The best forum software for creating an online community

What is the best forum software? Read on to find out.

By Hannah Wren, Content Marketing Associate

Published September 10, 2019
Last updated December 16, 2020

Choosing the right forum software for your business is straightforward when you have the right resources. Whether it’s enabling your employees to turn their expertise into content or to host discussions between customers, forum software helps user-generated content build community.

Harness the power of community with forum software

Self-service is an effective and scalable way to triage customer concerns before escalating to other support channels.

Sometimes, calling is the best option, especially in times of stress or for higher-stakes concerns. For others, reaching customer support on their preferred messaging channel is where it’s at. But before customers get to the point of needing to speak to a person, laying the groundwork for easy resolutions takes some strain off agents.

Businesses can harness the power of peer-to-peer support with community forums.

According to Zendesk's Customer Experience Trends Report, High Performing customer experience teams tap into the value of community forums for customer conversations—they are 60 percent more likely than Underperformers to have an active community.

It makes sense: Forum software takes the pressure off agents while fostering customer engagement and bringing customers closer to your brand through community.

An online community adds a range of perspectives and fresh ideas to your knowledge base from the people who use your products the most.

When you invite your customers to voice their opinions, it also builds trust. Businesses can use their discussion forum as a valuable source for customer feedback. With forum software that comes with built-in analytics, organizations can easily discover the most common customer pain points in discussions.

Forum software can be an important part of internal knowledge management, too.

An internal knowledge base uses employee know-how as an ongoing source of education and assistance within your company. As opposed to a customer-facing support strategy, empowering agents with quick access to answers, created by their own colleagues, cuts down on repetitive questions and improves response time and efficiency with customers.

Support agents are experts in your products, software, and services. What they know can and should be the basis for an ever-growing body of articles, whether for internal use only or your end-user. The right forum software facilitates this. Common issues and answers can be easily surfaced, for example. Developers, too, can benefit your company and customers by adding their voice to your knowledge center.

What is an example of a forum?

At Khan Academy, an online learning platform, members often have questions about the content they’re teaching or learning, like exponents, or need advice, like how to get a child who hates math to like it—questions best posed to other customers.

Using Zendesk's forum software, Khan Academy built a community where members can help each other, engage in insightful discussions, and find advice, best practices, and quick answers to questions—around the clock.

Thanks to its clear and crisp design, Khan Academy's community makes it easy to navigate and find information relevant to each community member's needs.

“Our community is gold. It's hard to find a group of people like this on the internet, who are so sincere and eager to help,” said Laurie LeDuc, Senior Community Support Manager at Khan Academy.

The best forum software

  1. Zendesk
  2. phpBB
  3. vBulletin
  4. WordPress
  5. Social platforms
  6. Wix
  7. Vanilla Forums
  8. MyBB
  9. Joomla!
  10. inSided

1. Zendesk

Zendesk's forum software comes with advanced community management features.

  • Members of your support team can jump in and help out or appoint forum administrators to moderate and keep discussions on topic.
  • Users can sort and follow posts to stay informed with the latest updates relevant to their needs.
  • Built-in analytics and upvotes and downvotes indicate the most followed discussions and accurate comments to help you stay on top of customer feedback and keep your community up to date.
  • AI helps to avoid duplicate threads and answer questions with existing content.
  • Pinning posts enable you to present relevant content across your community.
  • Powerful search and seamless navigation ensure users can find the help they need.

The best part?

Unlike standalone community engagement software, our community forum software connects with our customer service software.

That means agents can view a customer’s profile and have complete visibility into their community activity when responding to their email or Facebook message.

Agents can also transition a community post to a ticket to continue the conversation when complex issues arise, so conversations flow and remain productive.

best forum software

2. phpBB

phpBB is free forum software and an early example of open-source forum software, released in 2000. It's written in PHP, a coding language.

forum software

Image source: phpBB

3. vBulletin

vBulletin is another early open-source message board software, similarly written in phpBB.

Its threaded conversations defined the online conversational landscape before social networks. To do advanced customization of a vBulletin forum, knowledge of coding language is necessary.

forum software

Image source: vBulletin

4. WordPress

WordPress is a content management system (CMS) with forum plugins, such as wpForo Forum and bbPress.

forum software example

Image source: Wordpress

5. Social platforms

Forum software has come a long way since the vBulletin message boards that populated the Web 2.0 landscape.

The commercial use of forums dates back to the late ’90s, when companies experimented with user-generated content to bolster their marketing efforts. The Blair Witch Project filmmakers, for instance, used message boards to connect with fans and expand the in-film universe. User-generated content became an important, albeit experimental, marketing tool.

Today online communities are built into platforms like Reddit, Stack Exchange, and Quora. And traditional social media and messaging platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, Slack, and Instagram use user-friendly features native to web forums and message boards, like threaded conversations, harking back to the days of phpBB boards.

The common thread between these platforms is that they are open-source communities that empower ordinary people to leverage their knowledge and ideas in a conversational, community-building way.

community forum software

Image source: Quora

6. Wix

Wix enables users to build websites, without knowing how to code. It's forum software similarly allows users to build community sites though it's drag-and-drop templates.

Wix Forum isn't self-hosted, which means you won’t have to pay for hosting or be in charge of fixing technical problems.

forum software

Image source: Wix

7. Vanilla Forums

Vanilla Forums is a cloud-based community software, with a modern take on community.

It comes with useful features like:

forum software

Image source: Vanilla Forums

8. MyBB

MyBB is open-source forum software with basic features like a built-in template and theme editor to give you complete control over your forum's design.

forum software

9. Joomla!

Joomla! is another CMS that comes with forum extensions like Kunena.

forum software 2021

Image source: Joomla!

10. inSided

inSided is a customizable community platform that integrates with support software like Zendesk to escalate tickets and offer 1:1 support for complex questions.

forum software

Image source: inSided

The best forum software is an easy plugin and fits within your larger support strategy

Online forums have a storied past.

Early players like phpBB and vBulletin might be familiar to seasoned internet users, once popular among people with niche interests, with communities growing around things like technology, films, games—and in some cases, products and brands.

Now, as internet habits change, it’s common for businesses to use their message boards to triage customer support and commercial community building.

Ideally, the best community-building forum for your existing software should be an easy plugin.

Zendesk's community forum software, for example, enables integrations that make it easier to aggregate agent know-how and streamline FAQs. Rather than resorting to a third party, working a simple plugin into your existing software means the experience will be seamless for end-users as well as agents.

The forum platform you use to power your knowledge base—employees and customers alike—should be secure and easy to deploy.

Whether you're looking to develop your horror fantasy universe, or just help customers better understand your product, Zendesk's community forum software (which integrates into our ticketing system), can help your company build a thriving online community around your product and service. This community can feed into your larger, cross-channel support strategy by catering to your customer’s self-service needs.