Most purchases are straight-forward and easy for consumers to understand: the transaction is completed up front by paying for items that provide immediate value. For example, think of a new laptop: you’ll pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase the laptop, the get value from it as soon as it’s in your hands and throughout its lifetime. Customers can judge pretty easily whether the initial cost will yield an equal or larger value over the course of the item’s life.

However, many membership sites do not follow this model. Instead, a recurring fee is charged each month. While this business model can help to be more sustainable for the business owner, it makes purchasing decisions more complicated for the customer. Now instead of a simple value vs cost analysis, the customer has to continually evaluate whether the monthly payment provides enough value during each renewal period.

As a membership site owner, it can be very challenging to ensure that your members feel that they get enough value to continue with a subscription each month. You can publish new content, add new member benefits, or send new products (in the case of subscription box memberships or similar). However, one very sustainable way to maintain value for your members is to build a membership community.

We’ve written a lot about membership plugins for WordPress, but most of the time we’re focused on restricting content you generate as a site owner or products you may sell. Instead, you can focus on cultivating a community of members so that member engagement helps to drive renewals and lower your membership churn.

Building a Membership Community with WordPress

Building a membership community isn’t going to simply produce automated income with minimal effort — I’d recommend reading this interview on membership communities from the Bright Agency for an inside look at a successful membership community site. It takes lots of work in terms of moderation, engaging members, and teaching them how to interact in your community.

However, building that engagement is a huge motivator to keep people coming back to your site and to provide a high enough value that renewing the membership every period is a no-brainer. This quote from the interview really stuck out to me:

I’m actually surprised at how attached people are to the community. I’m totally baffled. There are some people that deeply care about folks in this community. It’s fascinating.

If people can find some topic that they can reach out and touch and revolve around, they’re very willing to do it.

Making connections with other members is a powerful motivator, and it can help to sustain and build your membership site. Two plugins that can be really helpful to build this kind of membership community are BuddyPress, which can help you create your own member / social network, and bbPress, which lets you create forums.

Not all plugins support BuddyPress and / or bbPress, so we’ll give you a brief overview of some popular membership plugins that support them and what that support includes.

Membership Community: Restrict Content Pro

Restrict Content Pro ($42) is incredibly easy to use, and delivers several great features for membership sites. We’ve published a full review as well as an update for version 2.1 previously, and the plugin has added a few more features since then, such as WooCommerce support.

It won’t support BuddyPress or bbPress out of the box, but can certainly do so with a little bit of help.

BuddyPress

There’s a new Restrict Content Pro BuddyPress plugin ($18) that starts to connect the two plugins:

  1. Adds subscription details from Restrict Content Pro into the BuddyPress account section
  2. Ties Restrict Content Pro subscription levels to BuddyPress member types

However, it doesn’t yet give you the ability to restrict certain BuddyPress features to your RCP members. You could work with a developer to hide BuddyPress components to RCP members, but the RCP BuddyPress plugin says this is coming soon:

  • Restricting BuddyPress components (groups, messages, friends, and activity)
  • Restrict individual groups
  • Add a new restriction option to restrict items (pages, posts, etc) by Member Type

I’d recommend checking out if any of these are in development already; if not, you’ll need to work with a developer for more comprehensive bbPress integration.

bbPress

There’s a free bbPress connector plugin available for Restrict Content Pro, which lets you restrict forums, topics, and replies based on the RCP membership:

Restrict Content Pro bbPress integration

You should note that restricting a category will not automatically restrict forums, topics, or replies that belong to that category. You’ll need to restrict forums or topics directly to prevent direct access via URL access to topics and replies.

Membership Community: iThemes Exchange

iThemes Exchange is a free eCommerce plugin, and we’ve written several articles on using it for eCommerce and membership sites:

To get membership capabilities, along with bbPress and BuddyPress support, you’ll want to purchase the Exchange Pro Pack ($197). The Membership Add-on is included in the Pro Pack, and it’s very easy to set up and use while it offers flexible and simple restriction and dripping rules.

BuddyPress

The Exchange Pro Pack includes the BuddyPress add-on, which lets you restrict BuddyPress pages to your members. This gives you a basic BuddyPress integration where you can restrict certain BuddyPress content to your members only.

I’ve not used this add-on, so I’m not sure how tight the integration is between Exchange and BuddyPress, though it looks like it’s just focused on restricting BuddyPress content.

bbPress

The bbPress add-on for Exchange is also included in the Pro Pack, and lets you restrict your forums, topics, and replies. When installed, it adds the Membership add-on meta box to the forum / topic / reply editor:

Exchange Forum Restrictions with bbPress

Forums, topics, and replies will also be available for restriction and content dripping rules while editing one of your memberships:

Exchange Content Dripping Rules

Membership Content Dripping

There are a couple of downsides to note while using the Exchange bbPress integration:

  1. restricting a category will not automatically restrict forums, topics, or replies that belong to that category; forums and topics are accessible directly
  2. restricting a forum will not restrict direct access via URL to topics in the forum

Membership Community: MemberPress

I don’t use MemberPress ($99) too often since I’m usually using an eCommerce solution along with a membership plugin (like Easy Digital Downloads or WooCommerce), but it’s an excellent alternative completely focused on membership sites.

MemberPress has really flexible content restriction and dripping rules, it’s easy for developers to extend, and it has fantastic billing rules, such as proration, upgrades, and downgrades.

You can use bbPress or BuddyPress with MemberPress, and you may find the custom URL restriction rules helpful as a result. For example, you can restrict any URL that starts with mysite.com/forums/ to members only.

BuddyPress

I’ve not used BuddyPress with MemberPress, but here’s a helpful review from BuddyBoss on using MemberPress for a BuddyPress site.

bbPress

Same goes for bbPress. However, knowing what MemberPress can do in terms of restricting custom URLs, it should be simple to restrict URLs like /forums/ for members-only so that forums are completely private.

Membership Community: s2Member

S2Member ($89) is another plugin I’ve not used too much, but as a very mature membership plugin for WordPress, it’s had a lot of time to develop support for several popular plugins, including bbPress and BuddyPress.

BuddyPress

S2Member has details on the support for BuddyPress, including the ability to restrict different kinds of BuddyPress content and to charge for registration. Here’s a 20-minute overview video that may be helpful.

bbPress

bbPress restrictions in order to limit member access to forums, topics, and replies is also possible. I’m not sure how this operates in terms of category restrictions flowing down to child forums or topics within a restricted forum also being restricted, but would love to hear it if you’ve got experience using these plugins together.

Membership Community: Paid Memberships Pro

Paid Memberships Pro is a free plugin with several add-ons available, which makes it great to use for DIYers or sites that already work with a developer. If you don’t work with a developer and need help our support, you can get a membership to the support forums for $97 per year.

We’ve written a full review of the plugin along with a tutorial on selling sponsored memberships.

BuddyPress

Paid Memberships Pro isn’t necessarily compatible with BuddyPress out of the box, but compatibility is possible if you work with a developer or if you have access to a support membership. For example, you can update BuddyPress profiles with Paid Memberships Pro information. You could also use some custom code to restrict BuddyPress components to members.

However, this isn’t a turnkey solution and you’ll need to do some legwork to make them play nicely together.

bbPress

Paid Memberships Pro offers a free bbPress add-on, which will add the ability to restrict your forums to certain membership levels. When you edit a forum, you’ll be able to select the members that have access.

Paid Memberships Pro bbPress

The good thing about this add-on is that the restrictions will be inherited by “child” objects. For example, if you restrict a category, all forums, topics, and replies in that category will be restricted. If a user tries to access the topic directly, they’re redirected to the “forums” index and an “access restricted” message is shown.

The downside is that, while you can restrict categories or forums, you can’t restrict individual topics / replies.

Membership Community: WooCommerce Memberships

WooCommerce Memberships ($199 currently $149 on sale) is a pretty new plugin, and we’ve written about using it to build a membership site or to sell group memberships. Since it’s very new, it’s not really mature in terms of the other plugins it supports (aside from other WooCommerce extensions), so full integration with BuddyPress / bbPress isn’t turnkey.

This is a better solution for people that have a shop and a membership component to the site rather than sites that are exclusively devoted to content-based memberships.

BuddyPress

WooCommerce Memberships does not yet have a specific integration for BuddyPress. You can restrict the BuddyPress pages, such as the “Groups” index, but this won’t stop non-members from accessing a group via a direct URL, and only prevents browsing to the group.

An improved BuddyPress integration is on the idea board for voting, so it’s something you can vote for to keep in the loop as to its status.

bbPress

WooCommerce Memberships includes a basic bbPress integration, with a more advanced integration on the roadmap.

You can restrict forums, topics, and replies to specific memberships, and drip access to bbPress content:

WooCommerce Memberships bbPress

However, there are a couple issues here that we’ve seen already with other integrations:

  1. restricting a category will not automatically restrict forums, topics, or replies that belong to that category; forums and topics are accessible directly
  2. restricting a forum will not restrict direct access via URL to topics in the forum

These are issues that the roadmap says a more advanced integration would address.

Building Membership Communities

WordPress offers lots of very useful membership solutions like Restrict Content Pro, iThemes Exchange, MemberPress, S2Member, Paid Memberships Pro, and WooCommerce Memberships. Each of these serve different use cases and types of membership sites.

However, most any kind of membership site can benefit from creating a membership community, and they can all help you build a community in some way with bbPress or BuddyPress.


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Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.

One Comment

  1. One plugin we wrote about recently that I didn’t include here is EDD Members — while it doesn’t support BuddyPress, it does have a tight integration with bbPress to let you create a simple members-only forum.

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