The Complete Guide to BuddyPress for WordPress

The Complete Guide to BuddyPress for WordPress

Turning your WordPress site into a community with BuddyPress has never been easier thanks to improvements in recent versions of the social networking plugin.

BuddyPress works great with a huge number of free and premium themes, and the BuddyPress components look great in responsive themes too.

If you’d like to turn your site into a community of users and add social media features, then the free BuddyPress plugin makes it possible. In this post, I’ll show you how to install and configure BuddyPress on your site. You’ll learn how to create pages for BuddyPress, to add these to your menu and widgets, and to test your site using test data.

Here are the section headers, in case you’d like to jump to a particular spot:

If you want to learn all about BuddyPress before you start, then the dedicated BuddyPress site is a great place to go. But for me the best way to learn anything is by having a bash at it, so let’s get started!

BuddyPress website
BuddyPress helps you run any kind of social network on your WordPress site.

Installing BuddyPress

The first thing you’ll need to do is install the BuddyPress plugin. I’m going to install it on a fresh WordPress installation, but you can also install it on an existing site.

From your WordPress Dashboard, go to Plugins > Add New. If you don’t see BuddyPress displayed in the list of plugins, just type it in the search box.  Install & Activate, and you’re ready to roll!

BuddyPress welcome screen
The BuddyPress plugin splash screen.

Here you’ll find various links to help you set up and manage your BuddyPress community.  We’ll start by configuring settings for BuddyPress.

Configuring BuddyPress

There are three aspects to configuring BuddyPress:

  • Selecting the components you want to include.
  • Creating pages.
  • Customizing settings.

The place to start is by selecting components, as that will have an effect on the other settings.

Activating BuddyPress Components

To choose the components you’ll be using, go to Settings > BuddyPress, and select the Components tab.

BuddyPress selecting components
Some of the components are selected for you by default.

Depending on how you want your community to operate, you can select from as many as you want from the following:

  • Extended Profiles: Customize user profiles and configure the available fields.
  • Account Settings: Let users edit their account settings.
  • Friend Connections: Let users make connections with each other.
  • Private Messaging: Let users send each other private messages.
  • Activity Streams: Display streams of activity on the site with direct posting to the front-end, threaded commenting, mentions and email notification.
  • Notifications: Allow members to receive notifications of recent activity per their preference.
  • User Groups: Allow the creation of user groups, so users can create their own networks in your community.
  • Site Tracking: Track what’s happening on your site (posts and comments).
  • BuddyPress Core: Mandatory selection (BuddyPress won’t work without it.)
  • Community Members: Mandatory selection (BuddyPress won’t work without it.)

You can always add to these at a later date, if you decide to extend your community’s scope.

I’m going to select all of the components (partly because I’m greedy, and partly because I want to demonstrate them all here). Check all the boxes you want for your site, then click the Save Settings button.

Configuring Pages

The next step is to configure the pages that BuddyPress will use. Before moving on to the BuddyPress Settings Pages tab, you’ll need to create a couple of pages, as follows.

Note: If your community is closed and people can’t register themselves (i.e. you’ll be adding all of the users manually), you can skip this step.

From your WordPress Dashboard, go to Pages > Add New, and create two pages as you normally would.  Call one Register and the Other Activate (or something different but meaningful to you and your users).

Once you’ve done that, you’ll see all of the pages in your site so far in the main Pages listing screen. BuddyPress has already added two more pages for you: Activity and Members.

BuddyPress WP pages
You can add your own pages here, in addition to those BuddyPress creates for you.

Now you have your pages in place, you can configure them for BuddyPress.

Go back to Settings > BuddyPress, then click the Pages tab.

BuddyPress pages tab.
Directory and Registration settings for your pages in BuddyPress.

Select pages for each function as follows:

  • Members: select Members
  • Activity Streams: select Activity
  • User Groups: select Groups
  • Register: select Register
  • Activate: select Activate

Click the Save Settings button, and BuddyPress will automatically  display the appropriate page content in your site.

Configuring Settings

Now that you’ve selected components and created pages, it’s time to move on to configure BuddyPress settings.

Go to Settings > BuddyPress, and click on the Options tab.

BuddyPress settings options
The Options tab in BuddyPress settings.

This screen gives you a number of options for features you can choose to enable or disable. These are:

  • Main Settings: toolbar, account deletion, and template pack.
  • Members Settings: profile photo uploads, cover image uploads, invitations, and membership requests.
  • Profile Settings: profile syncing.
  • Groups Settings: group creations, group photo uploads, and group cover image uploads.
  • Activity Settings: post comments, activity auto-refresh, and Akismet (for activity stream spam).

Select the ones that are relevant to your site and click the Save Settings button. I’m selecting everything (being greedy again!).

Configuring WordPress Settings

Now that you’ve got BuddyPress set up, it’s a good idea to configure your WordPress settings before adding your navigation menu and widgets.

From the WordPress Dashboard, under Settings > Reading, set the home page as a static page, namely Activity. This will ensure that when your users open your site, they see recent activity.

I’m leaving the Posts page option blank as my site doesn’t have a blog. If yours does, select the appropriate page.

BuddyPress reading page
Don’t forget to tweak your Reading Settings.

Note: If you’re adding BuddyPress to an established site and want to keep your existing home page, you might choose not to have the activity page as your home page. But make sure your Activity page is nice and easy for people to find.

After adjusting your settings, make sure to Save Changes.

Installing a Theme

Now you need a theme for your site. If you’re working with an existing site you can skip this bit as the chances are you’re happy with your existing theme.

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in the past, you could only use a BuddyPress compatible theme if you wanted to run BuddyPress; using the plugin with your own theme meant adding some extra theme template files to make BuddyPress work. But that no longer applies. Since version 1.7, BuddyPress will work with any well-written theme, although there will always be some themes whose layout and design suit BuddyPress better than others.

I’m going to use a theme called Spacious, which is free, and has a clean design that doesn’t detract from the myriad of content your users will generate, as well as customization options that allow you to tweak the design.

Go to Appearance > Themes and click the Add New button. Type Spacious into the search box if it’s not already showing.

Spacious theme
WordPress’s Spacious theme.

Install and Activate the Spacious theme. Feel free to customize it via the theme settings screen or the customizer if desired.

Adding a Menu and Widgets for Navigation

Next let’s add a menu and some widgets to the site to improve navigation.

Creating a Navigation Menu

If your site doesn’t already have a navigation menu, you’ll need to create one and assign it to the primary slot in your theme.

Go to Appearance > Menus and click the create a new menu link. Name your menu, check the Primary Navigation checkbox, and save it.

If you can’t see a section with submenus called BuddyPress on the left hand side, you can turn it on by opening the Screen Options tab at the top of the screen and checking BuddyPress.

Now add a selection of the BuddyPress pages (along with any other pages you’d like) to the navigation menu. I’m adding these pages:

  • Activity (with Messages and Notifications as second level links beneath this)
  • Friends
  • Groups
  • Profile (with Settings at the second level)
  • Log Out
  • Log In
  • Registration

All of these apart from the last one are taken from the BuddyPress list on the left; the Register link is taken from the Pages list. I’ve changed the link text for Register to Join, to make it more direct.

BuddyPress menu structure
You can structure the menu in BuddyPress to your liking.

Now click Save Menu.

Here’s how the site looks with the new theme and menu:

BuddyPress preview 1
First look at our site with the BuddyPress options we’ve chosen thus far.

Next I want to add some widgets to display activity and help users navigate around the site.

Adding Widgets

I’m going to add widgets to my sidebar and header widget areas, plus the four footer widget areas. If you’re using a different theme you’ll probably have different widget areas. Also the widgets you have available to use will depend on the components you activated at the beginning.

First we’ll add three widgets to the Right Sidebar section.

Click the blue + plus sign button to open the Widgets library, then scroll down to the BuddyPress section, and click each one the following to add to the sidebar:

  • BuddyPress Log In
  • BuddyPress Sitewide Notices
  • BuddyPress Friends
BuddyPress rights sidebar widgets
We’re adding three different widgets to this sidebar.

Next, I’ll add three widgets specific to BuddyPress in the first three footer widget areas:

  • BuddyPress Who’s Online (Online Members)
  • BuddyPress Recently Active Members
  • BuddyPress Groups
BuddyPress footer widgets
Adding the first three footer widgets; each gets their own footer area (footer one, footer two, & footer three).

Finally, add a text widget to the fourth footer widget area, with some explanatory text about the community and a link to your Registration page.

BuddyPress footer widget
Adding our fourth footer widget, a text box with the URL to our registration page.
BuddyPress site preview 2
What our site looks like now with the sidebar, header, and footers added.

At the moment it’s very empty. But we’ve set it up so that as the community grows and members add content, it will bloom like a well-tended garden.

Managing Your BuddyPress Site

Now that your site is up and running, the next step is to promote it and encourage people to join. What you’ll need to do will depend on the nature of your community. If your site is for a small, already established group or team that shouldn’t be too hard; if it serves an existing community you’ll have to spread the word and encourage others to do the same. If you’re looking for a wider audience and/or to sell memberships, you’ll need a robust marketing plan.

Once people start joining there are tasks you’ll have to keep on top of as the site administrator:

  • Keep your site up to date: Including WordPress core, the BuddyPress plugin, your theme and any other plugins you have installed.
  • Test the site: Especially when updating to ensure no problems arise (it’s  good idea to test updates on a development or staging version of your site first to be safe).
  • Maintain regular backups: A plugin like Snapshot Pro works well.
  • Moderating: Watch the community and resolve any complaints or disputes.

As your community grows, moderation is likely to become more important. It’s a good idea to define some community standards or guidelines right at the start and create a page for these on your site, so people know what’s expected. These will include guidelines about spam, trolling, use of profanity, personal attacks, spammy links, uploads and more. What you include will depend on you and your community, and may evolve over time.

As the administrator, you can delete a user’s account if they breach the community guidelines, but it’s best to delete specific posts or interactions first if they’re inappropriate and/or contact the user about it. You’ll have to find a balance between preventing unacceptable behavior and being heavy-handed… if you’ve been active on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll know how hard this can be!

Should you find rthat the metadata relating to your community is incorrect following an update or restoration, you can use the BuddyPress Tools screen to fix any of the following:

  • Count friends for each user
  • Count groups for each user
  • Count of total members
  • Repair “last activity” user data
BuddyPress tools.
The built-in repair tools in BuddyPress are handy to have.

Use these tools only when necessary however, as they put some strain on the database. When you do use them, it’s best to put the site into maintenance mode first and make a backup prior.

Make Friends with BuddyPress

BuddyPress is a powerful tool for creating online communities, which you can use for anything from a small team to a massive network of people across the world. It has the flexibility to accommodate a variety of uses, because you can switch components and settings on and off according to the needs of your site.

In this post you’ve learned how to install and configure BuddyPress, add BuddyPress pages to your navigation menu, insert BuddyPress widgets into your theme’s widget areas, and inspect or repair elements if something seems off.

Now that your  site is up and running, all that remains is for you to encourage people to join, and get the conversations started with them. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and relevancy.
[Originally Published: July 2015 / Revised: February 2022]

What do you use BuddyPress for? How does it enhance your community? Add your experiences in the comments below.

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Rachel McCollin

Rachel McCollin Rachel is a freelance web designer and writer specializing in mobile and responsive WordPress development. She's the author of four WordPress books including WordPress Pushing the Limits, published by Wiley.

Janette Burhans

Janette Burhans Janette is a wily wordsmith and impassioned illustrator who does her best work surrounded by pink, sparkly things. Aside from creating articles and art, she treasures time with family (human & furry), reading or watching stories, and long walks down the makeup aisle. She is happy to share her thoughts and feelings, but draws the line at ice cream.