Forums are a way to build an online community that will allow your audience to connect in a place where they know their interests are shared. That feeling of connectedness is more important than ever in an age where more work, communication and socialization is done online.
Online communities are particularly beneficial for businesses as they allow customers to interact with one another in a smaller circle than through social media, which increases engagement and brand affinity.
For example, let’s say one of your customers has a unique problem with your product or service and posts it on your forum. This post is much easier to find than on social media, where millions of users are talking about a million different things.
Even better, another forum user may face the same problem and be able to answer their question before your service reps even see it.
It is incredibly valuable to reach out to and build your community through a forum. Here we’re going to examine the best forum software to get you started.
Best forum software [Free & Paid]
- WordPress (with plugin)
- Vanilla forums
- Invision Community
1. WordPress (with plugin)
Price: Free (plus hosting costs)
By using a multipurpose platform like a CMS to power your online community, you can access many different software options in the form of plugins and applications. For example, you can use the bbPress plugin to create multi-site forums and manage them from a dashboard on your WordPress site. This is a great option if you want to set up a regular website and forum together.
There are many options to choose from with WordPress that give you all of the basic forum functionality you need as well as loads of useful extras.
Price: Starting at $ 99 per year (plus development and hosting costs)
Joomla! Is a CMS software like WordPress, but requires more attention to detail and management. This is a robust CMS that supports your forum plugins such as Kunena or EasyDiscuss, which are specially designed for the Joomla! System were developed. The price arises from the open source content management system, with which you can create powerful online applications in addition to your forum software.
Price: From USD 100 per month (plus hosting costs)
Discourse is open source forum software that you can use with your existing website and CMS platform. In addition to being able to use it on their mobile devices, community members also receive dynamic notifications, badges, emoji, and more. Best of all, there is a built-in moderation system that you can use to protect your community from spam and abuse.
4. Vanilla forums
Price: variable as required
Vanilla is packed with features – one of the most notable is its intuitive dashboard, which you can use to manage every aspect of your community forum. This software allows you to view statistics, manage users, and use an advanced editor that recognizes HTML, BBCode, and Markdown.
Additionally, Vanilla lets you customize forum or member permissions if you want to control access. The software allows customers to submit, view, and vote on ideas to drive innovation for your business, or use the Q&A option to connect with each other and help each other get more out of your product or service. Best of all, Vanilla offers an entry-level process with useful checklists, training materials, and help from one of their support agents.
Codoforum is forum software with a fresh user interface and modern design. It’s simple, clean, and easy to use. Codoforum was created with PHP using the latest coding patterns and fully complies with the new PSR standards. This software provides a responsive mobile and desktop layout structure, SSO and integration, and mentions for users.
Since Codoforum is free to use, it’s a great option if you’re still testing forums or aren’t sure if they’ll be useful for your own website and community.
PhpBB is a forum platform with a typical and intuitive board setup where users can post public or private messages. PhpBB lets you create as many internal messaging boards as you want at no additional cost.
You can also use extensions to add new options to your forum community. This makes the software very customizable and allows you to customize the software to meet the growing needs of your audience.
Among other things, phpBB lets you create password-protected forums for extra security, sub-forums, the option to display active topics at the top of your forum, and the ability to add forum rules to the top of a forum to ensure your community adheres to set guidelines.
Price: vBulletin 5 Connect $ 249, $ 15 / month
Over 100,000 websites are based on vBulletin – including NASA, EA, and Sony Pictures – making them a popular option for hosting your forum. The software is packed with tons of great features, including built-in search engine optimization, security, and responsive web design. With VBulletin, you can have an unlimited hierarchy of forums as well as private forums.
Best of all, VBulletin has fun and unique features for your community members, including private messaging, a friends list, member birthdays (shown on the forum home page), and the ability to see who’s online.
VBulletin isn’t known as the fastest forum, but its design is clean and it offers quality support to its users.
8. Invision Community
Price: Varies based on forum size / data needs, but starts at $ 45 / month for 65 online visitors
IP Board was a very popular forum software, which has since been expanded to Invision Community and contains a forum application in addition to the other offers. According to the Invision Community website, the forum module supports thousands of message boards on the web, and Invision Community has many other community management apps that you can use to interact with your audience.
The software allows your users to take control of their own online communities, which you can monitor at your own discretion. For example, the Invision Community allows users to create and manage their own communities called “clubs” that are fully integrated with your website. These clubs have designated club leaders who can add new forums, calendars, or galleries to the community.
Flaurm has a streamlined design that is extremely easy to navigate. Forums using this software are fully responsive. Features include smooth animations and available swipe functions for mobile optimization. Flarum was developed by the developers of esoTalk and FluxBB, two of the fastest forum platforms, and has great performance reviews.
MyBB is free, open source forum software that supports thousands of communities. It has hundreds of plugins and themes that you can customize, and the users present on the forum will help you build your own community. Users have also contributed to the translations available for the software’s content. Forums are now available in over 30 languages so you can build a more global community.
Price: variable as required
inSided is a full-featured community platform aimed at customer success and community experts who want to increase engagement, advocacy and effectively collect product feedback.
They have an excellent combination of a customer community platform, knowledge base and in-app support. What sets it apart from other platforms are integrations with software like Zendesk, Salesforce, Mixpanel, and Gainsight, so you can connect your community to your entire tech stack and create a 360-degree view of your customer.
Ways to build your community using forum software
People notice when brands are listening to and talking to their customers, and they are especially noticing when brands are promoting their own communities. How? Through the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Customers who consider themselves valued members of your community are much more likely to talk to their friends about your brand.
This is how you can build a strong community with your forum software.
1. Spread the word.
Nobody is going to join your online community unless they know it is there. Spread the word about your new forum by adding CTAs to join your forum in email newsletters or social posts. Ask your brand ambassadors or loyal fans to post to the forum and post content on the forum. When other users join, you already have an established presence on the channel.
2. Listen to and review your community regularly.
Reviewing your forum and responding to what your audience has to say is a critical part of community building. Your customers are far less likely to continue interacting and engaging in your forum if they feel like they are being ignored. By responding to their feedback, you are showing your users that you value their opinion and care about their experience of your product.
It is also your job to make sure everything is running smoothly on your forum. By regularly reviewing your community, you can resolve service escalations and give users the support they are looking for.
3. Maintain helpful discourse.
A forum should be a safe place for your customers, prospects, employees, fans, and the audience to interact, ask questions, and answer questions. By establishing a helpful ethos early on or creating community guidelines that emphasize patience and kindness with responses, your community will grow without you having to constantly monitor it around the clock.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated for completeness.