There are a number of benefits available to those who wish to install a discussion forum on their WordPress website.
These benefits can apply to you as the site manager as well as your readers, customer and anyone else who visits your site. By adding this functionality to your website you can begin to build a community which your readers can make their online home and start interacting amongst themselves and with you.
If you offer advice or a product that requires support, adding a discussion forum where your users can post questions is an excellent way of reducing your workload and building user-led support pages. Answering questions on a message board which your other users can refer to cuts down on the amount of emails you have to respond to, asking the same questions.
Also, once your community begins to develop and take shape, other members will be quick to jump in and answer questions on your behalf, sharing their knowledge with other readers, further reducing your workload.
Other benefits of adding a discussion forum to your site include:
- Building a community that has your readers coming back for more.
- Allowing your readers to create user generated content for you site which can help attract more readers to your site.
- Reduce your workload by making correspondence visible for others to refer to.
- Learn from your readers on what their needs are and how you can better serve them with your site content.
How to Setup a WordPress Discussion Forum
There are many options to choose from when it comes to setting up a WordPress discussion forum. For this quick walkthrough on setting up a forum I’ve chosen the very popular and free bbPress plugin. More information on the other options available is covered after the guide.
Guide to bbPress
This is a very popular and free option which is installed just like a regular free plugin, either by downloading it from here and then uploading it to your site, or by searching for it from the Plugins > Add New page on your WordPress dashboard.
The plugin itself and the features it provides are pretty streamlined which in turns gives you a fast loading and easy to use forum solution for your WordPress site. While it might seem rather basic, the good news is that bbPress has an ‘extensive plugin system’ allowing you to add additional features as required by installing other plugins.
This allows you to only add the features you require by installing the corresponding plugin, rather than installing a large application that is packed full of features you will never use.
This does have its downsides of course; by relying on third party developers to provide your forum with the key features you require that are not found in the bbPress core, you are entrusting them to keep the addons up to date and in development.
Some recommended additional plugins for bbPress include:
- GD bbPress Tools: enables support for BBCode, quoting in messages and user signatures in posts making your forum more user-friendly and feature rich.
- GD bbPress Widgets: installs some bbPress-only widgets such as the login options, list of forums, and recent topics.
- bbPress WPTweaks: creates a forum-specific sidebar which is only displayed when a user is viewing the forum pages of your site.
- GD bbPress Attachments: allow your forums members to add attachment to their posts.
While there are many bbPress plugins available, these will give you enough options to get started and build a functional forum for your WordPress site.
New forums can then be added via the Forums > New Forum page. After you’ve created at least one forum, you can then create a new topic in one of the forums using the newly added Forums dropdown menu on the Admin bar.
Creating a new topic in the admin dashboard is much like creating a new post in terms of the options available and the editor used. Simply your give your discussion topic a title and then add the post information in the editor and your first forum post is ready for publication.
When setting up bbPress or any other discussion forum, it’s a good idea to spend some time deciding which sub-forums you want to add to your forum to begin with. Too few sub-forums can lead to seemingly off-topic posts and a lack of focus, while too many options can be confusing to users making them unsure of where to post their topic.
Overall, bbPress is very easy way to add a discussion forum to your WordPress site. Thanks to the additional plugins created to enhance bbPress, the default version can be added to as required.
Other WordPress Discussion Options
While bbPress is certainly a good choice for those looking for a free and easy solution to adding a discussion element to their site, some users might consider its functionality a little too basic. If you fall into that category, here are some other options to consider:
WPMU Dev Forum Plugin
The team at WPMU Dev have their own forum plugin which is available on its own or as part of their bundle of over 350 premium plugins available on a monthly subscription package.
This is a simple plugin much like bbPress and it supports multiple installs on one site. Unlike bbPress, if you sign up to the WPMU Dev monthly premium package, you can get support covering this tool should you require it. However, it is pretty easy to setup and start building a community on your site.
ForumPress / WP Forum Server
This plugin is available as either a free version of a premium option. As you can see from the feature list, there isn’t much separating the two with the main premium attraction being access to the support forum.
This feels like much more of a full-blown forum plugin than bbPress does. If you find the features of the standard installation of bbPress don’t give you what you want and you aren’t keen on installing additional plugins to get the features you need, this looks like a good choice.
This is another popular option for adding a discussion board to WordPress. While it is free to use it isn’t available to download from the WordPress.org plugin repository which might explain why it’s not as well known as bbPress or WP Forum Server.
The list of features is extensive which many options available to keep you busy when setting up your site’s forum. Some nice features include:
- Forum ranks and badges
- Image thumbnails and enlargements
- Avatar uploads, Gravatar or WordPress
- Private RSS feeds for members
- Extended membership profiles
While bbPress could in theory provide you with all the features you need, it will probably require you installing additional plugins. If you prefer to work with just one product to manage your forum, this, like ForumPress could be a good fit for you.
Basic use of Simple:Press is free but to get access to all the features and support you will have to become a premium member.
While this option isn’t specifically designed for WordPress, it is worth covering as it’s a popular discussion forum solution for many big sites. There is a free version for those who wish to self-host or you can opt to pay for the forum to be hosted for you. With the free version you are responsible for installing and running the service yourself.
Some hosts, such as Bluehost, allow a one click install of Vanilla Forums through their control panel, saving you a lot of time and effort.
For those faced with a manual installation, involving FTP uploads and editing the database, this is a much more involved process than just installing a plugin and is also more challenging. However, it does give you free access to one of the more popular discussion forum options out there.
To give you an idea of what is involved during setup this tutorial from the Vanilla Forums website should tell you all you need to know.
Adding a discussion forum to a WordPress site can be a free and easy way to start building a community and reaching out to your readers while also potentially reducing your workload.
It does come with its own set of problems though and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It’s not a good idea to start a forum just because you can. If you don’t yet have the readership or following to attract readers to sign up, you could end up with a deserted forum that can even work against you, putting site visitors off due to its lack of updates and inactivity.
Getting a forum to take off also requires input from you as you will need to be proactive in starting new topics and ensuring that you respond to posts quickly to keep discussions going. Starting a forum can be a lot of work but once they get going they can be an extremely useful addition to a website providing many benefits to both readers and site owners alike.
Featured image: Ryan