Best tools to build a community forum for your website
By Jerod Greenisen | July 2017
Getting feedback can be addicting! Personally, I love the little ping my phone makes when I get a comment on one of my posts that I knew was 🔥. For business who are looking to foster valuable communication on their website in a way that's as intuitive as our favorite social media apps, picking the right tool can pay off in more ways than one.
In a previous post, we broke down some content production habits that well... really aren't helping. One of those being forum facilitation and choosing where communication between your followers happens online.
The most important thing to remember: let it happen organically!
Then, pay attention to your followers by monitoring your social accounts in person, responding to blog comments and leveraging visitor behavior data from Google Analytics and other tools.
If you can spot the trend, and your visitors are interested in a quality community forum, then...
Here are the best tools to build a community forum on your website and foster quality communication between your followers.
Discourse: a civilized discussion platform for your community
For organizations engaging in sensitive, complex or polarizing issues, Discourse attempts to bring the spirit of discourse and civil discussion back to the internet.
This tool boasts,
"Our trust system means that the community builds a natural immune system to defend itself from trolls, bad actors, and spammers — and the most engaged community members can assist in the governance of their community."
Users of Discourse can positively enforce great comments which can result in badges for those who made them. *finger-snaps*
Lithium: transform your website into a social destination
For those of you who are working in communications or marketing, just taking a tour and learning how this tool works is a worthy experience in itself.
Lithium is competing with a few other products in the social media management space and they're building some impressive integrations between their product offerings. Their Online Communities product really tries to help businesses, organizations and their followers see commenters as people with real feelings, emotions and history–not just a profile picture or data.
Lithium is a very comprehensive tool that is a solution for larger businesses. It has strong facilitation features such as:
Groups: Trusted members of your company or the online community can start and run their own conversation spaces and create focus groups, fan clubs, beta programs or user groups.
Crowdsource / Tribal Knowledge: Feedback can be huge and sometimes your followers can solve problems you're having, too!
Contests/Gamification: You can easily launch contests for your followers on the forum and see if you can't boost social activity or hype for a new event or product as well
Vanilla: a vibrant and modern online customer community
Vanilla has features that boost SEO, facilitate community forum activity, provide users to endorse good behavior and allow for user profile personalization.
The rest of the tools are already doing so, but what set's Vanilla apart is the experience design. Vanilla is thoughtfully crafted for a wonderful UX, offering intuitive and modern design to the followers. It's also a great customer experience for you: Vanilla is very focused on supporting their customers and offers a robust customer service program with Customer Success Managers at your fingertips.
Flarum: forums made simple
So far we've been talking about some robust solutions for maintaining a community forum, but perhaps you're looking for something a little lighter or a tool just to test forums out in general.
Flarum could be an excellent solution for your business. It delivers a very simplistic and modern user interface that makes posting comments and monitoring the forum a delightful task. It's also free. It does require a little bit more technical know-how than others to get it integrated with your website and it doesn't have controls for spam, analytics or post attachments.
bbpress - forums made the WordPress way
Full disclosure: we love WordPress, and this one warms our hearts.
bbpress really is a classic solution that provides quite the punch for organizations using WordPress. Though it does not have the stylish modern design that the others have, it does come with the highly customizable, secure, and SEO-friendly WordPress CMS along with thousands of plugins for further optimization. It's free, it's trusted and it gets the job done.
How do you know what tool is the right one for you?
Set aside some time to gather behavior data about your following and see where certain features from these tools (and others) match up with those user needs.
Conclusion: forums rule, just make sure you choose the right tool
Community forums can be a solid avenue to giving your website a boost. However, managing forums can be a difficult task. But with the right tool at your side—and in front of you followers—soon you'll foster a strong community with not just followers, but also advocates for your cause.
Integrating a forum with your website comes with advantages like additional SEO, crowdsourcing and social media integrations, not to mention all the insightful data you'll soon be leveraging to enhance your messaging online and put that loyal following behind your business objectives.