BuddyBoss Review – The Best Online Community Option for WordPress?

By Jeff Cobb.  Last Updated on October 24, 2023

Online Communities

With BuddyBoss being one of the dominant membership site and online community themes in the WordPress space, a lot of Learning Revolution readers are curious if it really walks the talk.

There’s also some confusion around the whole BuddyBoss Theme vs. BuddyBoss Platform issue. Some understandably feel that it’s one and the same thing, while others argue that they are two different products from the same company.

That complicates things even more, because if the BuddyBoss Theme and the BuddyBoss Platform are indeed separate products, how the heck do you even determine what’s better for your WordPress community site?

Well, luckily for you, you’ve found just the right resource for everything you’ve been wondering about the BuddyBoss Theme plus the BuddyBoss Platform. We’ve prepared this comprehensive review after years of working with BuddyBoss’s products.

So, join us as we reveal what BuddyBoss is all about, how the BuddyBoss Theme integrates with WordPress plus other relevant plugins – and, most importantly – the effectiveness of BuddyBoss when it comes to creating and running online courses in the context of an online community.

That’s not all, though. This article additionally covers the pros and cons of using the BuddyBoss Theme, as well as the prices you’ll be required to pay. Then to top it all off, you get to know how BuddyBoss Theme compares with some of its top community-oriented alternatives.

And with that said, let’s jump right in!

What Is BuddyBoss?

Before the BuddyBoss came along, there was something called “BuddyPress”.

BuddyBoss BudyPress page

You may have heard about it already. And in case you haven’t, BuddyPress happens to be a free open-source plugin that helps you create community sites on WordPress – complete with membership profiles, messaging, user groups, activity streams, etc.

It’s not all good news, though. You see, the thing with BuddyPress is it came with a lot of limitations. Users, for instance, were forced to integrate a whole lot of additional plugins just to power some basic functionalities like online forums.

Now, to sort out this problem, the developers of BuddyPress decided to leave the project altogether and replace it with the BuddyBoss Theme and the BuddyBoss Platform.

Build online communities with BuddyBoss screenshot
Build online communities with BuddyBoss

So, yes – that’s right. I can confirm that the BuddyBoss Theme and BuddyBoss Platform are two different products.

But, make no mistake – they were built to work together.

BuddyBoss Theme vs BuddyBoss Platform

The BuddyBoss Platform, for starters, is an open-source platform that gives you the tools you need for creating and managing community or membership sites on WordPress. Its core functionalities are built around private messaging, member profiles, social media groups, and community forums.

Run online communities with BuddyBoss Platform screenshot
Run online communities with BuddyBoss Platform

In simple terms, it’s just a WordPress plugin that powers all the social features on your e-learning website. There’s just one problem: the default BuddyBoss Platform comes with very bland styling – just like its predecessor, BuddyPress. It’s basically the “core” of the BuddyBoss world, but you need some extra sauce to get everything working perfectly.

That’s precisely where the BuddyBoss Theme comes in. Although the BuddyBoss Platform is capable of working with other WordPress themes, it’s the BuddyBoss Theme that truly makes the most of its core functionalities.

BuddyBoss Theme page

You see, the BuddyBoss Theme is specially developed from the ground up to support membership sites and community features. You can count on it to seamlessly facilitate the creation, management, and monetization of membership sites and courses – with the help of the underlying BuddyBoss Platform.

One last important point: when you get the BuddyBoss theme, the platform is automatically included and gets installed, It’s good to know the difference between the two, but in the end, you don’t really have to think about it.   

BuddyBoss Platform + BuddyBoss Theme Combo

Overall – with the BuddyBoss Platform powering the core functionalities, and the BuddyBoss Theme providing styling, you can use the combo to:

  • Build and manage a social network-like community site without installing additional plugins. You get features like member connect, online forums, social groups, private messaging, timelines, newsfeeds, user profiles, etc. Basically, your own private Facebook.
  • Sell your online courses through membership sites. You get to integrate plugins like MemberPress and WooCommerce to sell content through one-time payments or membership subscriptions.
  • Create, distribute, and manage online courses – with the help of an e-learning platform integrations like LearnDash and LifterLMS.
  • Customize your community/ membership site accordingly to gamify your members’ experiences, host events, plus provide rewards and points.

Let’s now go through these main capabilities in detail.

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BuddyBoss Theme – Key Features

Compatibility and Customization

Standout Features

Integrates with membership pluginsIntegrates with WordPress page builders
Integrates with payment gatewaysCan be customized without coding
Integrates with e-learning platformsProvides a white label mobile app

One good thing about BuddyBoss is, it doesn’t limit you to just its own capabilities. Although it’s fully capable of powering and running community sites, it allows you to bring in other WordPress resources to add functionality.

Both BuddyBoss Theme and BuddyBoss Platform can seamlessly work with a host of other e-learning and membership-oriented plugins. When it comes to setting up membership-based sites, for instance, you can easily use your BuddyBoss Theme with top membership plugins like:

Combinations like these give you a full range of capabilities to create and sell memberships and  courses, control content access within your site, process members’ payments, and more.

And speaking of courses, BuddyBoss is seamlessly integrated with two of the top WordPress options for creating and managing online courses: LifterLMS and LearnDash. You can use either of these WordPress learning management system plug-ins to build online courses, manage the e-learning process, issue assignments, administer quizzes, accept students, and more.  

Memberships and courses aren’t all you can sell, though. Thanks to the integration between BuddyBoss Theme and WooCommerce, you can add an online store – and then proceed to sell merchandise to your members. That includes both physical and digital products.

Creating and customizing your web pages is also a breeze. The BuddyBoss Theme works seamlessly with all the popular WordPress page builders. You can, for example, tweak its design using drag-and-drop builders like WPBakery, Thrive Architect, Beaver Builder, and Elementor.

BuddyBoss Dashboard page

That, of course, saves you the trouble of coding. You can customize elements like widgets, fonts, colors, and theme styling without touching a line of code.

Building Online Communities

Standout Features

Public, private, or hidden social groupsMember connections and messaging
Member profilesActivity feeds
Upload and share any file typeUser content management
Forum discussionsUser gamification

Since BuddyBoss is purposely built to facilitate community sites, you won’t need any additional plugins to power social features on your website. With the BuddyBoss Platform plus the BuddyBoss Theme, you’ll be able to develop and host forum discussions, social groups, and activity feeds – where students can connect with each other, discuss issues, help each other out, brainstorm ideas, and boost your brand’s value.

BuddyBoss communities site page

Really, you can think of this whole setup as your own private social network. BuddyBoss keeps your students engaged by allowing them to interact with each other through @ mentions, direct posts, and comments. What’s more, they can create their own profiles, as well as set up hidden, public, and private social groups.

While they’re at it, they also get to track their interactions and community activities from the member dashboard – whose layout you should be able to design with the help of the WordPress page builders.

That said, it’s worth noting that the community interactions here are not entirely text-based. BudydyBoss gives members the ability to upload and publish any file type on their activity feed – including, for example, sharing photos.

Additionally, it’s possible to connect with all your student communities through video conferences. You’ll find tools for scheduling new Zoom meetings and inviting participants.

You could also gamify the whole experience by granting your community members ranks, rewards, or points for achieving specific milestones. This where you even include profile badges to mark progress, plus encourage your members to remain committed.

Another thing that the BuddyBoss Theme takes very seriously is monetization. You can, for example, charge your prospects a one-time price to gain access to the community. Alternatively, you could have your students paying subscription fees on a recurrent basis. The choice is all yours.

Building Memberships

Standout Features

Integrates with plugins for membership-based sites
Sell multi-tier membership plans
Supplement your membership-based sites with social features
Process student payments through PayPal, Authorize.net, and Stripe

While BuddyBoss on its own enables you to create a modern, dynamic community site, you’ll need to leverage a membership website plugin to be able to offer multiple levels of access to exclusive content, specified courses, and other member perks. Thankfully, the BuddyBoss Theme and Platform happen to be compatible with some of the best.

Again, I’m talking about robust membership plugins like Memberium, WooCommerce Subscriptions, WooCommerce Memberships, WishList Member, Paid Memberships Pro, and MemberPress.

Memberpress Memberships page

With any of these plugins you’ll get a host of flexible features for controlling your membership sites and you’ll be able to put your course content behind an unlimited number of membership levels. That means you get to monetize each level by charging your students based on the membership levels they’d like to access.

And speaking of monetization, you’ll be able to process your membership payments through gateways like PayPal, Authorize.net, and Stripe. You can count on them to process recurring payments, as well as accept payments for online courses and other types of digital products.

Creating Online Courses

Standout Features

Integrates with LifterLMS and LearnDashDrip-feed content
Drag-and-drop online course creationStudent certification
In-course assignments and quizzesMulti-tier courses
Student trackingMultimedia lessons

The default BuddyBoss Platform and Theme don’t come with tools for creating and running online courses.

But that definitely doesn’t mean that courses aren’t an option. You see, the team at BuddyBoss doesn’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. So, instead of building a new learning management system from the ground up, they chose to tweak the BuddyBoss Platform and BuddyBoss Theme to work seamlessly with the two top WordPress LMS plug-ins:

BuddyBoss basically integrates with them and then leverages their online course creation and management features.

Here are the details…

BuddyBoss Theme + LearnDash LMS

If you decide on the BuddyBoss Theme and LearnDash combination, you’ll be able to build online courses from scratch, organize course content, issue assignments and quizzes, award certificates and badges, interact with students via emails, track student progress, customize your course interface, plus much more.

LearnDash LMS course page

At the center of all that is LearnDash’s intelligent course builder, which comes in the form of a drag-and-drop course editor. This is where you get to create your courses, upload course content, as well as set up quizzes and assignments.

The system itself is, in fact, flexible enough to host multi-tier courses. That means you’ll be free to not only create as many lessons as you want, but also freely organize them into categories and topics. What’s more, you won’t have limits on the volume of assignments and quizzes.

Another thing you’ll notice is that the quizzes are not basic. LearnDash actually comes with advanced quizzing capabilities. So, apart from single answer queries, you’re able to administer quizzes with essays, free text, fill-in-the-blank, matching, sorting, and multiple choice questions.

Managing assignments is a breeze too, as this entire LearnDash learning management system is very flexible and pretty intelligent. Once you issue assignments in topics or lessons, your learners will have an easy time submitting them – after which the system can be set to not only auto-approve the assignments, but also award points accordingly. Then once everything’s done, you even get to provide feedback privately on each student’s assignment.

This level of flexibility applies to the content delivery system too. The BuddyBoss-LearnDash integration allows you to deliver all your course lessons at once, or alternatively, put in place a drip-feed schedule that releases the course in bits over a prolonged period of time.

And that’s not all. In the meantime, you also get to determine the specific order in which the courses will be taken by the learners before advancing to the next level.

However, student access doesn’t have to be permanent. The system gives you the option of specifying when you’d like to terminate content access. You could, for instance, have your content expiring at the end of each subscription period.

It’s also possible to automatically award course points whenever learners advance through various course stages.

Then for the students who successfully sail through the courses, at least you get to award badges and certificates based on course completion and quiz performance. The LearnDash Learning Management System even allows you to customize the certificates to bear dynamic data like grades, expiration dates, and learners’ names.

BuddyBoss Theme + LifterLMS

The BuddyBoss + LifterLMS combo shares many similarities with the LearnDash integration. In the end, which one you use will come down mostly to personal preference, given that the feature sets are so similar.

One similarity you’re bound to appreciate is that LifterLMS, too, offers an intuitive drag-and-drop course builder. You can use this to quickly set up various types of courses, including multi-tier ones with well-organized lessons and categories.

LifterLMS page for courses

Other than that, you’ll also find it easy to bring in additional instructors – as LifterLMS is capable of setting up multi-instructor courses. That means you can comfortably collaborate with other course creators.

And while you’re at it, you might also want to keep your students engaged with multimedia content. Instead of setting up lessons with one type of media, LifterLMS allows you to combine text with images, videos, and audio to form truly engaging online courses.

Another area where the BuddyBoss+LifterLMS combo matches LearnDash is content delivery. With its drip-feed controls, you can set all the course lessons to be released simultaneously, or alternatively, in stages as the students progress through the course.

Other impressive online features that you get to use courtesy of LifterLMS include student dashboards, dynamic multimedia course quizzes, student certifications, plus course reviews and testimonials.

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BuddyBoss Theme – Pricing

With everything it offers, it’s not suprising that BuddyBoss is not a free WordPress theme. You have to purchase one of these three plans to use it:

  • For $228 per year: you get updates for one year, priority support for one year, a license for one site, the BuddyBoss Platform Pro, plus the BuddyBoss Theme.
  • For $288 per year: you get updates for one year, priority support for one year, a license for five sites, the BuddyBoss Platform Pro, plus the BuddyBoss Theme.
  • For $328 per year: you get updates for one year, priority support for one year, a license for ten sites, the BuddyBoss Platform Pro, plus the BuddyBoss Theme.

While many WordPress users gravitate only to free or extremely low-cost plug-ins and themes, I’d encourage you to not use that approach here. BuddyBoss provides for a highly polished, professional online presence – the type you really need to stand out these days – and you really can’t match its capabilities well with free products – or, at least, you’ll end up pulling your hair out trying.

It’s also our experience that, unlike so many WordPress product developers, BuddyPress is always investing in the platform and theme. Updates and improvements come out frequently, providing for new features and capabilities that you’ll be able to leverage with your customers.

Bottom line: BuddyBoss is very well worth it for the price.

BuddyBoss Theme – Pros and Cons

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t weigh the pros and cons for your specific business needs.

Pros of the BuddyBoss Theme

  • It facilitates social features on your WordPress website, allowing you to set up communities and discussion forums that run like social networks. Members can create profiles, connect with each other, send private messages, etc.
  • It’s built on an open-source solution (the BuddyBoss platform) that’s entirely customizable.
  • It’s flexible enough to work well with other relevant WordPress plugins – such as page builders and learning management systems.
  • It integrates with top membership plugins to give you the chance to create dynamic membership-based websites.
  • It integrates with LearnDash and LifterLMS to provide LMS capabilities.
  • Helps you monetize your communities and membership-based courses through one-time payments and subscriptions.
  • Comes with features for gamifying your members’ experiences on your site. You can, for instance, award badges and rewards, or perhaps, host events.
  • It can be customized using popular drag-and-drop WordPress page builders like Elementor and Thrive Architect.

Cons of BuddyBoss Theme

  • Low-budget users may balk at the cost (though, to be clear, it’s a real bargain for all of the features offered).
  • The BuddyBoss Theme doesn’t offer built in online course creation and management features by default. You have to integrate a third-party WordPress learning management system. (This may be a pro or con, depending on your needs.)
  • While customization is possible, you will need someone who really understand WordPress coding to do it right.
  • The learning curve can be steep for beginners – this is the potential downside of it being so feature rich.
  • BuddyBoss relies on third-party membership plugins to power anything beyond very basic membership capabilities.
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Top BuddyBoss Alternatives

An important point to remember when it comes to BuddyBoss alternatives is that “membership” and “community” are not the same thing. There are tons of WordPress plug-ins out there that describe themselves as “community” plugins when really all they do is manage membership.

Membership is all about controlling access – usually to gated content. A membership website does not, by default, have to have features like discussion forums, messaging, or the ability for members to share content. It just has to have a way to keep people out who aren’t members and provide those who are members with access to the benefits they have signed up for.

All of that is important, but it’s not “community.”

With a community, you are aiming for “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals” (Oxford Dictionary). And that’s what BuddyBoss gives you the tools to do. In the WordPress world, there really is no option that does it better, in our opinion. So, the answer to the question in the title to this post – Is BuddyBoss the best WordPress option for online community – is “Yes!” There really is no true alternative in the WordPress world, in our opinion.

But, of course, there is a world outside of WordPress

Mighty Networks – The Best Non-WordPress Alternative

Might Networks start 14 Day Free Trial page

Unlike BuddyBoss, Mighty Networks is not a WordPress plugin or theme. It’s much bigger than that – as it comes in the form of a standalone all-in-one platform that offers a website builder, online course selling tools, plus membership site capabilities.

That means that with Mighty Networks alone, you can create your website from scratch, build online courses, set up membership plans, and manage your students – all from one platform.

In simple terms, therefore, Mighty Networks is a great option for any creator looking to create and run non-WordPress-based online communities for selling their courses.

BuddyBoss, on the other hand, is only relevant to WordPress users.

Want to learn more about Mighty Networks? Here’s a full review >>>

BuddyBoss Theme: Final Verdict

After reviewing all the key features and parameters, we can now conclude that the BuddyBoss Theme is ideal for you if:

  • You intend to set up a social membership-based site – a true community. The BuddyBoss Theme along with the BuddyBoss Platform will grant you all the basic social elements that you need to host members and facilitate community interactions.
  • You plan to sell your online sources through socially-enabled premium memberships. While LearnDash and LifterLMS power the online courses, BuddyBoss will supplement them with social features.
  • You like the current layout and design of the BuddyBoss Theme, and intend to perform only basic customizations. While that should be easy with the help of WordPress page builders, deeper customizations can be a challenge.

If you ask me, I’d give it an 8 out of 10. I can only adjust it higher if BuddyBoss finds a way to incorporate all the membership management features plus online course creation capabilities without the need for third-party plugins. That said, the available plug-ins are excellent and they are easy to implement, so for most course creators and experts who use WordPress, BuddyBoss is a fantastic option.

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Head shot of Learning Revolution Founder Jeff Cobb

Jeff Cobb, Founder of Learning Revolution

Jeff Cobb is an expert in online education and the business of adult lifelong learning. Over the past 20+ years he has built a thriving career based on that expertise – as an entrepreneur, a consultant, an author, and a speaker. Learning Revolution is a place where Jeff curates tips, insights, and resources to help you build a thriving expertise-based business. Learn more about Jeff Cobb here.

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