Customer communities benefit brands in many ways. You can use them to create a self-service support channel, scale customer success by moving to a one-to-many help model, and gain critical customer insight through feedback and feature requests. No need to mention the impact of online communities on customer engagement.
Building a community is easier than ever before, thanks to the many online forum software tools that are available. These let you build communities and customize them to your exact needs. You just need to choose the right software for you.
This article will look at 15 of the best forum software tools available. We’ll highlight key features, pricing, and reviews from third-party websites.
Medium to enterprise companies in technology or consumer products and services industries
Customer Success Teams
Contact for quote
Large businesses focusing on customer support and experience
Contact for quote
Wix users looking to easily integrate a forum into their website
Free for Wix users
Tech-savvy users seeking open-source, customizable forum software
Free to download
Developers seeking a lightweight, customizable, and multilingual forum platform
WordPress users seeking to build a community with monetization features
Businesses seeking an SEO-friendly, customizable forum with self-hosted options
Starts at $60 per month, or $160 for a lifetime self-hosted license
Users wanting a scalable forum platform with CRM integrations and user customization
$89 per month
Users seeking a free, open-source forum with active community support
Small businesses desiring a clean, responsive forum with email digest features
Free, help packages start at $49
Users requiring a customizable CMS with forum capabilities
Free, but some premium extensions may cost
Users seeking a free, well-established, and feature-rich forum software
Businesses and developers seeking a flexible CMS with strong community features and scalability
Simple Machines Forum
Users seeking a free, and customizable forum software with a supportive and active community
Top forum software features to look out for
Here are some key features to look out for when picking an online forum solution.
Forum structure customization: Look for the ability to create separate spaces for different topics. This makes it easy for people to find discussions that interest them. More advanced platforms let you choose whether each space is public or private.
Easy set-up: Look for tools with no-code setup and customization so you can quickly create a great-looking online community without coding skills.
User interface: User-facing features like profiles, following, and news feeds make it easy for users to interact with your forum. Consider looking for features like upvotes, likes, reactions, and multimedia posts or commenting.
App store and integrations: Look for a tool with an app store that lets you extend your forum’s functionality or connect it to other apps. An open API allows your dev team to build custom connections.
Gamification: Gamification features can encourage user engagement and interaction. Look for features like points, leaderboards, or the ability to create multiple user levels.
Embeddability: Look for the ability to embed community content into your website or app. This helps you add a social element to your app while highlighting useful community content.
User moderation: A good forum software provides tools that enable you to maintain a safe and respectful environment. This may include the ability to ban users, moderate discussions, approve posts before they go live, or mark comments as spam.
Private messaging: Private messages allow users to communicate with each other directly, fostering deeper relationships within your community. This feature can facilitate one-on-one conversations, increase user engagement, and promote networking between forum users.
Content management system: It allows you to easily create, manage, and modify content without needing any technical expertise. Look for a system that provides rich text editing options, lets you organize posts, manage categories, and keep the user-generated content in your community streamlined and accessible.
Customizability: This could include the ability to modify the layout, colour scheme, logo, and more. Customizable software allows your forum to evolve with your community and maintain consistency with your brand.
Analytics: Any forum software worth its salt should provide in-depth analytics. These tools should give you insights into user behaviour, engagement metrics, trending topics, and more. Analytics help you understand what works for your community and what doesn't, enabling you to make informed decisions to enhance the user experience.
Enterprise readiness: If you're considering forum software for a large or growing organization, enterprise readiness is key. Features like advanced security measures, user role management, scalability to handle large user volumes and dedicated support ensure that the forum software can handle the complexity and scale of large organizations while providing a smooth user experience.
Not all the forum software solutions in this article have all the above functionality. But they will typically have most of them. Make a note of the things that will be most useful for your business and choose a tool with these features.
15 best forum tools for online discussions
Bettermode is an all-in-one community platform and one of the most popular forum software solutions available. It provides all you need to build a robust customer community that delights customers and drives advocacy.
Bettermode's all-in-one approach allows businesses to unify their discussion forum, knowledge base, Q&A, public roadmap and more in one central location - streamlining the customer experience and helping businesses say goodbye to the hassle of multiple tools.
✔️ Templates—Community creation is streamlined with a range of templates, such as discussion forum, Q&A, ideation, events, and more. Custom templates can also be built from scratch to fit specific requirements.
✔️ Design Studio—This feature enables community managers to go beyond basic branding. Users can select, arrange, and configure blocks to construct their unique layout with a no-code, block-based page builder.
✔️ Embedded community—Community elements can be added within your app or website. This includes the potential to add the entire community or specific parts. For example, you can add the community search into your app dashboard, facilitating access to help content from your support forum.
✔️ Integrations—Bettermode offers the ability to supplement your forum with added functionalities by integrating with widely-used business applications such as Slack, Intercom, Zendesk, and Salesforce.
✔️ SEO tools—Visibility on Google and other search engines can be improved through robust Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools such as meta titles and description, canonical URL and more.
✔️ Gamification— Features like leaderboards, points, and badges encourage community engagement in online forums built on Bettermode.
✔️ Moderation—Effective moderation features can help maintain a smooth community environment. Posts with specific keywords can be automatically blocked, and user posts can be easily approved or rejected by forum admins.
✔️ Single Sign-On— A single sign-on feature allows your customers to join the community using their existing credentials for your product or website. Social login is also available, and users can sign up with account details from Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
❌ Bettermode is not a great fit for coaches or creators who want to monetize their community.
Bettermode has a 4.8-star rating from 88 reviews on Capterra.
Bettermode's pricing starts at $599 per month with an annual subscription.
Gainsight Digital Hub (inSided)
Gainsight DH (formerly known as inSided) is a powerful forum software built to help customer success teams create user communities. It’s an intuitive platform that makes launching your community a breeze.
With a forum built on Gainsight, you can:
✔️ Create a knowledge base and add your most helpful customer content to your library of articles. User upvotes help highlight your most helpful content.
✔️ Add customer touchpoints to your app using the Gainsight widget. Curate which content you want to show or add a search bar.
✔️ Build customer engagement with gamification features like point systems and leaderboards.
✔️ Integrate Gainsight with other customer success tools, such as help desk software to escalate forum posts into support tickets.
✔️ Easily create your forum with a drag-and-drop community builder. Start from scratch or use existing layouts. Add CSS for advanced customizations.
✔️ Create events and collect signups from within the community.
❌ Gainsight does not offer templates, and there is no dedicated developer platform to build custom functionalities for the community.
Gainsight has a 4.4-star rating from 191 reviews on G2.
Contact the company via its website for a quote.
Vanilla Forums is a forum platform that helps customer support, experience, product, and marketing teams create better customer experiences.
✔️ Create private groups or separate spaces for different use cases, such as accessing support or discussing your industry.
✔️ Users can create multiple post types, including questions, polls, media, and embeds.
✔️ The tool has an intuitive system for displaying helpful answers: the best answer for each post is displayed at the top of the discussion so other community members can easily see it when they search for a similar problem.
✔️Encourage engagement with gamification tools that give users reputation points based on their answers.
✔️ Create a knowledge base that combines articles written by your support team and repurposed community posts.
✔️ Connect your community to thousands of apps within the Vanilla Forums app store. For example, you can automatically add new community signups to your Mailchimp mailing list or your Salesforce CRM.
❌ Vanilla Forums is an enterprise solution and may not be suitable for smaller businesses.
Vanilla Forums has a 4.3-star rating from 92 reviews on G2.
Contact the company via its website for a quote.
Wix is a visual website builder that lets you create websites without code using an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. It has a popular forum add-on called Wix Forum that allows you to add community functionality to your site.
✔️ Drag and drop interface with plenty of customization options that will be familiar to Wix users.
✔️Create spaces within the forum to organize different topics of discussion. Choose whether to make spaces public or private.
✔️Earn money through subscription features that let you create private forums and charge access fees.
✔️Content search, filter, and browse features make it easy for users to find the content they need.
✔️SEO tools help you optimize your forum for search engines to increase visibility.
✔️Forums are easy to add to Wix sites.
❌ Wix Forum only works with websites built on the Wix platform.
Wix has a 4.2-star rating from 1,515 reviews on G2. There is no rating specifically for Wix Forum.
Wix Forum is free to install on a Wix website. Creating a website with Wix starts at $4.50 per month.
Discourse is an open source forum software with plenty of features that make it a good choice for your online community. Download the software and host it yourself, or use the company’s official cloud hosting solution.
✔️ Plentiful sign-in options via single sign-on and social log-in with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, or GitHub accounts.
✔️Just-in-time loading lets users scroll through long conversations without having to stop to load new pages.
✔️ Spam protection sandboxes new users to prevent people from adding low-quality posts to your online forum. People gradually gain permissions over time.
✔️ Users can keep their accounts safe with two-factor authentication.
❌ Setting up a self-hosted forum can be difficult for inexperienced users.
Discourse has a 4.0-star rating from 63 reviews on G2.
Discourse is open-source software that is free to download and host. The basic plan, with a limit of 100 users, starts at $25 per month.
Flarum is open-source PHP-based forum software. It’s free to download and use but can be a lot for beginners to get to grips with.
✔️ Flarum extension API lets you customize and build upon the community to make it suit your needs.
✔️ Clear post organization keeps your community clean. Create a forum with multiple categories so anyone can easily browse the topics they are interested in.
✔️ Community members can search the forum or filter the posts based on factors like creation date or the number of upvotes.
✔️ Lightweight design with fast response times ensures a quality user experience.
✔️ 38 language packs make the tool accessible to people globally.
❌ Requires some dev skills to set up if you don’t buy dedicated hosting.
Flarum has a 5-star review from one rating on G2.
Flarum is free to download and use.
BuddyBoss is a tool for building online communities on a WordPress site. The tool has powerful forum functionality, and it stands out due to its monetization features.
✔️ Create a forum space and split it into groups for different types of discussions.
✔️ Increase engagement with gamification features, including rewards for interactions and the ability to create ranks that members unlock when they perform specific steps.
✔️ Customizable member profile templates let you choose which fields users can add to their profiles. Let people share the information most relevant to your community.
✔️ Monetization features let you charge people to access your community. Set up one-off payments or subscriptions.
✔️The tool is customizable and comes with several theme layouts that let you quickly set up a community that meets your needs.
✔️Turn your community into an app for mobile devices and launch it on the iOS and Android app stores.
❌ Only works with WordPress sites.
BuddyBoss is not featured on G2 or Capterra yet.
BuddyBoss starts at $228, billed annually.
XenForo is PHP-based community software with both self-hosted and cloud options. You can buy the self-hosted version for a one-off license fee.
✔️ Define your site structure to ensure you get a community that meets the needs of you and your members.
✔️ Posts are dated and include the number of replies and views so people can see the most active discussions.
✔️ Increase visibility on Google with SEO features such as an automatically generated sitemap you can submit to Google Search Console. XenForo also creates URLs with the title of the post rather than a string of random characters.
✔️ Manage community content with moderation tools such as the ability to move, merge, pin or delete posts. You can also set up an approval process, so new posts have to be reviewed by staff.
✔️ Offer direct messaging between users and the ability to browse user profiles.
✔️ Media management and search features let users upload media into albums. They can then share these albums and have other members comment on them directly.
❌ When self-hosting, you need to pay more to access extra features.
XenForo has a rating of 4.7 stars from five reviews on G2.
Pricing starts at $60 per month for hosted plans or $160 for a lifetime use self-hosted license.
Invision Community is a scalable forum and community platform. It has plenty of useful community-building features that make it a good choice of forum software.
✔️ Each user gets an activity stream that shows recent community content. Members can customize their profiles and follow other users.
✔️ User engagement is made easy thanks to the addition of emoji reactions and comments.
✔️ Reddit-like upvoting features help highlight the most valuable posts and replies.
✔️ Users can send instant messages to both members and groups.
✔️ User-friendly what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) editor makes setting up and customizing the community's colour, fonts, and branding easy.
✔️ Create a community structure that fits your needs. Decide which parts of the community to set as private or public.
✔️ Integrate the software with ZenDesk and SalesForce to provide access to further customer support and marketing features. It also connects to Zapier to enable further integrations, upgrades, and add-ons.
❌ The tool would benefit from more advanced SEO and gamification features.
Invision Community has a 4.6-star rating from 14 reviews on Capterra.
Annual pricing starts at $89 per month.
MyBB is a completely free, open-source forum software that allows you to create communities and forums.
✔️ Users can easily create and reply to posts as well as create polls and embed videos.
✔️ Reputation system lets members rate the actions of other users. This makes it instantly clear who other forum members can and can’t trust.
✔️ Private messaging features let users contact each other and create groups with multiple recipients.
✔️ MyBB has an active community of users. Use this to get support and browse the thousands of threads to search for help and advice. It’s also an excellent example of the type of forum you can use the software to create.
✔️ MyBB has a large library of plugins and templates you can use to customize your new forum and extend its capabilities. Use these themes to make it easy to set up a forum with the features you need quickly.
❌ The tool is open-source, so setup can be difficult.
MyBB has a 4.2-star rating from 11 reviews on G2.
MyBB is free to download.
CodoForum is a forum software solution built with PHP. It has a clean, responsive UI that fits in plenty of impressive forum features.
✔️ WYSIWYG editor that shows users exactly how their posts will appear as they write them.
✔️ Users can easily customize the look of their posts by adding images or Markdown code.
✔️ Single sign-on integrations allow your existing customers to log in to the forum using the same details they use for your website.
✔️ Add social log-in via Twitter, Facebook, and Google to reduce barriers to creating a membership.
✔️ Create a daily or weekly email that summarizes your forum’s top activity from the period. These email notifications keep members up to date with forum discussions and encourage engagement, as people who see the content links are more likely to click through to your site.
✔️ You can use tags and categories to manage posts. Just add relevant ones to each post so people can easily browse your conversations based on the topic they are interested in.
❌ You can’t remove Codoforum branding on the free version.
Codoforum has no reviews on G2 or Capterra.
CodoForum is free to use. You buy help packages that start at $49 and include setup and advanced features.
Joomla! is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) that can also be utilized as a powerful forum tool. The software has an extensive range of features and extensions that allow for deep customization.
✔️ Highly customizable with thousands of free and premium extensions available, including forum-specific ones like Kunena.
✔️ A comprehensive admin dashboard for content management.
✔️ Comes with strong user access level controls and a private messaging system for forum users.
✔️ Offers a strong SEO setup right out of the box.
✔️ Capable of handling multilingual forums without needing additional plugins. This makes it a good fit for those who need to create a global community.
✔️ Joomla’s powerful CMS features allow for easy content organization and delivery.
❌ Can have a steeper learning curve compared to other platforms. Might require some technical knowledge to fully leverage its features.
Joomla! has a 4.0-star rating from 377 reviews on G2.
Joomla! is another free forum software. Although, some premium extensions may come at a cost.
phpBB is one of the oldest and most widely used open source forum software solutions. It's simple, easy to use, and comes with a robust set of features that make it an excellent choice for message boards and simpler online communities.
✔️ A huge library of extensions and styles for customization.
✔️ Built-in private messaging system and user moderation tools.
✔️ Comprehensive permissions system to assign user and moderator roles.
✔️ Support for multiple database management systems.
✔️ Extensive language packs support for global communities.
✔️ Intuitive admin control panel for easy forum management.
❌ Design can feel outdated, and high customizability means it can be complex to set up initially.
phpBB has a 4.0-star rating from 11 reviews on G2.
phpBB is entirely free to use.
Drupal is a powerful, open-source CMS that can be adapted for use as a forum platform. It is known for its scalability and flexibility, making it ideal for complex communities with many groups and categories.
✔️ Advanced taxonomy system for excellent content organization.
✔️ Strong user role and permission features to manage community access.
✔️ Large selection of modules for forum-specific functionality.
✔️ Exceptional SEO capabilities.
✔️ Highly scalable for large communities.
❌ Can be overkill for simple forums. Requires some level of technical expertise to fully harness its features.
Drupal has a 3.8-star rating from 403 reviews on G2.
Drupal is free to use. However, premium themes and modules may incur costs.
Simple Machines Forum (SMF)
Simple Machines Forum, or SMF, is a free, professional-grade software package that allows you to set up your online forum. It’s one of the older forum software options, but its straightforward approach to forum design makes it a viable choice for those who want something easy and fast.
✔️ Quick and easy to install, with a straightforward admin panel.
✔️ Wide range of themes and mods available for customization.
✔️ Comes with built-in SEO features.
✔️ Equipped with essential forum features like private messaging and user moderation.
✔️ Allows you to create public or private forums.
❌ The default design may feel a bit outdated, and it’s not mobile responsive.
SMF has a 3.3-star rating from three reviews on G2.
SMF is free to use.
Final tips for choosing the best forum software
Most of the software on this list offers the same basic forum features. Users can sign up, create posts, and then comment on other discussions. However, it’s also possible to get so much more depending on the software option you choose.
Choose the best community forum software for your needs by researching the solutions on this list and then deciding what you need in a tool. Also, use CommunityScout, a free tool that considers 60+ factors to give you a custom platform recommendation based on your needs. You can then try out a couple of the tools to see which is best for you.
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