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5 WordPress plugins for building forums and communities

Abbey Fitzgerald's Layout avatar

New communities are being built every day, thanks to the power of WordPress. Got a question or looking to see what people are talking about? What better way to connect than with online forums, message boards, and Q&A specific sites. Bringing your users together will take an ordinarily one-sided conversation to an expansive community with different ideas and perspectives. There are many great plugins out there, making WordPress the perfect solution for forum websites.

Advantages of WordPress forums

They’re easy to set up and customize

There’s really no need to be an expert developer to build the forum of your dreams. It may seem like a big undertaking to make a website into a chatty conversation hub, but it’s pretty simple with the right plugin. Most of the forum plugins available offer easy integration with easy installation, so you will be up and running in no time. And because setup is quick and easy, you can focus on discussions rather than the technical details.

Those in more of a community management or content manager role can easily make customizations that are best for the site. This is often with a visual editor, making it very intuitive. From a design perspective, there typically isn’t theme design work that needs to be done. The added functionality will naturally take on the look and feel of your theme.

They’re super flexible for community managers

Whether you want to read every post or simply “set it and forget it,” there are options for the amount of involvement as the community manager. Most often, the ideal amount of management is something in between, but whatever your needs are, these plugins are flexible.

They’re great for SEO

Who doesn’t want to move up in the ranks when it comes to search engine listings? Although nothing is a guarantee when it comes to SEO and the rules are always changing, it is often noted that forums have the potential to help provide content for search engines. When done correctly, forum posting can increase website traffic and get your content in front of new users. When it comes to SEO, high-quality content is a must and with forums, it is often the case that the content provides value for others. This is a good thing when search engines index site content.

Looking for another great SEO and marketing plugin? Try Hubspot’s WordPress integration!

Forum options for WordPress

It’s apparent that WordPress provides great forum technology, but how do you find the perfect solution? Depending on your ideal forum type and goals, some plugins may work better than others. There are many options out there, but these six stand out above the rest.

With so many to choose from, let the perfect forum hunt begin!

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bbPress

bbPress, developed specifically for WordPress, is a great way to get a forum up and running quickly. Setup is incredibly easy; with a simple step-by-step install, in reality, it’s pretty much a one-click install. Moderating and editing is simple with options for forums, sub-forums, topics, and replies to be created and edited. Users can do this with an editor on the front end of the site while those with access to the dashboard can use the traditional WordPress interface.

Looking for more advanced options? The good news is that you are more than likely to find what you are looking for. bbPress has its own plugin library to expand the out of the box capabilities. Are you a WordPress Multisite user? bbPress plays nicely with Multisite, so each individual site can have a different forum included.

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BuddyPress

BuddyPress is a great and flexible option, which was also developed specifically for WordPress. A huge selling point is the range of customizations, which are easy to make and easy to activate.

User interaction is a main feature of BuddyPress. It gives each user a profile with the ability to customize as they wish. Users can connect with private messages, making this a great social solution. They can be tagged and notified in the public activity feed (if you enable the feature), and there are also permissions that can be defined for groups so that a particular group can discuss specific topics.

With activity streams, all activities are aggregated. Friends’ activities are easy to check and it’s a great way to see what they are doing in the forum. Posts, connections, and comments are some of the popular activities that can be monitored. If there is other data that you’d like to keep tabs on, it can easily be added and monitored. In addition to a single install, BuddyPress has the ability to compile tracked activities in a Multisite environment. BuddyPress will create a list of blogs and the latest posts, which can be a huge help to a community manager.

BuddyPress is a very robust solution that also has a number of plugins listed in its own directory.

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Simple:Press

Simple:Press is a flexible option for both large and small forums. It may not have all the bells and whistles as some of the others, but it is a simple, lightweight option.

Integration is built into popular services like BuddyPress, Slack, ShareThis, MyCred, SiteMaps, Gravatars, AIOSEO, WP SEO, TinyMCET, and more. This forum system is built so that it can be extended in a multitude of ways using other Simple:Press plugins.

Depending on your situation, this may or may not be a good thing, as Simple:Press uses it’s own themes and templates to make forum customization very simple. For a site that’s already been designed with established branding, you’ll need to customize one of the Simple:Press themes to it matches the look and feel of the existing site. If you’re not too worried about branding, however, or are simply looking for a great place to start, these themes could be a great solution.

The Simple:Press plugin is free, but there is a cost for support, Simple:Press Codex access, and plugin add-ons. To view the current pricing, visit the Simple:Press website.

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WP Symposium Pro

WP Symposium Pro is about as social as it gets – users can connect and interact beyond the traditional community. With social media features, private messaging, groups, photo galleries, and also a member directory, this is a true community builder. Users have the ability to show their profile with an avatar and a header image.

Scalability and design are flexible with the ability to create unlimited forums that allow for attachments and subscriptions. There are different layout options as well, so this is sure to fit into an existing site or be customized as a brand new forum.

Setup is fairly simple. Shortcodes are used frequently, so it is easy to add this to your theme. And if you do need additional help, they have great support. The plugin itself is free, but there is a license that will need to be purchased to get all of the extensions. There are plans that allow a one-time purchase or a yearly fee. More pricing details can be found on the WP Symposium Pro website.

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CM Answers

If you’re looking for a question and answer forum, look no further than CM Answers. It fits right into the WordPress dashboard, so monitoring forum activity is super convenient. There is flexibility for the community manager, with moderation options that allow them to be as hands on or as hands off as they’d like. You can also create Q&A list pages that help your users and can be displayed in a way that shows the most responses, most views, or most user votes.

There’s both a free and a Pro version of this plugin available. The advantage to the pro is that it adds more features like social media login, BuddyPress integration, payments, advanced authorship permissions, shortcodes, multiple attachments, comment support, categories, access control, a front-end text editor, statistics, and more. In comparison to the other options, it is cheaper. It’s a reasonably priced plugin for the amount of features that come with it.

With so many great forum plugin options out there, it is incredibly easy to get a forum up and running. From a very basic commenting system to a full-fledged community management solution, there is the flexibility to create the community that is perfect for your WordPress site.

Comments ( 2 )

  1. santanu

    April 25, 2016

    Creating a forum is a very useful steps towards making your blogs presence strong. Thanks for sharing such useful plugins with which one can start a forum for free.

  2. Marcus

    December 12, 2016

    Hi Abbey,

    Nice list to consider. I want to set up a forum initially on my existing WP site, with a view eventually to getting a bespoke *****forum.com for the forum.

    Once I get the bespoke name, (which comes with what was once known as PR, and also benefits from being a directly searchable item in itself), what is my best option?

    To point the new domain at the existing forum, or reassign the existing forum to the new domain name?

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