Whew! I haven’t been blogging much around here because I’m working on a side project which is taking up all of my free time (in addition to my freelance business at www.angiemeekerdesigns.com). I thought I’d take a few minutes today to tell you about it and outline how I’m making it, using WordPress, of course!

The Backstory of Your Crime Site

A few years ago we built a website for a Crime Stoppers program (you know, the program where submit an anonymous tip and get a reward for it if the crook is captured). That site did really well, mostly because of the strength of WordPress. Crime Stoppers programs have an innate need to publish their own content quickly and often, but most aren’t able to do that with their current static websites, if they have a site at all. The only company offering websites specifically for Crime Stoppers? Well let’s just say that their sites are a little pre-1990. Still. But they have HUNDREDS of programs using their sites because they’re the only ones doing it!

Our one Crime Stoppers program here in the middle of Ohio gets more traffic than the national Crime Stoppers website, the INTERNATIONAL Crime Stoppers website, the Crime Stoppers programs of Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and is only a few hundred hits short of eeking out New York. Not bad for the middle of Ohio. Beyond the traffic, they’re able to do things with their site now they just couldn’t do before. They hold online auctions, take online donations, accept event registrations, integrate with social media, and so much more.

All of that is old hat for anyone who has been around internet marketing for more than a few years at this point. BUT for non-profits (I would dare say MOST non-profits) it’s all still very new.

Can We Have One, Too? Yes!

So when other Crime Stoppers program (like Chicago and Baltimore) started calling and saying, “We want a website like that,” we knew we were on to something. Why weren’t WE offering the same type of GREAT websites for the anti-crime community in a turn-key fashion? Packed with all of the great features that are so easy to integrate using WordPress? The same features that many non-profits pay TENS of THOUSANDS for (far too much in my opinion).

Now we are! I have been toiling away on www.YourCrimeSite.com, a membership site offering websites for the anti-crime community- Crime Stoppers, block watches, neighborhood associations, victim memorial groups… The functionality of it is finished, but the marketing isn’t quite yet. Even still, I thought I’d share how I’m building it in case you want to take a stab at something similar.

The Backbone: WordPress MultiSite

If you’re reading MyNameIsAngie, you’re probably familiar with WordPress. You may not be familiar with WordPress Multisite. WordPress Multisite allows you to create a network of websites from one installation of WordPress. It’s more than I can explain in this one post, but you can learn more about it from the best in the WordPress Multisite business, Ron and Andrea Rennick, here or here. You can even download their free ebook on how to enable multisite in your WordPress installation here.  Multisite is not for everyone – enabling it creates some extra security issues, and there are only certain reasons why you’d even NEED to use Multisite in the first place. But for me, it is what I needed.

The Social Network: BuddyPress

Once I had Multisite enabled, I was able to create new websites easily on our network of websites. I also added BuddyPress, which allows us to have our own social network within our network. We want to increase the value of being a member of YourCrimeSite.com beyond just having a website. We want all of our members to be able to talk with one another about what is working for their organizations, and to see what the others are posting on the sites. BuddyPress lets us do that with features like forums, activity streams, private messaging, user profiles, and user groups.

The Themes: Almost Entirely StudioPress

Each of the sites on the network can have its own look and feel. I have chosen to use StudioPress themes for almost all of our themes (with the exception of two so far: Deadline and Magzimus from Themeforest). That’s because with the Genesis Framework from StudioPress, we can so easily expand and update any of the child themes across the network. I also know that their support is CRAZY fantastic, and they’re hip to both Multisite and BuddyPress. In fact, the Multisite geniuses I mentioned above (Ron and Andrea) work with StudioPress now. When I use their StudioPress, I feel like I have this entire TEAM on my side, understanding my project and helping me to make it happen.

The Advertising Network: OIO Publisher

We are offering free websites as part of the network. Not every organization can afford a custom site and we get that.  Those sites will be ad-supported to help offset the cost. We can run a series of ads across the entire network of websites using OIO Publisher. OIO is a WordPress plugin that allows you to manage your own ads (of various sizes and types: banners, texts, adsense, etc…) but also to sell ad spots directly from your site. You might visit the site and see a 300×250 banner that says Advertise Here, click on it and then right there, purchase your ad for one month, upload your advertisement and pay for it. Of course, the ad has to be approved first… but once it’s approved, it will enter the rotation of ads for the spot (unless that spot is exclusive, of course). There are widgets for displaying ads on individual sites, or, I can hard code an advertising zone (zone = collection of ads) into a theme with just a simple line of PHP provided  by OIO for each zone. It also provides reporting for the ads. Last note about OIO which is true of most plugins when using them for Multisite – I can allow each individual site to have their OWN instance of OIO Publisher – effectively giving each organization their own advertising network (read: opportunity to easily raise money by offering advertising on their site).

The Automated Membership: S2 Member

Now we could just add a PayPal button for each level of membership and manually add a site for each member who confirms payment. But we are dreaming big and assuming that we’re going to have hundreds… no thousands… no MILLIONS of customers and that we couldn’t possibly manage that process manually. So we’ve chosen to use a plugin called s2Member to help automate the membership process. It can be used for any membership site, including those which will offer blogs as part of their membership, and those which use BuddyPress. s2Member integrates with a variety of payment gateways – we’re using PayPal. It will keep track of when a person joins and, when their year membership is up, if they haven’t renewed, demote their membership to a free membership. (That works for us because we don’t WANT organizations to just up and lose their sites altogether). You can set the membership levels and costs at so many variables – much too much to cover here! Take a look – this is a SERIOUSLY powerful plugin.

This plugin can also protect content based on the various membership levels, which is an important part of what we’re planning. Most non-profits today need help understanding the internet marketing landscape. We’re going to offer content on YourCrimeSite.com specifically for our members, and we’ll be able to protect that content from the general public by just choosing a drop in the post editor that marks the content for a particular membership level. We can even tease content (show just a few sentences) and then require registration to view the rest.

E-Mythin It: WP-Multisite Replicator

We’re using a plugin called WP-Replicator to quickly replicate our demo sites on the network for our new members. WP-Replicator allows you to create a demo site, complete with content, pages, posts, photos, plugins – the whole shebang… and then replicate that entire site with just a few clicks. When a new member registers, we can create their new site in less than a minute using this plugin. Something we think is great about this is that we can pre-seed content on the free sites – articles about neighborhood safety and crime tips.

Professional Domain Mapping

The last bit I’ll cover in this post is domain mapping. Each of our members gets a subdomain for their site. Something like http://www.ourblockwatch.yourcrimesite.com. But, if they have their own domain http://www.ourblockwatch.com they can use that instead! And, setting that up takes about five minutes using the Professional Domain Mapping plugin.

Summary

A few other tips – we had initially planned on aggregating the most recent content published on all of the members’ sites into one area on our YourCrimeSite.com for viewers to browse, using the Sitewide Tags plugin, but I’m not sure we’re going to do that just yet. We had that set up for awhile and let me just say, it is a POWERFUL way to gather content. My challenge is finding the best way to display all of that information so that it’s most truly engaging to the reader. Otherwise, it could turn into a big pile of craziness.

We will also work on pushing content into the free members’ site using another plugin, but I can’t remember the name of it and I’m out of time for this post!

I hope that you’ve found this post interesting and somehow helpful. This project is really exciting for me because I know that it offers such a great value to the organizations and non-profits who will utilize it. If you have any questions about how we’re building it, please don’t hesitate to ask!

PS. Big HUGE thanks to @andrea_r and @wpmuguru for all of their help over the past two years helping me to understand Multisite enough to be able to do this! I couldn’t have done it without them!

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2 thoughts on “Building a Members-Only Website Network Using WordPress

    1. @andrea_r Thanks Andrea! We just launched another site on it this week and they’re already getting great reviews for it! I feel like you were a part of their success already!

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