11 Best Forum Software for Building a Customer Community

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.

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 11 of the best forum software tools available. We’ll highlight key features, pricing, and reviews from third-party websites.

Top forum software features to look out for

Here are some key features to look out for when creating a customer community.

  • 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 forum without coding skills.
  • User profiles: 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 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. You can add a social element to your app while highlighting useful community content.

Not all the tools 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.

11 best forum tools for online discussions

Tribe

Tribe Community Platform

Tribe is a community building platform with advanced functionality that helps you build an engaged customer community.

Key features

✔️ Build a community that matches your needs using impressive no-code tools. Customize both the branding and the overall community structure.

✔️ Add social touchpoints to your app or website by embedding the community within your product. For example, embedding community search to your app dashboard can provide quick access to help content.

✔️ Bring functionality to your forum by integrating your customer community with popular business apps like Slack and Google Analytics via the Tribe app store.

✔️ Increase community visibility on Google with robust Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools.

✔️ Incentivize community engagement through gamification features like leaderboards, points, and badges.

✔️ Keep your community running smoothly with powerful moderation features. Automatically block posts with specific keywords and quickly allow or reject user posts.

✔️ Reduce barriers to sign-up with single sign-on functionality that lets customers join your community with the same details they use with your app. Or enable social log-in to let users sign up with account details from Google, Facebook, or Apple.

Cons

❌ Tribe is not a great fit for coaches, or creators who want to monetize their community.

Reviews

Tribe has a 4.7-star rating from 73 reviews on G2.

Pricing

Tribe pricing starts at $59 per month on an annual plan. There’s also a free version for small communities.

Insided

Insided

Insided is a forum tool built to help customer success teams create user communities. It’s an intuitive platform that makes launching your community a breeze.

Key features

✔️ 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 Insided widget. Curate which content you want to show, or add a search bar.

✔️ Build engagement with gamification features like point systems and leaderboards.

✔️ Integrate Insided 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.

Cons

❌ Many integrations require a Zapier account to work which adds to your costs.

Reviews

Insided has a 4.4-star rating from 117 reviews on G2.

Pricing

Insided doesn’t advertise pricing. Contact the company via its website for a quote.

Vanilla Forums

Vanilla Forums

Vanilla Forums is a forum platform that helps customer support, experience, product, and marketing teams create better customer experiences.

Key features

✔️ Create 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.

Cons

❌ Vanilla Forums is an enterprise solution and may not be suitable for smaller businesses.

Reviews

Vanilla Forums has a 4.4-star rating from 90 reviews on G2.

Pricing

Vanilla Forums doesn’t advertise pricing. Contact the company via its website for a quote.

Wix Forum

Wix Forum

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.

Key features

✔️ 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 charge for community access.

✔️Content search, filter, and browse features makes 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.

Cons

❌ Wix Forum only works with websites built on the Wix platform.

Reviews

Wix has a 4.2-star rating from 1,515 reviews on G2. There is no rating specifically for Wix Forum.

Pricing

Wix Forum is free to install on a Wix website. Creating a website with Wix starts at $4.50 per month.

Discourse

Discourse

Discourse is 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.

Key features

✔️ 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 forum. People gradually gain permissions over time.

✔️ Users can keep their account safe with two-factor authentication.

Cons

❌ Setting up a self-hosted forum can be difficult for inexperienced users.

Reviews

Discourse has a 3.9-star rating from 59 reviews on G2.

Pricing

Discourse is open-source software that is free to download and host. Managed forum plans start at $100 per month.

Flarum

Flarum

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.

Key features

✔️ 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.

✔️ Users 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.

Cons

❌ Requires some dev skills to set up if you don’t buy dedicated hosting.

Reviews

Flarum has a 5-star review from one rating on G2.

Pricing

Flarum is free to download and use.

BuddyBoss

BuddyBoss

BuddyBoss is a tool for building online communities on WordPress. The tool has powerful forum functionality, and it stands out due to its monetization features.

Key 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.

Cons

❌ Only works with WordPress sites.

Reviews

BuddyBoss is not featured on G2 or Capterra yet.

Price

BuddyBoss starts at $228 billed annually.

XenForo

XenForo

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.

Key features

✔️ 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.

Cons

❌ When self-hosting, you need to pay more to access extra features.

Reviews

XenForo has a rating of 4.7 stars from three reviews on G2.

Pricing

Pricing starts at $60 per month for hosted plans or $160 for a lifetime use self-hosted license.

Invision Community

Invision Community

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.

Key features

✔️ 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 color, 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.

Cons

❌ The tool would benefit from more advanced SEO and gamification features.

Reviews

Invision Community has a 4.5-star rating from 10 reviews on Capterra.

Pricing

Annual pricing starts at $89 per month.

MyBB

MyBB is free, open-source forum software that allows you to create communities and forums.

Key features

✔️ 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.

Cons

❌ The tool is open-source so setup can be difficult.

Reviews

MyBB has a 4.4-star rating from 5 reviews on G2.

Pricing

MyBB is free to download.

CodoForum

CodoForum

CodoForum is a forum software solution built with PHP. It has a clean, responsive UI that fits in plenty of impressive forum features.

Key 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.

Cons

❌ You can’t remove Codoforum branding on the free version.

Reviews

Codoforum has no reviews on G2 or Capterra.

Pricing

CodoForum is free to use. You buy help packages that start at $49 and include setup and advanced features.

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. 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 recommendation based on your needs. You can then try out a couple of the tools to see which is best for you.


create community
Duncan Elder

Duncan Elder

Duncan is a content marketer with a passion for all things digital marketing, SaaS, and online communities.

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