If you are trying to build a community of users, regular interaction is a necessary component of that relationship. Not just interaction with you, oh wise leader, but interaction between the members of the community. Forums are a proven way to get people talking about topics of interest, like the trailer for the latest film in a classic space saga, for example.
There are lots of different forum platforms you could use, but we know you love WordPress and want all of the things to integrate with it. Luckily for you, there are also WordPress plugins which make it easy to create and manage discussion forums.
This article will look at the best free plugins available to create forums on your WordPress website so that you can get started building your awesome community of bocce lovers, or whatever you’re into.
We have selected our top six picks of forum plugins below. They are a mixed group, with a few of them rated a little lower than we would like (yes, we are picky). To make up for that, we have done our best to highlight the issues with the lower rated plugins and why we still think you should consider them. Let’s get cracking!
1. DW Question & Answer
In the forum space, we have seen the growth of question and answer platforms like StackOverflow and Quora. With over 10,000 active installs, DW Question & Answer is a very popular plugin for adding that functionality to WordPress websites. It tops our list with a 4.3-star satisfaction rating.
As a complete question and answer system, DW Question & Answer enables questions to be submitted, filtered, ordered, edited and deleted. Users can answer questions or comment on other answers, as well as vote and pick the best answer of those already provided. Questions and answers can be set to private or public, and users can follow a question or answer to be notified of responses.
Reviewers have raised some compatibility issues between this plugin and other plugins and themes, but to their credit the developers are pretty responsive and open to feedback. If you like the question and answer format, and are willing to work with the default pages created by the plugin, DW Question and Answer may be right for you.
This plugin is not a forum plugin per se – BuddyPress is the social network giant in the WordPress world, but it can be used as a community forum. It benefits from a worldwide community of thousands that use and work with BuddyPress, so we decided to include it.
BuddyPress is an extremely powerful and flexible community plugin for WordPress. It includes features such as user profiles, groups, activity streams and notifications. So its default functionality could, in fact, be used to provide a community forum for discussion. It does integrate with other plugins (like bbPress, below) if you want to create a full-featured forum community.
Discussion is the name of the game, but plugins like Muut are reimagining what form that should take. With only about 1,000 active installs, Muut is clearly still new in the discussion forum space, but a 4.3-star satisfaction rating made us think it was worth checking out.
Muut describes itself as a better community platform, and they have taken a fresh look at how conversations happen on WordPress websites. Combining the power of discussion forums with the immediacy of commenting, Muut provides full-featured real-time forums with flat or threaded commenting, spam filtering and email notifications. It is also completely customizable using CSS to match your site.
Using Muut is completely free, though you can upgrade to a premium account for more functionality. This has caused some confusion in the past, but the developers have updated their documentation and notifications make it clearer. The plugin is still in its early days but represents an interesting direction if you don’t like the standard discussion forum concept.
The next plugin on our list also uses the question and answer format, similar to DW Question & Answer. With over 3,000 active installs and a 4.2-star satisfaction rating, AnsPress is clearly a good option for many WordPress websites.
Like DW Question & Answer, AnsPress provides a complete question and answer system for WordPress. Basic functionality such as adding, editing, sorting, answering and voting on questions is supplemented by nice features like labels (e.g. open, closed, duplicate), favoriting questions and a user points system.
Earlier releases of AnsPress seemed to struggle with bugs and poor support, but the developers listened to feedback and improved their development processes, so you shouldn’t have major issues working with this plugin. If you are looking for a flexible and customizable question and answer system, AnsPress may be worth considering.
There is no way we could talk about discussion forums in WordPress and not look at bbPress. With over 300,000 active installs, it is the clear leader in this space and is supported by most popular WordPress themes (including Total). With a 3.9-star satisfaction rating, it is holding its own against newer entrants, but has some areas of concern.
bbPress is described by the developers as being focused on ease of integration, ease of use, web standards and speed. To achieve this they have kept the core plugin small and light while making it fully extensible through plugins. This approach has tradeoffs, obviously, and if you want to replicate the full-featured functionality of another forum system you may find yourself having to implement many different plugins with bbPress.
Many of the complaints about bbPress come from users who may not have fully understood that bbPress was not designed to provide a complete forum system. The core functionality is powerful on its own, but you will almost certainly want to add other features.
6. CM Answers
Next on our list is another question and answer style plugin. CM Answers has over 2,000 active installs and a 3.8-star satisfaction rating.
We have covered the basic question and answer functionality before, but CM Answers adds some interesting features to aid in user engagement, like displaying the view count for each question, user notifications and social media registration using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.
There have been some support issues, and many users have had concerns about the depth of functionality that is available only with the purchase of the Pro version or additional plugins. Since the free version is available, we suggest installing it on a test site first to see if it meets your needs.
There’s no real question that a well-planned and managed forum can help you build an engaged community of users. Using a plugin will make setting one up a simple matter so you can go straight to interacting with your users.
From our list above, you should be able to choose the right forum plugin for your needs. So if you’ve been thinking about setting up a forum, pick one and get started!
Do you have a forum now, and if so, what plugin you using for it? If you don’t have one, what’s stopping you? Please share in the comments your experiences with forum plugins and any you think we may have missed.