need for your BuddyPress social network.

BuddyPress Pages

From this tab, you will need to assign designated pages for your social network. There’s no need to use all of these if you don’t need them. If that’s the case, just select “None” for that page and save your changes.

Also, note that BuddyPress automatically creates these pages for you:

  • Members
  • Activity Streams
  • User Groups
  • Registration
  • Activation

You can create custom ones, too. Just remember to link them through this page.

Last, but not least, you have to add these pages to your WordPress site’s navigation (that part BuddyPress won’t take care of for you).

To do this, go to Appearance > Menus. Find the new social network pages you want to add, click the checkbox next to each, and select “Add to Menu”. You’ll then see them drop into the navigation menu structure on the right.

Update Navigation

Organize these however you see fit and then click “Save Menu” when you’re done.

Pick a Relevant Theme

BuddyPress lets users launch a social networking site in minutes and with a simple setup. Once you’re done with the initial setup, you’ll need a theme for your site. As I mentioned earlier, BuddyPress is compatible with all compliant WordPress themes. However, if you want one that will make designing a social network site easier to handle, as well as the later conversion of it into a mobile app, you need a mobile-optimized theme.

We’ve picked out some of the best BuddyPress themes to help you kick things off, with special attention to their mobile features and design.

BuddyApp

BuddyApp

BuddyApp markets itself as a mobile-first community theme. This one-of-a-kind theme features a mobile-optimized design and is ideal for managing and engaging with any private community – Intranet or Extranet. BuddyApp’s blazingly fast AJAX-based search, live chat, and live notifications enhance user experience and make it an ideal choice for your community’s mobile app.

KLEO

KLEO Theme

KLEO is a multipurpose BuddyPress theme that’s designed to take your social networking site to the next level. And with its multipurpose templates and demo importer, it’s incredibly easy to design your mobile social network website with the features your community’s members want. As a bonus, KLEO comes with the Visual Composer drag-and-drop page builder for easy customization.

Socialize

Socialize Theme

Socialize is another great example of a multipurpose WordPress theme built specifically for BuddyPress. In addition, Socialize integrates with bbPress for when you want to add a community forum to your social network. Among the user-friendly features included in this theme, the one to get most excited about is the inclusion of BuddyPress widgets in Visual Composer.

Woffice

Woffice Theme

When designing intranet and extranet communities for local government, academia, and other local-serving organizations, your focus should be less on offering fun favorite/comment/friending capabilities. This needs to be a highly functional and collaborative network. Woffice successfully answers the call in helping designers create a private community while also focusing on the mobile-friendliness of it by employing a design inspired by Material Design.

In general, using a BuddyPress-compatible WordPress theme will speed up the time-to-market for your new social network website. However, don’t forget to take time to develop personal branding for it as well. This includes deciding on a unique and memorable brand name for your community, designing a custom logo to match it, and choosing a color scheme that properly reflects the tone and personality of the network.

Building your Mobile App with MobiLoud Canvas

With your BuddyPress website built, you can now focus on converting that website into a mobile app. There are a few options website owners and web developers have in terms of how to do this.

  1. Code the mobile app from-scratch, using your WordPress site as inspiration.
  2. Hire an app developer to build it on your behalf, which can be expensive as well as a lengthy process.
  3. Quickly create a hybrid mobile app, whereby you insert your mobile website into an app.
  4. Convert your website into a native app using trusted software and mobile app experts.

The last option is the ideal choice. It’s cost-effective, quick, and produces the highest quality results–especially when you use the MobiLoud Canvas app.

ecommerce mobile app

What Is MobiLoud Canvas?

MobiLoud Canvas allows site owners to extend their site’s online-only presence with a native mobile app for both the iOS and Android platforms.

With this complete service, you can set up a fully functional mobile app with your existing BuddyPress theme. This ensures that you don’t lose the design customizations and branding you’ve worked so hard to build when creating a mobile app for your website.

The team behind MobiLoud Canvas will take care of configuring, building and publishing your mobile app for you. Once you sign up with the service, there’s practically no work for you to do to get your app published on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Oh, and don’t forget about the dedicated support and automated updates you receive. It really is an all-in-one mobile app solution.

MobiLoud Canvas works by adding a native layer to your mobile website that includes:

  • A customizable native launch screen which lets your mobile web app load in the background as the app starts.
  • Page preloading, so the main pages of your site are immediately available when your app starts.
  • Native tab bar for instant navigation between the main pages of your app.
  • Push notifications inbox to get back to all the messages you sent, which also happens to integrate with OneSignal and Firebase.
  • Advanced control panel for push notifications, so users are in control of what they receive.
  • Support for user logins, which are integrated with push notifications.
  • Support for geo-location to allow any location-based functionality in your web app.

Here are some more reasons why MobiLoud Canvas is the optimal choice over the competition:

  • It integrates with the WordPress login, which is great for your users.
  • It integrates with BuddyPress, so you don’t have to worry about losing any of the functionality from your website when you convert to an app.
  • It’s also not some bloated app (like PhoneGap) which forces you to miss out on crucial elements from BuddyPress.

By offering the best features for your mobile website and mobile app, MobiLoud Canvas gives your social network a strong presence in the iOS and Android app stores, quick navigation UI elements, content caching, native mobile advertising options, animations, and front-and-center screen real estate on your viewer’s mobile device.

How to Easily Convert BuddyPress into a Mobile App with MobiLoud Canvas

Want to see how easy it is to easily convert your BuddyPress community into a mobile app? Follow these steps:

Step 1: Schedule a free consultation with one of MobiLoud’s app experts

To start building your mobile app, our team will need to know a little more about your business and unique needs. Visit the MobiLoud Canvas homepage and from there, it’s easy to schedule a demo at a time that works for you.

mobiloud buddypress mobile app

Step 2: Get your mobile app built for you!

After a consultation call and when you’ve decided to go ahead, our team of experienced app developers will start building your BuddyPress mobile app for you.

In just a couple of days, you’ll receive access to the first version of your app, which you can then customize further!

Step 3: Fully Customise your App Configuration

Once you have a first version of your app, you will get access to the configuration, which lets you change how your mobile app looks, and functions for your users.

You can change anything from your menu and tab items, to your app color scheme, notification types and more

Here’s a quick walkthrough of what you can change within the Canvas configuration:

Menu:

This is the same navigation module you encountered before. If you made a mistake or want to make updates to your navigation tabs in the future, do so here.

Colors:

MobiLoud Canvas Builder

Get as granular as you like with your application of colors.

Push Notifications:

BuddyPress push notifications

 

Create targeted messages to users for the different kinds of BuddyPress notifications they might receive (e.g. friend activity, groups activity, new mentions, favorites, etc.) You can also use this to automatically send new blog posts or newsletter alerts to them.

In order to keep your app compliant with GDPR guidelines, allow users the choice of opting out of messages.

Login:

Login Configuration

If you’d like to give users a login page, you’ll have to create it here. You can define how and when to display the login screen to users.

Settings:

Advanced Settings

Take control over some of the technical aspects of your mobile app as it pertains to caching, code injection, location support, and so on.

Advertising:

Advertising

Because you’re creating a native mobile app, you no longer have to worry about ad blockers that prevent on-site advertising efforts from reaching users. If you want to monetize your mobile app, activate this module.

Analytics:

Analytics

If you want to monetize your mobile app, activate this module. Through integrations with some of the leading mobile advertising platforms such as Google Ad Manager and MoPub, you can have maximum flexibility in serving your own ad inventory, or banners from ad networks such as AdMob, or Facebook Audience Network.

Because you’re creating a native mobile app, you won’t have to worry about ad blockers that prevent on-site advertising efforts from reaching users.

Ratings:

Ratings

Unless this app is meant solely for an internal or private network, it’s important to collect user ratings for the purposes of social proof. The more buzz you can get around your app in the app stores, the more likely others are to download it.

Advanced:

BuddyPress mobile app

The Advanced tab is an editor you can use to tweak every element of the app using custom CSS. There are also a few”hidden” settings directly in the app’s JSON configuration, which is good to have if you prefer to use a configuration file rather than the Canvas builder interface.

Step 4: Test Your App

Before you publish any changes to your app configuration, you will probably want to preview it! You can do this by clicking on the “Test App” button in the top-right of the Canvas configuration.

You can easily test your app within the Canvas configuration to make sure it functions and looks as you’d expect on both Android and iOS.

preview buddypress app with mobiloud

Step 5: Publish Your App

When you’re finished configuring your mobile app, click on the “Publish” button in the top-right corner of the screen. From there, your app will automatically update with the changes you made!

Here’s a screenshot of what a social networking site running the BuddyApp theme would look like once it’s published as a native app with MobiLoud Canvas.

BuddyApp Example

As you test out the new app, you can interact with it the way users would, ensuring that everything–from image placement to text sizing and everything in between–works well for what you’re trying to accomplish.

As you can see from this example, each page of the app has a clean, consistent look. The menu at the bottom is easy to find and uses clear labels to distinguish different parts of the network from one another (while also highlighting the current tab that’s open). Be sure to look closely at these critical UX elements as you test out your own app inside of MobiLoud Canvas.

Once you’re happy with how the app has turned out and you’ve had MobiLoud publish it to the app store of your choosing, be sure to visit it, download it to your phone, and start using it. This is a great way to discover new uses for it and improve features from the end user’s point-of-view.

Step 7: Engage Users with Push Notifications

With a traditional WordPress website, you have to find ways to appeal to visitors to share their contact information. Then, when they’re off your website you’ll need to engage them with email marketing.

Without their willingness to fill out a contact form and hand over their email addresses, it’s very difficult to stay in touch with these prospects, customers, or members.

However, when you build an experience within a mobile app, you have the express advantage of already having a direct means to contact users. With your social network located on their mobile device, you can use push notifications that go directly to them on their mobile devices.

You can use push notifications to:

  • Let users know when activity in the BuddyPress network happens.
  • Send links to new content.
  • Remind users about forum posts they haven’t seen.
  • Notify them of private messages.
  • Ask for app store ratings.
  • And more.

Consequently, push notifications are beneficial to your brand as they:

  • Keep users in your app longer.
  • Increase popularity for your app because of how useful and engaging it is.
  • Because it encourages repeated use and increased traffic, you get to learn more about your users so you can build better experiences.

Really, push notifications aren’t that much different from text messages. Your alerts appear on their screen–so long as they’ve enabled them–so that you may share quick snippets about what’s happening within the app. This, in turn, compels them to revisit the app again. It also keeps your app top-of-mind with users as they receive regular and relevant updates from you. It’s a win-win situation.

Wrapping Up

BuddyPress is a robust, feature-rich solution for building communities and social networking platforms which can be used for anything from helping your local sports team get-together, to allowing a massive network of employees located across the globe collaborate on a project.

Supplementing your community’s online presence with a native mobile app will give users a new, yet familiar way to connect with friends, family, and colleagues, thanks to app-only features like a presence on their device’s home screen, push notifications, and instant access to the main sections of your site.

If you haven’t already, be sure to get a demo to see how well MobiLoud Canvas performs with your BuddyPress-enabled social network! Then, when you’re ready, get started with MobiLoud.

Written by
Pietro Saccomani

Pietro is the founder of MobiLoud, where he helps site owners grow their audience on mobile with their own mobile apps.

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Written by Pietro Saccomani
MobiLoud