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Reviews

The 20 best forum software

Oliver Stasinszky

Oliver Stasinszky

Last modified on July 19, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Forums are as old as the internet itself. However, there’s one thing that has changed. You no longer need to build them from scratch. Instead, you can use the forum software to create a forum quickly and without the need for specialized assistance or programming skills. 

However, there are over a hundred different forum tools that you can use. Forum software solutions are not exactly the same across the board. 

Some focus only on forum-oriented features, while others offer help desk functionalities. Furthermore, some are free, and others will cost you some money. Knowing key differences can help you choose the best forum software for your company. To help you out, we have tested and compared over 20 forum software solutions. 

Before we go into our list of 20 best forum software solutions, let’s dig a bit deeper into what these solutions are and what makes them reliable.

What is forum software?   

The most common definition of forum software is as follows:

“Forum software is a solution that enables you to create online messaging platforms and enable users to interact and share information.”

However, software developers are continuously working on improving their solutions. The same applies to the internet forum software industry. Therefore, the more appropriate definition of modern forum software would be:

“An online forum solution is built to help businesses create and support big communities behind their brands while facilitating communication both between business and customers and among customers.”

Still, reading a definition is undoubtedly not going to clarify everything these software solutions can do. Every popular forum software has unique features that set it apart from the competition. 

The most powerful forum software will enable you to do so much more than create and manage an online forum. You can also create private forums, discussion forums, message boards, and community forums. LiveAgent, for instance, has every feature you expect to get from this kind of software but also offers customer support-focused features.

The reason why forums work well for customer support is the fact that they create a space where customers can talk about issues at length. They are also a great way to build a community and promote customer-to-customer problem-solving, which takes a load off your customer support agents. Finally, forums are places where no issue is too small to be discussed, and there is no rush on finding a resolution. 

This has value for your entire business, not just customers. New ideas and improvements can sprout from community discussions without the brand having to expend resources or effort to acquire feedback.

Why use forum software in your business

Adding new software to your workflow can be challenging, no matter the size of your running business. Regardless of how easy deployment is, organizations still have to devote some time to onboarding to prepare their employees. To properly weigh the pros and cons of using forum software in your business, you need to know all about its benefits. 

Improve customer engagement and attract new customers

Businesses are going out on a limb to attract new customers due to volatile and oversaturated markets. But, in the end, it all boils down to improving customer engagement and providing exceptional customer support. 

Forums help businesses shift their focus on user experience. Since all forum users have unique user profiles, the modern forum software can pull user data directly into the company’s CRM software and enable support agents to see the user’s activity on the forum, past interactions with the company, and history of purchases.

A forum can be an excellent resource for information to potential customers. They can find important information regarding your company’s services and products; they can interact with and follow other consumers and drive customer engagement.

Build an online community

With a multi-purpose forum platform, you can engage customers, resolve issues, and address their concerns in time. In addition, having a community platform enables companies to build an online community that isn’t only loyal to the brand and actively helps resolve issues for them. 

  • It helps the user community see that your brand cares about its customers
  • Helps new members become a part of the community
  • Facilities establishing a self-sustainable helpful community in the long term 
  • Attract potential customers

As the community establishes consistent interactions and starts addressing concerns, a company can expect several benefits from their brand’s forum:

Furthermore, modern forums come with many features that help brands interact with thousands of users without needing a big team to do it, making the benefits mentioned above even easier to reach. For example, you can reward users with new roles with advanced user options through an implemented ranking system and give high ranks to the most active and helpful users. 

Consistent branding message

When choosing online software solutions, most companies are concerned about whether they are able to customize them. The best forum solutions offer a variety of customization options. This is essential as it enables companies to deliver consistent visual branding messages. 

One of the best solutions on the market, LiveAgent, offers ready-made themes that are also customizable. With customizable themes, mobile device optimization, and profile customization options, you can create a forum that 100% reflects your visual branding strategy.

You will be able to customize the look and feel of your forum, even if you decide to use a robust plugin for WordPress. It leaves more than enough room for companies to customize their online visual presence and remain recognizable even in the niche as specific as an online forum. 

Track, record, store and share various types of content

The modern forum software doesn’t only come with user moderation features. It also enables companies to track, record, store, and share various types of content. More importantly, companies can sort the content based on multiple factors.

The option to do so is beneficial for internal teams, such as customer service and support departments, and consumers. In addition, you can put content in various categories. For instance, you can have user-generated content and technical knowledge content categories. 

With this functionality, you’ll be able to discover relevant content quickly, and so will your consumers. 

Great scalability thanks to a variety of features

The forum software companies often equip their solutions with an array of features. These features include quality of life improvements, like in-depth user profiles, avatars, email notifications, and other user-oriented things. They also have in-depth forum settings, plugins, and other user management features to make the admin team’s lives easier.

One other important thing to consider is the option to upgrade or downgrade the forum software plan at will. For instance, essential or default features are often a part of the most affordable plan. Additional features, such as SEO features and advanced moderation tools, are usually found in the advanced packages. 

A long list of features often means that the forum software offers excellent scalability. You will be able to move from one package to another, depending on your current business needs and goals.

Extend your reach to social media platforms

Social media networks provide many opportunities for businesses due to their immense popularity. There are billions of people using social media platforms on a day-to-day basis. By using forum software with the right capabilities, you will be able to tap into this potential.

The best forum software tools can enable you to leverage social media to improve the functionality of your forum. For example, you can allow the consumers to seamlessly log in with their social media accounts, monitor social media for mentions, and enable users to import information from their social media profiles.

Delight consumers with a great customer support portal

The latest forum software can help you build a self-service platform for your customers. With advanced integrations, topic filtering, and content type tags, they can use your forum as a part of your knowledge base and a place for users to ask questions without contacting your support.

Your forum can be an entry point of a comprehensive self-service portal that delivers 24/7 customer support. When customers have access to a self-service option, you can expect a decreased volume of inquiries. Your support agents will have more time to focus on more complicated cases. 

Best forum software features to look for

As we’ve already discussed, not all forum software solutions offer the same set of features. If you haven’t used such software before, it will be difficult for you to tell which are the essential features and which are used when you have a specific goal in mind. Therefore, we’re going to outline those that are currently considered to be an industry standard.

Knowledge base

A knowledge base serves as a central repository of helpful information. Therefore, knowledge base management is an essential feature to look for in a forum software solution. It can help you consolidate articles and put them into logical categories. For instance, content management enables you to sort articles by the product or service they cover.

Furthermore, you can create an internal knowledge base and an external knowledge base. 

Multi knowledge base feature in Customer portal software - LiveAgent

An internal knowledge base can help your service and support staff share information. They also help them keep up with best practices in terms of support since they are constantly being updated. It can also expedite the process of new agents’ onboarding. 

You can publish an external database and make it accessible to your existing and potential customers.

With a multiple-knowledge base solution and WYSIWYG editor, you will be able to create great-looking help articles and share them with a simple click of a button. At last, it should have support for full-text search.

Knowledgebase customization in Customer portal software - LiveAgent

Feedback and suggestions

Good forum software should also have a feedback and suggestions feature. These features help you collect valuable data from your employees and customers, which can be used to improve your products, services, and support.

Feedback & suggestions feature in help desk software - LiveAgent

The feedback and suggestions feature often has a voting system and search widgets. These features, in particular, help streamline the above-mentioned processes, promote ease of use, and serve as a content filter. For instance, thanks to the voting system, users will see the most useful posts first. 

Ticketing management system

One of the best things a forum software can do for your support team is to convert any new forum or discussion board post into a ticket and import it into your centralized ticket solution. By establishing this hybrid ticket stream, you’ll have all your tickets in a universal inbox

Ticketing feature in Help desk software - LiveAgent

Additional features that make the forum software a complete package are ticket history and ticket tracking. Your support agents will be able to stay on top of their tasks at all times while supervisors still have the option to track their performance. 

You can also set up custom rules for ticketing management, such as time rules, action rules, and SLA. You can easily set different rules for your departments and set individual responsibility rules for your agents. 

SLA log in Customer support software - LiveAgent

Finally, automated ticket distribution enables you to change ticket priority, transfer, postpone, resolve, or delete tickets on autopilot. 

Live chat

Live chat is an essential feature for any customer support team, and fortunately, cutting-edge forum software tools usually have them. An excellent live chat feature will come with customizable chat functions, but you’ll also be able to customize the buttons, window, and style.

Chat window docking feature in Live chat software - LiveAgent

Additional live chat capabilities should include offline messaging, post-chat surveys, and pre-chat forms. 

Finally, you should also have access to response templates. That makes the resolution of simple problems so much easier and, most importantly, automated. You can have canned messages ready for all of the commonly asked questions. 

Real-time chat feature in Help desk ticketing system - LiveAgent

With predefined answers, you will experience high ticket deflection rates. A contact form feature is an additional option you should consider including for customers who prefer email for communication. Some of the best forum software tools ship out with other features similar to live chat, such as a call center and social media integration.

Live chat is there to make communication with your customers easier and make the experience more enjoyable for them and your agents.

CRM

CRM stands for customer relationship management, a software tool popular among companies across industries. Forum software tools with CRM capabilities offer way more opportunities than those without them. With CRM, you’ll be able to store actionable information on your forum users. You can import them as contacts and make relevant contacts groups to qualify your leads better.

CRM-LiveAgent

The best forum software will feature CRM that can automatically pull data from forum user-profiles and fill all contact fields. CRM also enables your agents to access online ticket history quickly and have a better insight into customers’ unique needs and preferences while facilitating collaboration.

Reporting

Reporting also falls into the category of best forum software feathers. It’s because it offers valuable and actionable insights regarding the service that support agents performed. The complete analytics overview includes:

Reports in Help desk software - LiveAgent

With this data at your disposal, you will be able to optimize workflow in your service and support departments, improve the quality of service, and identify bottlenecks in your operations. 

It doesn't end there

Discover all help-desk features that LiveAgent has to offer.

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How much does forum software cost?

Forum software companies have different pricing models for their solutions. Most often, you’ll see several pricing plans per user per month. The price per month per user is unique for every forum software solution out there. There are also tools with a custom pricing model only available when requested. 

The average cost of forum software is around $30 per user per month. The price can be a very important factor, especially if you decide to scale up at some point. Due to this, you should always consider the price tags of advanced plans when you are making a decision. 

Top 20 forum software solutions

1. LiveAgent

Forum - LiveAgent
LiveAgent’s forum

LiveAgent is a solution you can use as forum software to build an online community and provide exceptional customer support. LiveAgent is a comprehensive cloud-based forum software solution with dozens of features. It enables you to automatically transform forum entries, be they posts or replies, into a ticket. Your agents will have access to these tickets from one central inbox. 

Knowledge Base / Customer Portal Demo | LiveAgent

Creating either an internal or a public customer forum in LiveAgent is straightforward. Once logged in, the function can be found in the customer portal section of your LiveAgent user interface. Before setting on the title and activating the forum, you can customize the style, keyword, and SEO to optimize the content or select the designated department for managing inquiries

Key features

  • Create public and internal forums
  • Internal and external knowledge base
  • Streamlined use registration
  • Forums can be assigned to specific departments
  • Reports and forum monitoring via real-time notifications
  • Automatic ticket transformation for forum post and replies;
  • Complete forum design customization (colors in themes, header, footer, logo, and title)

Pros

  • Works out-of-the-box (no coding required)
  • Can integrate other channels to provide support (Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Viber, email, live chat, calls, contact forms, video calls, and feedbacks)
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • It takes time to take hold of all the settings and features
  • It can be too much if you only need forum features

Price

Pricing starts at $15 per user per month.

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2. WordPress

The 20 best forum software
WordPress dashboard

WordPress is a free content management system (CMS). Yes, it can help you create and launch beautiful sites in no time, but it can also serve as forum software. Thanks to community forum plugins, you can extend the functionality of your website. There are plenty of options ranging from free to paid plugins. 

Key features

  • Easy publishing
  • Simple to get used to and use
  • Great built-in user management
  • Media management
  • Deep customizations
  • Optimized for search engines
  • Improved flexibility

Pros

  • Big and supportive community
  • Mobile friendly from the start
  • Access to hundreds of professionally designed themes

Cons

  • Navigating through WordPress settings is challenging for beginners
  • Users need to pay for domain and hosting
  • Some updates may require a professional to see them through

Price

WordPress is free, but you need to consider the cost of the domain name, hosting, and a premium community forum plugin.

3. Joomla!

The 20 best forum software

Joomla! is a CMS platform that resembles WordPress. However, it’s much more robust and requires significantly more technical knowledge than WordPress. There are various free and paid forum plugins for Joomla! to help you create and launch a forum. Unlike WordPress, Joomla! might put you in a position to have to hire a developer who has experience with the platform.

Key features

  • Great multilingual support
  • Built-in updater for easy core platform updates
  • In-app contextual help system
  • User management with user privilege access rights
  • Content management
  • Support for various extensions
  • Complete forum customizations

Pros

  • Complete control over the forum
  • Fine-tuning forum is easy from the frontend
  • Powerful extensibility

Cons

  • Requires substantial technical knowledge
  • Offers fewer extensions than other CMSs
  • Premium forum plugins are very expensive

Price

Joomla! is free, but you need to consider the cost of the domain name, hosting, and a premium forum plugin, much like with WordPress. Furthermore, you will most likely need to hire a Joomla developer, and they are not cheap.

4. phpBB

The 20 best forum software
phpBB forum software

phpBB is a free bulletin board software and one of the pioneers in this software category. It enables you to create forums where users can log in and post messages. With the phpBB extensions, you can expand your forum’s functionality. For instance, you can add internal messaging, customize the look and feel of forums, and enable users to customize their profiles how they see fit. 

Key features

  • Unread message tracking
  • User preferences
  • Private message board system
  • Forum moderation tools
  • Fully customizable registration forms
  • Topic structure standardization
  • Forum pruning

Pros

  • Easily modify forum functionality with phpBB MOD
  • Comprehensive forum hierarchy capabilities
  • Customize templates and styles with ease

Cons

  • It doesn’t offer anything beyond a forum
  • It features an outdated look
  • It has a steep learning curve

Price

phpBB is free to use.

5. Drupal

The 20 best forum software
Drupal forum software interface

Drupal is another CMS on our list which offers excellent functionality and features when it comes to forums. You can create and launch forums quickly, but more importantly, you’ll be able to streamline user and forum moderation. With Drupal themes and modules, you can add functionalities to your forum and website and offer your forum users a better visual experience. Unlike WordPress and Joomla!, Drupal has built-in forum capabilities. 

Key features

  • Built-in support for threaded discussion boards
  • Unique URL for every forum topic
  • User permissions
  • Hot topic threshold
  • Topics per page
  • Default topic order
  • Flexible and new theme engine – Twig

Pros

  • Offers forum features right out of the box
  • Lots of modules and themes to improve forum functionality and looks
  • Completely customizable

Cons

  • Steep learning curve
  • Fewer modules than WordPress
  • Drupal management requires technical knowledge and expertise

Price

Drupal is free, but most of the modules are premium and costly. You also need to take into account the cost of the domain name and hosting.

6. MyBB

The 20 best forum software
MyBB forum software

MyBB is very similar to phpBB in terms of features it offers. It’s also an open-source forum software and is free to use. It allows you to create a forum, set up message boards, have easy moderation, and streamlined user registration. MyBB has a comprehensive control panel that can be used to moderate the forum on the go and check usage statistics updated in real-time.

Key features

  • Wide selection of MyBB forum themes;
  • Plugins specifically tailored to boost user engagement;
  • Built-in templates and a theme editor
  • User reputation system;
  • Calendars for events scheduling;
  • Templates for user registration;
  • Forum moderation toolbox;
  • Reporting.

Pros

  • Easy to use even for beginners;
  • Great gamification features to engage forum users;
  • Forum moderation from one screen.

Cons

  • Fewer features than other forum software tools on our list;
  • Security issues;
  • Lack of mobile-friendly themes.

Price

MyBB is free to use, but you will need to spend money on a domain name and hosting plan.

7. Vanilla Forums

The 20 best forum software
Vanilla theme add-on

Vanilla Forums is one of the best forum software solutions out there. It offers both a free and a premium version. The free version aims to meet the needs of small and medium-sized businesses. The premium version, on the other hand, caters to the needs of enterprise-level businesses. The add-on and theme systems allow you to customize the look and feel of the forum while extending its functionality.

Key features

  • Support for various discussion types (e.g., standard discussions, polls, questions)
  • Rich content
  • User mentioning
  • Avatars and user profiles
  • Private messaging
  • Knowledge base
  • Forum groups

Pros

  • Modern looking themes
  • Many add-ons for forum functionality extension
  • Knowledge base support for better customer experience

Cons

  • Not that many add-ons and themes to choose from
  • It takes time to learn how to use it properly
  • The price of the premium version is significantly above the industry average

Price

Vanilla Forums’ open-source edition is completely free. However, the premium version starts at $689 per month.

8. Flarum

The 20 best forum software
Flarum forum tags

Flarum is one of the new players on the forum software scene. The good news is that it is entirely free. The platform is designed for all screen sizes and is optimized to deliver outstanding performance even on low bandwidth connections. Flarum has both essential and advanced features, but it requires substantial technical knowledge to install, update, and maintain it. 

Key features

  • Multi-language support (16 translation packs currently available)
  • Intuitive UI
  • User progression system
  • Last time online
  • User mentions
  • Scrollable threads
  • One time sign-on
  • A control panel with advanced forum moderation

Pros

  • Has live chat support thanks to Pusher integration
  • Extensions enable users to customize the forum
  • Beautiful user interface

Cons

  • It’s still under development
  • Requires the latest Apache/Nginx, PHP, and MySQL to work correctly
  • Installation and updating have to be handled by a professional

Price

Flarum is completely free forum software.

9. Simple Machines Forum

The 20 best forum software
Simple Machines Forum module

Simple Machines Forum is an excellent software for building, publishing, and managing online forums. It offers a similar set of features found in phpBB. Still, there are a couple of things that set it apart – the theme and module systems. With these two systems, Simple Machines Forum offers excellent flexibility. Given that it is an open-source solution, you can tweak it to meet your specific needs if you have the know-how.

Key features

  • Easy customizations thanks to new template system
  • Advanced user management and permissions
  • SEO ready
  • Easy-to-use package manager
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Member tracking and tracing
  • Streamlined forum management

Pros

  • Premium-grade themes and modules
  • Great multi-language support
  • Support for the premium subscription

Cons

  • Themes look outdated
  • It doesn’t support user profile customization
  • The number of settings can be overwhelming for absolute beginners

Price

Simple Machines Forum is a free and open-source forum solution.

10. Discourse

The 20 best forum software
Discourse user interface

If you want to create and publish forums fast without breaking your bank, Discourse might be a good solution for you. The software doesn’t offer anything besides forum features, but in return, it does provide a modern user interface and mobile optimization. It also supports login integration for a great user experience. The users can log in using their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts. 

Key features

  • Conversations are moved from single pages into scrollable pages
  • Instant notifications
  • Automatic link expansion
  • Designed for screens of all sizes
  • User trust system
  • Support for community moderation
  • Single sign-in
  • Reporting and analytics

Pros

  • Real-time notifications help users stay on top of all crucial mentions;
  • Mailing list mode allows users to track their favorite threads;
  • Great scalability.

Cons

  • It’s costlier than other premium solutions;
  • Absolute beginners will need to spend time to learn how to use advanced features;
  • The scrolling system decreases readability once there are dozens of replies.

Price

Discourse pricing plans start at $100 per 5 staff users per month. 

11. Codoforum

The 20 best forum software
Codoforum community forum software

Codoforum is a freemium community forum software. Although it is a free solution, it offers all the features you expect to find in a forum software toolkit. Codoforum is perhaps the best forum software in the clean user interface category. It’s mobile-friendly right out-of-the-box which is great if many of your users are constantly on the go.

Key features

  • Daily and weekly digest (send the recent updates to your users via email)
  • Fresh, minimalistic user interface
  • Support for all mobile devices
  • WYSIWYG editor
  • Support for existing website integration
  • User mentions and tagging
  • Notifications and subscriptions
  • Daily and weekly digest

Pros

  • Notification system supports notification level settings
  • Tagging system delivers excellent user experience
  • Extensive guides and documentation

Cons

  • Only premium versions support automatic upgrading and security patches
  • Freemium version has a watermark you can’t remove
  • Updates are few and far between

Price

The Codoforum free version has the Powered by Codoforum watermark. The white-label premium pricing plans start at $49 (one-time purchase).

Still with us?

Forum is an effective platform for encouraging self-service resolution and customer-to-customer cooperation. With LiveAgent you can delight and nurture your relationship with customers.

Learn more

12. FluxBB

The 20 best forum software
FluxBB community forum solution

Although it is a significantly simpler forum solution than any other software on our list, FluxBB made it to the list thanks to its performance. It is a lightweight community forum solution that has all the essential features. You will have access to key forum moderation options, themes, and plugins. With FluxBB, you can set up and launch your forums very quickly and with few complications.

Key features

  • Topic ranking
  • Forum and topic subscription
  • Move, split & merge topics
  • Forum pruning
  • Support for RSS feed
  • Disable/enable user registration
  • User permissions

Pros

  • Built with high performance in mind
  • Has a user ranking system
  • Support for advanced profile customizations

Cons

  • The lack of plugins
  • The themes look outdated

Price

FluxBB is completely free to use.

13. Invision Community

The 20 best forum software
Invision Community forums

Invision Community is the heir of the IP board, which was one of the most popular forum software solutions back in the day. The platform offers many features and makes forum moderation easy. It even enables your users to create their own groups called “Clubs” within the forum. The platform’s pricing is unique given that both data storage and the number of online visitors are locked behind different paywalls. 

Key features

  • Community clubs
  • Automatically publish forum posts on your social media accounts
  • User reputation and leaderboards
  • Group promotions
  • Paid subscription
  • Advanced moderation tools
  • Mobile support
  • Remote commenting application for easy news and article distribution

Pros

  • Easily engage users with attractive features
  • Great user interface
  • Engage your social media following with attractive forum posts

Cons

  • Lack of SEO features
  • Needs more gamification options
  • Price can spike with increasing forum data needs

Price

Invision Community starts at $45 per month, capped at 65 online visitors.

14. XenForo

The 20 best forum software
XenForo community platform software

XenForo is a cutting-edge community platform and a premium forum software solution built for companies interested in using self-hosted solutions. XenForo has an impressive list of features and excellent social media integration. With over 2,000 add-ons at your disposal, you can create a custom forum with unique functions based on the user activity feed. In addition, the platform is optimized for search engines.

Key features

  • Support for structured questions and answer threads
  • Rich article authoring system
  • Built-in search functionality
  • Staff privileges
  • Inline moderation support
  • User achievement system
  • Dedicated mobile app
  • Reports and analytics

Pros

  • Completely SEO optimized online forum
  • Easy to use forum moderation tools
  • XenForo mobile app

Cons

  • The on-premise installation has to be performed by experienced staff
  • Requires several PHP extensions and the current version of PHP and MySQL
  • Removing the XenForo copyright notice costs $300 extra

Price

The XenForo license starts at $160.

15. Wix

The 20 best forum software
Wix community forum

Wix is an online website builder, and as a part of their package, they offer the Wix Forum software. It’s one of the easiest community forum tools to use since it features a drag-and-drop editor. This means that you will be able to build and launch your forum without writing a single line of code. You can build a standalone forum or integrate it with a website. When it comes to the features, Wix Forum doesn’t fall behind the competition.

Key features

  • Support for classic and cards forum layouts
  • Built-in SEO tool
  • Mobile-friendly forum
  • Forum moderation tools
  • Forum users permissions
  • Member’s page
  • Profile page
  • Forum templates
  • Real-time notifications

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Cloud-based forum software
  • Beautiful templates

Cons

  • With a free plan, you get Wix branding
  • You need a paid plan to access tracking and analytics
  • Most of the valuable add-ons are premium

Price

Wix starts at $8.50 per month.

16. vBulletin

The 20 best forum software
vBulletin forums directory

vBulletin is a very powerful forum software. It’s a popular solution used by some big organizations like Sony Pictures and NASA, and it ships out with every feature you’ll need to create stunning forums in no time at all. vBulletin is also built with mobile users in mind and has SEO support. You can set forums to be private or public, edit hierarchy, enable private messaging, and much more.

Key features

  • Unlimited hierarchy on forums
  • Private/Public forums
  • Forum moderation tools
  • Thread and forum subscription
  • Unlimited moderators
  • Customizable permission system
  • Private messaging
  • Templates, add-ons, and skins

Pros

  • Create, publish, and moderate an online community via one platform
  • An abundance of options
  • Both self-hosted and cloud versions

Cons

  • The self-hosted solution requires technical knowledge
  • Plans are bandwidth limited
  • Support for the self-hosted version is limited

Price

vBulletin 5 Connects, built for self-hosting, starts at $249.00. vBulletin Cloud starts at $19.95 per month.

17. inSided

The 20 best forum software
inSided forum solution

inSided is a complete forum software solution. You can use it to create an online community and facilitate communication between your brand and your customers. It really doesn’t stand out with any unique angles compared to other options, but it is a solid option.

Key features

  • Knowledge base
  • Support for questions and answers style boards
  • Search engine optimized content
  • Content prioritization
  • Built-in smart content search
  • Intelligent and context-specific content
  • Advanced reports
  • Update users based on their interests

Pros

  • Great flexibility thanks to many features
  • Easy to use even without previous experience
  • New features are regularly released

Cons

  • Price slightly above the industry average
  • Lack of customization options
  • Reporting and analytics are not in-depth as in some other solutions

Price

inSided price is available only at a request.

18. NodeBB

The 20 best forum software
NodeBB flexible forum software

NodeBB is one of the latest additions to the forum software family. It’s popular thanks to its flexibility and intuitive user interface design – forum moderators have access to all moderation tools on one screen. It also shines in the integration department enabling users to integrate various platforms, ranging from social media to project management software. Users can also extend its default functionality with plugins.

Key features

  • Mobile-ready
  • Localization support
  • Instant notifications
  • Analytics and reporting
  • SEO ready
  • Social media sharing
  • Support for self-hosted and cloud-based solutions
  • Built-in instant messaging

Pros

  • Seamlessly integrates with popular cloud-based services
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Modern and fresh look

Cons

  • More expensive than other forum software
  • Plugins and widgets often break basic functionality
  • The lack of themes for the forums

Price

NodeBB price starts at $250 per month.

19. Forem

The 20 best forum software
Forem open-source forum software

Forem is soon to be released, but given that it comes out of the Dev.to kitchen, it’s bound to be great. It features a new modern look, an intuitive user interface, and easy deployment. It’s an open-source software solution that enables you to build communities with ease, and you’ll be able to use it to allow visitors to create profiles, read/write posts, follow specific tags, or search the content. 

Key features

  • Support for RSS feed
  • Moderation tools
  • Follow other users
  • Follow post tags
  • Direct messaging
  • Group chats
  • Integration with other apps
  • Achievement badges

Pros

  • Great flexibility
  • Easy to use moderation tools
  • Both group chat and direct messaging

Cons

  • Open-source means limited support
  • Requires substantial knowledge to self-host
  • Use case strictly reserved to the forum

Price

Forem is a completely free solution.

20. bbPress

The 20 best forum software
bbPress WordPress forum plugin

bbPress is a forum software released by the same team that worked on WordPress, and it definitely shows in the platform, especially in the ease-of-use department. The design might look outdated, but all the best features are there. Being a WordPress plugin itself, it allows you to extend its functionality with other plugins and build the forum you want. Finally, it’s an open-source project, so it’s free to use. 

Key features

  • One-click install
  • Support for themes
  • Forum templates
  • User permissions
  • Activity logging
  • Notifications
  • Support for various extensions
  • Private groups

Pros

  • Easy to install and setup
  • Functionality can be improved via plugins
  • Compatible with modern WordPress themes

Cons

  • The default theme looks outdated
  • Advanced features are plugin dependant
  • Too much time goes by between new releases

Price

bbPress is completely free.

Top 5 forum software compared

Let’s make a quick comparison of the top 5 forum software options.

1. LiveAgent

The 20 best forum software
LiveAgent’s used interface

LiveAgent is our number one choice for cloud-based forum software solutions for businesses. Not only does it come with a lot of features, but it also enables you to leverage the forum to improve services, products and make customers happy.

Additionally, LiveAgent enables businesses to make informed decisions and include the most relevant forum content to the internal or external knowledge base. The convenience comes from being able to do it all from one screen.

Post and share useful content

With LiveAgent you can allow customers to access knowledge base articles, ticket status, interaction history or in-depth product and service information.

Click to find out more

2. vBulletin

The 20 best forum software
vBulletin forum software

vBulletin lacks the help desk functionality and automatic forum post and reply to ticket transformation features. However, if you want to run and moderate a forum on a proven and secure platform, vBulletin is your second best option, and it ships out with all the features you need.

vBulletin is easy to use, which is important to note if you don’t have any previous experience in creating or moderating forums.

3. Discourse

The 20 best forum software
Discourse user dashboard

Discourse is a premium forum software solution just like LiveAgent and vBulletin. It’s similar to LiveAgent when it comes to integrations, and you can use it with social media or integrate it with help desk tools.

It offers support for WordPress, but it doesn’t go beyond the basic forum features and is a bit pricey. Discourse hosting plans start at $100.

4. phpBB

The 20 best forum software
phBB free forum software platform

If you want to build and moderate a forum and are on a budget, phpBB might be the best solution. It’s a free forum software platform. It has both basic and advanced forum features. 

On the other hand, phpBB looks a bit outdated, which can hurt your forum users’ perception of it. It’s also a self-hosted solution only, so you’ll have to find a hosting provider, generating more expenses.

5. Simple Machines Forum

The 20 best forum software
Simple Machines Forum home page

Finally, we have another open-source solution – Simple Machines Forum. It looks outdated and features only forum-specific tools, but unlike phpBB, it offers many more customization options thanks to the advanced package manager.

You can use it to install additional modules that improve your forum’s looks and capabilities. It’s better suited for larger communities, though. 

Top 5 email support systems compared

Email support systemCapterra RatingFree version Free trialStarting price 
LiveAgent4.7/5 (approx. 1K reviews)YESYES$15 per agent/mo
vBulletin4.0/5 (13 reviews)NOYES$249 per month
DiscourseN/AYESYES$100 per user/mo
phpBBN/AYESYESFree to use
Simple Machines Forum
N/AYESYESFree to use
Dated as of July 19th

Conclusion

Choosing the right forum software solution for your business is crucial for its long-term success. It will help you streamline the implementation and onboarding but also help you achieve your specific goals. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together a short list of Q&As. Spoiler alert – LiveAgent is the absolute champion in all six categories.

Editor’s note: If any of the information in the review article is inaccurate, please feel free to contact us and we’ll revise it accordingly

The best all-in-one forum software solutions

LiveAgent is the best all-in-one forum software solution. It offers the functionality of a complete helpdesk with seamless forum integration, enabling companies to take full advantage of maintaining an online forum. 

With post and reply to ticket conversion, companies can stay on top of the recent developments and help their customers resolve issues efficiently. On top of that, LiveAgent enables companies to create useful internal and external knowledge bases and share the most important content hassle-free.

The best forum software with built-in live chat, call center, social media, and customer portal 

LiveAgent is the best forum software with built-in live chat, call center, social media, and customer portal. It’s simply because the platform offers all these features from one centralized solution. The agents and service providers don’t have to switch tools. It’s an entire tech stack available via just one user interface.

The best feature-rich online forum software 

When it comes to features, nothing comes even close to LiveAgent. The platform has almost 200 features to offer to its users, and the company is continuously working on improving the existing features and introducing new ones. 

The best value for the price forum software

With the price of $15.00 per staff user per month, an abundance of features, and ease of use, LiveAgent is the best forum software when it comes to value for money. 

The highest-rated forum software

According to the most trustworthy software review platform online, Capterra, LiveAgent is the highest-rated forum software with an average rating of 4.7 and over 1,000 unique reviews.

The easiest forum software to setup & use, and integrate

While it has almost 200 features, LiveAgent is the most accessible forum software on this list to integrate. The features and user interface are also intuitive, which makes the setup and use extremely easy.

A satisfied customer is a happy customer

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FAQ

What is forum software?

Forum software solutions are specialized platforms that enable you to create and publish community forums used for various things. They have several key features that help you moderate the forum, enable users to edit their profiles, add a direct messaging channel, and so on.

What are the benefits of open-source and premium versions of forum software?

There are two unique benefits open-source forum software offers – it’s completely free, and you can customize it however you want. However, it has to be deployed on company servers, and you need to have staff proficient in coding to customize it. Premium versions of forum software benefits include easy deployment, no maintenance costs, and access to premium features usually unavailable in open-source solutions.

What is an omnichannel forum software solution?

Omnichannel forum software solution refers to platforms that can integrate various communication channels. It’s essential for companies that want to use the forum as another channel to offer support. With omnichannel forum software, a company can use the forum as one channel of communication and include social media, messaging platforms, email, and other channels to the mix.

What features should the best forum software offer?

Some of the baseline features that should be present in any solid forum software package include forum moderation tools, multiple-knowledge base support, search widgets, voting system, reporting, and ticket management system.

What are the benefits of using forum software?

Forum software offers many benefits to businesses of all sizes. This includes improved customer engagement, attracting new customers, building an online community, improved branding efforts, facilitating business growth and expansion, and excellent ticket deflection rates.

What is the best forum software?

The best forum software is LiveAgent. It offers the best value for money, given the sheer amount of features and capabilities that are available to the user. LiveAgent forum software solution enables companies to build internal and public forums and automatically convert new topics and replies into tickets agents can access through a single user interface.

Why is the forum software important?

The forum software is important because it helps you streamline and automate most of the forum creation and moderation processes. Instead of doing everything manually and creating things from scratch, you can use it to create forums and start using them even with no technical knowledge.

How do you customize the forum software?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question because every forum software is unique. The premium forum software customizations are often easy and can be done via an intuitive user interface. With open-source solutions, you often have to code the customizations to get the look and functionality you want?

How does forum software work?

Forum software is designed to help create an online discussion site and extend its functionality. The users who visit the online discussion site can create posts, reply to other users’ posts, and directly communicate via messages.

How much does the forum software cost?

The premium forum software costs vary from solution to solution. Most of the pricing plans are based on the “per user per month” model. The average cost per user per month is approximately $30. You should always extend your research to find the solution with the best value for money and great scalability potential.

Oliver Stasinszky

Oliver Stasinszky

Oliver Stasinszky is a copywriter at LiveAgent, with a background in E-commerce and Customer Service. Passionate about writing, reading, and learning how to play any musical instrument he comes across.

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