Engaging in social discussion is such an important part of being online nowadays. It’s practically mandatory. With that in mind, if you really want to foster discussion about your industry or brand, why not include a discussion forum right within your site? Thanks to the CM Answers plugin by CM Plugins, you can do just that.
This WordPress plugin allows visitors to post questions and answers in a Stack Overflow style and login using their social media accounts (Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn) for a seamless experience.
What Does the CM Answers Plugin Do?
This WordPress plugin offers a lightweight way to add a discussion forum to your site. Unlike a traditional commenting system, CM Answers genuinely encourages community building around any topic of your choosing. You can ask specific questions to solicit feedback from your visitors or you can allow visitors to ask their own questions and start their own discussions. It’s up to you.
A discussion forum can serve a wide variety of purposes, from traditional discussion, to Q&A, to user or customer support. It’s really versatile and won’t bog down your site unlike some other discussion plugins.
There is a Free and a Pro version of this plugin available. Let’s take some time now to review the features available in each.
The Free version of this plugin lets you add a basic discussion forum. You can moderate questions and answers and receive email notifications when new ones are posted. Users can opt-in (and out) of receiving notifications as well. You can also see a view count and answer count. There are also quite a few customization options for modifying the template to suit your user’s needs. Questions can be up-voted to change their rank in the list as well. The plugin is accessible in the dashboard menu:
It’s easy to moderate. Add questions and answers and/or moderate those added by users. Note: The image below shows the Pro version.
The Pro licensed version of CM Answers is the version I had some hands-on time with, so that’s what I’ll be talking about the most today. The Pro version costs $29 and includes everything available in the free version as well as many additional features. First up is a brand new Access Control feature that allows administrators to set who can ask and answer questions. The options include Everyone, Logged users, and By role:
It also includes a short codes feature that allows you to insert a list of questions with the shortcode cma-questions. You can even add parameters to it so the list shows a certain set of questions from a particular author, that are the most popular, and so on.
The Pro version allows for social media integration with several popular sites including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Live. Each visitor is also provided access to an individual dashboard that lists out “My Questions” and “My Answers.” These can be added to user profile pages using shortcodes.
Widget integration allows you to show only the questions and answers you want to in any area within your chosen theme that supports widgets, like the sidebar. There are settings for the sidebar accessible in the plugin menu:
You can also set specific moderation settings in the Pro version. These settings allow you to specify a list of people who can post questions and/or answers without needing to go through the moderation process. This can speed up discussion on your site considerably. Of course, make sure you only provide these exemptions to those who have shown themselves to be trustworthy and capable:
Here are a few more specs about the Pro license you should know about:
- Multisite support
- The ability to show or hide views for specific questions
- Each user gets an automatically generated public profile page with the ability to add a link to a social media profile.
- Gravatar integration
- Allows attachments
- The ability to change the order in which answers are presented.
- Ajax support
- Tag support
- The ability to add “sticky” questions that appear at the top of all questions and/or answers and are highlighted by a background color you specify.
- Support for code snippets.
- Permalink customization
- The ability to make CM Answers as the homepage for your site.
- Social sharing widget for question pages.
- The CM Answers gratitude message is removed from the footer
- The ability to edit questions and answers after they’ve been posted to the site.
You can also add a disclaimer that first time users of your site will see. Each user can be prompted to accept the terms and conditions of your site:
Setting Up a Discussion Board
After familiarizing myself with the features of CM Answers, the set up process was remarkably simple. The dashboard settings are intuitive and easy to follow. Just click through each tab to proceed to the next screen of customization options:
You can easily adjust how the questions and answers look for the end-user. Just click the “Appearance” tab:
You’ll be presented with many options from modifying how questions are identified, to the number of questions that appear on each page, to showing view counts and more.
If users opt-in for receiving notifications when new questions or answers have been posted to your site, you can make sure the notification email properly reflects your brand:
What I found to work best is to click through each of the tabs and see what options are available. The hands-on approach will allow you to come up with a better idea of what you can accomplish with this plugin and how you might customize it to suit your site’s specific needs.
In terms of adding content, it couldn’t be simpler. The Questions link for the plugin that’s viewable on the lefthand side of the WordPress dashboard takes you to the following screen:
From here, all you need to do is click “Add Question” and you can input your question, categorize it, and add tags. The end result will look something like this. Note the different background color on the “sticky” question at the top:
The Answers menu offers a similar interface. The answers page will look similar to this for end users, where they are prompted to contribute:
Back in Settings, under the “Thread” tab you can modify how the questions and answers are displayed:
As you can see, you can enable or disable attachments, set a maximum file size, enable ratings, and so on.
Customizing how your Q&A, discussion forum, or support forum appears and functions is straightforward and simple with this plugin.
Though many discussion plugins exist, the CM Answers plugin integrates well with WordPress and gives both administrators and users a simple way to interact. Admins will find customizing the forum a simple process that can be modified on a whim. Users will find the end experience to be pleasant to look at and simple to contribute to. Since a major part of online engagement nowadays is encouraging participation from your visitors, this plugin seems a convenient way to foster discussion, even when you’re not around to directly moderate.
This plugin pairs well with the CM Tooltips Glossary plugin we talked about a while back. Both are easy-to-use and make it a point of making WordPress sites more functional without adding bloat.
Have you tried out CM Answers? What did you think? Let us know how it’s working out for you in the comments.