Forums are an integral part of the internet, and not having one for your business would mean limiting growth.

It’s easy to say that online communities aren’t relevant anymore, but little do we know that forums if nurtured well, can be beneficial for a business. Just imagine how many times we turn to forums looking for solutions to a problem that shows how big of a thing it is.

Fortunately, there is a lot of fantastic software available that can help you build your online community and reap its benefits. I’ll be going through some of the best ones in this article; however, let’s first understand how having a forum helps your business.

Fresh content on autopilot

The reason I’ve kept this on the top is that I consider this as one of the most notable benefits. Having a forum for your business will automatically generate fresh content, without you having to write them yourself. Once your forum becomes more and more interactive with users contributing and adding new posts, it translates to a steady autopilot flow of new content.

Extra income opportunity

As they say, “Always diversify your income sources,” your forum will help you do just that. An online community can be easily monetized with various tactics such as –

  • Ads
  • Affiliate products
  • Sponsored posts
  • Selling ad space

Though it won’t fetch you a thousand dollars by tomorrow, but can surely in a few months if you put in the work continuously. An additional source of income is always great!

Improves customer service

Having a lot of customers for your business directly translates to a ton of on-going questions for your products or services. Not to mention the time it takes to attend every single one out there. While answering your customers’ questions is a great thing to do, it can quickly become time-consuming if the same questions are being asked again and again.

An online community helps you tackle that problem with ease. Instead of responding to those same questions, you can create posts revolving around them and direct your customers for a quick-fix.

Better search-engine presence

Search engines such as Google always prefer sources that answer the search query directly. That is the reason forums like Quora pops up almost every time you search for a specific problem. From weight loss to business-related doubts to whatnot, they have mastered the art of forum SEO.

Also, having a forum also means having fresh new content added regularly, which is another factor that search engines look for.

Discourse

Easy to install and use, Discourse is a promising software to build your forum around a robust framework. It is entirely open-source and has some great features, which include:

  • Conversation-type pages which allow infinite scrolling instead of arbitrary pages
  • Real-time notifications for new activities
  • Expanded links for better user experience
  • Trust badges for regular members
  • Anti-spam plugins like Akismet
  • Fun emoji support
  • Detailed dashboard for better analyzing
  • Fully responsive on all devices be it phone, computer or tablet

Discourse also offers a hosted solution and got three different plans with the entry-level one starting at $100/month. All of them come with a free 14-day trial, so you can test everything out. An alternative hosted solution would be A2 Hosting.

vBulletin

Probably the most popular forum software out there, vBulletin is used by some of the biggest companies, including NASA, Sony Pictures, and EA. They were great back when they were founded in 2000, but now they’re even better after the launch of their 5th version of the software.

The vBulletin 5 Connect is packed with great features like:

  • In-built messenger chat
  • SEO and security functions
  • Easy social integrations
  • Fully responsive for all devices
  • Smartphone app for use on the go

It costs $249 and requires you to look after your hosting, maintenance, and upgrades. However, if you don’t want to handle that yourself, you can additionally purchase the vBulletin Cloud that’ll take care of all that. Another option would be to choose a SiteGround vBulletin hosting platform.

Flarum

Flarum came in pretty late in the market as compared to others, but it quickly made its name for the awesomeness they provide. Just like Discourse, this software to has infinite scrolling feature that lets you quickly skim through discussions without having to turn pages.

Apart from that, you get:

  • Smart user interface for easy navigation
  • Floating reply box that lets you read replies while drafting your answer
  • Fully responsive and touch-optimized
  • 100% lightning-fast open-source platform
  • 30-second installation option
  • Various beautiful themes
  • Smart real-time notifications
  • And much more!

The best part is, you get all those features free. There is no price tag attached to this fantastic software — A2 offers Flarum hosting from as low as $3 per month.

Insided

Used by brands like Kaspersky, Coursera, and Streamlabs, Insided is a software that lets you build online communication along with a knowledge base. They have smart integration that allows you to combine forces of a forum, help-center, and AI-powered system that shows the most helpful content in front of your customers.

This software comes with three different plans with exciting features on each that can be tested for free using their 14-day trial. After that, you can request a quote from them to purchase any of their paid plans.

Slack

Slack is a bit different than the other ones on this list because it is a collaboration software that is more focused on you and your team. It is great for interacting with your team and assigning support-related tasks for helping out the customers on a deeper level.

With Slack, you can:

  • Direct message users
  • Receive real-time notifications
  • Share documents and other files
  • Search through the entire dashboard to find relevant stuff easily
  • Integrate third-party apps like Asana and Google Drive
  • Do a face-to-face video call
  • And much more!

Their paid plans start from $2.67/user and go up till $5/user. Besides, they have a lifelong 100% free plan with limited features.

Mobilize

With features like deep analytic insights and massive data set, Mobilize is a tough contender that can hardly be ignored. It is trusted by brands like Dermalogica, United Nations, and SalesForce. However, it is priced slightly at a higher price for $799/month with unlimited admins and up to 50 groups. There is also a 100% free plan that allows up to 5 admins, five groups, and 5,000 members.

Other features include:

  • Ability to welcome newly joined members
  • Show suggested groups to members for better participation
  • Assign members the responsibility to lead/moderate groups
  • Access to essential data for tracking success and growth
  • And many more!

BuddyPress

Love WordPress?

BuddyPress is a flexible plugin that lets you build a full-blown online community on WordPress. With the plugin, you can customize every little bit of the functions like profile fields, account settings, email settings, notifications, etc.

Other features include:

  • Smart real-time notifications
  • Integrations with other third-party apps
  • User-created groups
  • Direct/group chat option
  • Ability to add other users as friends

There is no cost attached to it, which means you can download and use it free. If you decide to use BuddyPress and expect good traffic, then you must consider premium hosting like Kinsta or others mentioned here for optimal performance.

MyBB

Last but not least; MyBB is yet another free and open-source software to build an impressive online community quickly. It is extendable with your choice of themes and various plugins to spice up the features even more. You should be able to set up a fully-functional forum with ease, but if you encounter any problems, there is a super-friendly community that’ll guide you through it.

Not to mention, they have some great features like:

  • Advanced discussions which allow video embedding
  • Ability to conduct polls
  • Floating reply box that lets you read replies while drafting your answer
  • Fully-controlled admin panel
  • Ability to chat with one or more users at a time
  • Reputation system which reflects the contributions of a user
  • Fast navigation and user experience

The best part is they regularly roll out updates fixing any bugs and errors for a better experience.

Conclusion

The above-listed software is all fantastic and lives up to their claims. However, when it comes to choosing one, it boils down to your requirements and needs. Most of these have identical features, but there are also some that stand out. All you need to do is identify your requirements and pick the most suitable one from the above list.

If you decide to go for self-hosted, then check out some of the best cloud platforms for better performance and security.