Guide to BuddyPress Forums: How to Set Up Group or Sitewide Forums

Last week I wrote an illustrated guide to installing and setting up BuddyPress 1.5+. I touched briefly on setting up forums but promised a more in-depth look. There are basically two types of forums made to work seamlessly with BuddyPress. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

Group Forums vs. Sitewide Forums for BuddyPress

When you set up BuddyPress, you’ll be presented with the option to add forums to your community. You can set up forums for groups or enable forums sitewide. You also have the option to use an existing bbPress installation.

What are Group Forums?

Group forums are a slightly paired down version of bbPress. Installing group forums gives each individual group its own discussion forum, which can be turned on or off by the group admin. The installation page says: “Choose this if you’d like to keep your members’ conversations separated into distinct areas.”

So, what does this look like? Here’s a screenshot of the placement of group forums within a group:

As you can see, all the action on the forum happens within the individual group. Group Forum features include:

  • Group Integration
  • Member Profile Integration
  • Activity Stream Integration
  • @ Mention Integration

Now, let’s take a look at how the group forums are different from sitewide forums.

What are Sitewide Forums?

Sitewide forums are the newest option for BuddyPress. These forums are not tied to groups. Sitewide forums set up a central forums area for all members of the site. This is probably the most common experience that users have had in the past with forums on other websites.

When setting up sitewide forums you are setting up a new bbPress installation. Fortunately for BuddyPress users, John James Jacoby has ensured that the new bbPress 2.0 is fully compatible with BuddyPress communities.

Here’s a screenshot of how sitewide forums might appear within your community:

Features of Sitewide Forums:

  • Central Discussion Area
  • Forum Plugins Available
  • Activity Stream Integration
  • @ Mention Integration

Using the bbPress plugin for sitewide forums offers you more fine-grained control over your forums as well as the ability to use third party plugins made to extend bbPress.

Setting up sitewide forums can be a bit tricky. After you install and activate bbPress, you’ll need to add the bbPress shortcode for your forums index to that page:

[bbp-forum-index]

Check your bbPress settings page in the dashboard to see if you’ve got a page/slug conflict with BuddyPress. If you have any trouble, you may want to try unticking the Discussion Forum box in the Components setup page. I’ve found that this helps users who are getting the error: “The forums component has not been set up yet.” I’m sure this process will be smoother in the future, but for now that hint may come in handy.

Can I have both Group and Sitewide forums?

Yes, it is possible to have both group and sitewide forums but it’s not recommended. The installation page contains the following warning: “You may activate both Group and Site Wide forums, but this may create a poor experience for your members.” Having both kinds of forums active on your site may cause confusion for users when they’re wondering where to start and participate in discussions.

The process for setting up either kind of forum on your BuddyPress site is fairly intuitive. Each type of forum has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Once you’re familiar with the options, you can select the best forum setup for your particular community. Let us know if you have any questions. The BuddyPress Support Forums are also a great place to ask for further support.