I often hear that WordPress Multisite is difficult, too complex for most users, and mostly overkill for most projects. Now, it goes without saying that WordPress Multisite is a misunderstood and often misused creature. You often start down the WP Multisite path with good intentions, only to quickly discover how unmanageable these Monsters can become! And yet, their is power in a WordPress Multisite installation… can you feel it?
What if your club could tap into this power without being eaten in the process? What if there was an approach to building a club site that would keep your development from becoming a monster? Just imagine the time, money, and content you could save by finally having a club site that just worked for both visitors and members!
I put that “what if” thinking to the test when I built a club network for the Potomac Velo Club (PVC). PVC is a well established cycling club based in Northern Virginia and been around as a respected cycling club since 1992. That being said, their online presences was just as old as their club. It’s possible that it too could have been from 1992.
Show me the content
During my analysis of this club, I quickly understood from talking to it’s members and fans, that PVC was the area’s most notable host of dozens of local, regional, and national-qualifying mountain bike racing events. Additionally, PVC is one of the few “big clubs” in the Mid-Atlantic, maintaining an active cadre of over 50 members; most of which ride all kinds of bikes all season long (i.e. mountain bike, road bike, and cyclocross). While most PVC members are amateur riders or riders just starting out, some members have been on the racing scene for over 20 years, with a few going on to become semi-pro and pro riders. Unfortunately, talking to their members was far more informative then their web presence. If you had visited their previous website, you would not have known any of that interesting information.
Presenting the approach
On the Monsters of WordPress blog, I wrote about a WordPress Multisite pattern specifically designed for clubs (Wakemaker: Taming the Multi-Purpose Club Monster). In this pattern, I saw how clubs can utilize multisite to control only three distinct sections of their organization:
1. Join Us section — the main, public facing site for attracting new members
2. Events section — distinctly branded sites for fundraising events
3. Members-Only section — a protected section for providing secure content to members
Having these sections exist as separate sub-domains within a WordPress multisite network, provides the club with centralized administration, media sharing options, and true segmentation of content, themes, and audiences.
Just big enough
To prevent this approach from becoming a cumbersome maintenance problem, sunk by unmanageable content changes, PVC needed to stay in balance with its purpose or be destroyed by the very monster they depend on. Since a club’s prime sources of income consists of membership dues, event ticket sales, and/or donations, this became the club networks primary purpose: drive visitors to either becoming a member or coming to an event. Members-only content become a secondary focus only because PVC had never had a members-only section before. They were not even sure what should go into one! Log in races you attended an how you placed? Maybe. Log in volunteer hours for events you helped PVC with, or trials you helped clear? Possibly. But it needed the members to chew on it for a while, but with this multisite pattern, that was ok. The members-only section could be added when needed.
Just small enough
Normally, maintaining 3-5 single instance WordPress sites would not be too difficult. However, understanding the nature of how PVC staff themselves with regards to managing online content, that is the key to this Monster. PVC is a volunteer based organizations, and because they are volunteer based, they always seem to suffer from a lack of consistency when it comes to staff. Maintaining 3-5 separate sites as a club is very difficult when the only WordPress trained volunteers are few and far between. Hiring a freelance developer to managed their sites is not an option for a club running on a shoestring budget, but neither is hiring a full- or part-time staff member. By encapsulating all organizational sites into a Monster Site, the administration manpower needed to keep everything maintained is consolidated into a single, common user interface. They don’t need to remember to updates each site in their portfolio, they only need to remember to manage one Monster Site.
Another reason PVC embraced this multisite approach was to cut back on costs. Although PVC is a for-profit club, it self-funds all its races and uses its profits to support its members. Domain name registration fees and hosting costs can add up, and most IT service support to keep the organization online comes from volunteers. This fact was extremely important PVC. By having a consolidated network, PVC was able to easily train volunteers to access the network, reduce overall training time, and keep their content up-to-date.
The resulting club network
The PVC main site — potomacvelo.com — became their Join Us section and incorporated a magazine-style blog theme. PVC club leadership wanted to keep their main site populated with recent race reports, club events, and community news content so as to let potential members know how active the club was within the cycling community.
PVC currently promotes two big fundraising events a year, Greenbrier Mountain Bike Challenge in the Spring (greenbrier.potomacvelo.com), and Wednesdays at Wakefield Mountain Bike Racing Series in the Summer (waw.potomacvelo.com). Both event sites use different themes, but have similar branding requirements, and connect back to the PVC members-only site for volunteer tracking.
The PVC members-only site was the most difficult to nail down. Why? Like I stated before, PVC never had a members-only section before. Before I could build a site that would allow members to track the races they race and/or podium in, or volunteer hours they accrue (both requirements for being members of the club), they need to agree that what they were using (only Google Spreadsheets) needed to be changed. Eventually, it became a tool for reminding members about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities based on scheduled events, and a system for identifying new membership requests processed through the Join Us section.
Each PVC sub-site within the multisite network now has unique content geared towards a specific audience. At one time, these were all separate WordPress sites, each maintained by a handful of PVC members, and none of them consistent. However, by converting this club into a WordPress Multisite Network, the overall maintenance overhead was reduced and the consolidation made content management easier. The end result was a successful implementation of WordPress Multisite pattern specifically designed for clubs (check out Wakemaker: Taming the Multi-Purpose Club Monster for more info).