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Best forum software

Successful brand communities can boost customer trust, build loyalty, and provide evergreen self-service support. Leverage forum software to build a community of your own.

A guide to the 13 best forum software of 2024

Laatst gewijzigd January 22, 2024

All kinds of people, from customers and employees to the general public, love to join in-person and online communities to discuss topics they’re most interested in. That’s why so many consumers turn to community forums for information or support from their favorite brands. You can offer this experience to your customers using forum software.

Forum software offers organizations a unique opportunity to simultaneously provide self-service support, collect feedback, and build customer loyalty through engagement. In this guide, explore the 13 best forum software solutions, key features to look for, the benefits of forum software, and how to choose the best forum software for your business.

Table of contents

What is forum software?

Forum software enables users to create text-based threads to post questions, discuss issues, offer solutions, and make comments. Typically, forum software also enables organizations to moderate conversations, rate users, and collect user feedback.

Forum software is important because it:

  • Offers organizations a unique opportunity to provide self-service options for customers.

  • Provides a discussion board where users can post their questions, comments, and ideas, which can help inform product roadmap decisions.

But forum software isn’t just for customers. Many companies use community forum software to create discussion boards to solicit internal product feedback and for employees to ask and answer questions.

Forum software comparison chart

To help you find the best forum software for your business, we’ve compiled a list of popular options available today. Our comparison chart breaks down options by starting price, free trial length, and notable features.

Software
Starting price
Free trial
Features

Zendesk

$115 per agent/month (billed annually)

14 days

  • Customizable templates

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Voting on posts and comments

  • User profiles and aliases

  • User badges

  • Public and private options

  • Integrated escalations

  • Content moderation

  • AI-powered spam protection

  • Apps and integrations

phpBB

Free

Not applicable

  • Community moderator

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Higher Logic Vanilla

Contact Higher Logic Vanilla

Unavailable

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Wix Forum

$16 per month (billed annually)

14 days

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

XenForo

$60 per month (billed annually)

7 days

  • Community moderator

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Khoros Communities

Contact Khoros

Unavailable

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

vBulletin Cloud

$14.99 per month (billed annually)

Unavailable

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Discourse

$50 per month

14 days

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Gainsight

Contact Gainsight

Unavailable

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

WordPress

$0 per month (with ads)

Unavailable

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

Drupal

Free

Not applicable

  • Unified search

Flarum

Free

Not applicable

  • Community moderator

  • Unified search

  • AI-powered spam protection

MyBB

Free

Not applicable

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Salesforce Experience Cloud

$5 per member/month

(billed annually)

Unavailable

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Bettermode

$599 per month

Contact sales

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection


The 15 best forum software for 2023

Let’s dive in and take a deeper look at what the best forum software has to offer. We include an overview of each product, key features, pricing, and free trial information.

1. Zendesk

Zendesk

Your customers and employees want to be heard. Zendesk provides the space to connect through an online community. With Zendesk, your business can boost customer engagement and encourage helpful collaboration by rewarding your top contributors with customizable titles and achievement badges. These titles (displayed as text) and achievement badges (displayed as icons) are featured next to the user's profile picture for all to see.

Additionally, whenever a complicated issue arises, Zendesk allows your agents to quickly escalate forum posts to customer service tickets where they can provide one-on-one support.

Zendesk forum software also gives you full control of forum design, letting you customize your communities using themes and code to match your brand. And thanks to its ease of use, Zendesk lets you build a discussion board in minutes. Your company can have separate or combined branded online options where customers and employees can collaborate.

Zendesk also uses AI to automatically flag suspicious content for review and approval before publishing. This enables you to manage your community (with minimal effort) and minimize spam. Plus, users can sort and follow posts to stay informed with the latest updates.

Features:

  • Customizable templates

  • Community moderators

  • Unified search

  • Voting on posts and comments

  • User profiles and aliases

  • User badges

  • Public and private options

  • Integrated escalations

  • Content moderation

  • AI-powered spam protection

  • Apps and integrations

Pricing:

  • Suite Professional: $115 per agent/month

  • Suite Enterprise: Contact sales

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

14 days

2. phpBB

phpBB
Image source

PhpBB is an open-source, free forum software written in the programming language PHP. With phpBB, you can establish an online group through its community forums software, though it doesn’t have the advanced feature set you might find in many other solutions on this list. The software includes security features that aim to reduce spam and remove unruly users.

Users can post questions and respond to each other once they’ve created an account. As the system admin, you can grant moderator status to any user you choose. The forum software includes basic spam protection features, including reCAPTCHA v2 capabilities. Plus, if you need to build on the basic functionality of phpBB, you can do so with a library of user-created extensions.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Pricing:

  • Free

Free trial:

Not applicable

3. Higher Logic Vanilla

Higher Logic Vanilla
Image source

Formerly known as Vanilla Forums, Higher Logic Vanilla is a forum software for building and scaling an online community of engaged users. It includes discussion forums and Q&A features to help your customers ask questions and share knowledge.

Additionally, Higher Logic Vanilla includes searchable answers, helping save your business’ and customers’ time. Also, to encourage frequent, meaningful contributions and good conduct, Higher Logic Vanilla uses gamification to encourage engagement by rewarding members for their participation. The forum software also provides automated functions to help keep your community free from spam.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Contact Higher Logic Vanilla

Free trial:

Unavailable

Learn more about Higher Logic Vanilla for Zendesk.

4. Wix Forum

Wix Forum
Image source

Wix made a name for itself by enabling non-technical users to build professional websites with no coding necessary. Its forum software, Wix Forum, has drag-and-drop templates specially designed for community sites. Wix Forum isn’t available as a standalone project but is free to install on all Wix plans.

With Wix Forum, users can create customizable forums using different layout options. The forum software also includes automated moderation tools to help keep conversations free of spam. If you aren't satisfied with Wix Forum after trying it for 14 days, Wix provides a money-back guarantee.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Light: $16 per month

  • Core: $27 per month

  • Business: $32 per month

  • Business Elite: $159 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact Wix

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

14 days

5. XenForo

XenForo
Image source

XenForo is built with PHP so people can share and discuss content. Using this community forum software, you can create Q&A and feedback threads, organize your forum with category trees, set permissions and controls, and bookmark content for later.

XenForo provides capabilities for organizing forum content, but it also has an intuitive “what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)” text editor that supports file attachments, link previews, and basic image editing.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Starter: $60 per month

  • Standard: $100 per month

  • Business: $250 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact XenForo

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

7 days

6. Khoros Communities

Khoros Communities
Image source

Khoros Communities provides a self-service space for customers and employees that’s conducive to users asking questions, sharing thoughts, discussing issues, and receiving answers from other users and experts.

Designed to support the needs of enterprises and help small businesses scale, Khoros Communities offers configurable permissions and supports employee and customer multi-forum management, as well as different languages.

With Khoros Communities, your company can use the online community features, such as a knowledge base and blog, to provide helpful articles and resources. You can even create a feed of community content with the Khoros Communities community syndication feature.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

Contact Khoros

Free trial:

Unavailable

Learn more about Khoros Communities for Zendesk.

7. vBulletin Cloud

vBulletin Cloud
Image source

The forum software vBulletin Cloud provides users with the tools they need to host a simple online forum. Users without a technical background can do a basic setup of vBulletin Cloud. But, users may need advanced coding skills if they want to implement more advanced customizations.

Additional features of vBulletin Cloud include sending public and private messages on the vBulletin app, supporting HTML, attaching images, and creating posts. The software also allows forum moderation by banning users, flagging posts, deleting content, and more.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Pricing:

  • Bronze: $14.99 per month

  • Silver: $29.99 per month

  • Gold: $59.99 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact vBulletin

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

Unavailable

8. Discourse

Discourse
Image source

Discourse is forum software that’s available as open-source, self-hosted, or a hosted solution. Hosted solutions require a paid license but you can install the open-source Discourse on your own server for free.

Discourse aims to meet the needs of modern communities with features like a trust system that grants tiered access to users based on their ongoing community contributions. This feature helps brands regulate the behavior of new and existing users and reduces spammers from negatively affecting their online community. Discourse’s linear threads also help community members follow conversations without losing context.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Basic: $50 per month

  • Standard: $100 per month

  • Business: $300 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact Discourse

Free trial:

14 days

Learn more about Discourse for Zendesk.

9. Gainsight

Gainsight
Image source

Gainsight, formerly known as inSided, is a customizable online community platform that allows you to create a community-driven knowledge base, Q&As, and discussions. Gainsight also encourages users to engage by offering award badges and allowing community members to like content.

The in-app embeddable feature lets users search your knowledge base and community content for answers without leaving the page. Beyond answering questions, you can use Gainsight to keep users up to date with product updates and solicit their feedback on product roadmaps.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Professional: Contact Gainsight

  • Business: Contact Gainsight

  • Enterprise: Contact Gainsight

Free trial:

Unavailable

Learn more about Gainsight for Zendesk.

10. WordPress

WordPress
Image source

Roughly 43 percent of all websites use WordPress. And while WordPress isn’t a forum software, users with Business plans or above can create communities with forum plugins like wpForo Forum and bbPress. With bbPress, you can build and maintain multisite forums from a single WordPress dashboard. bbPress is free and open-source, with a simple, easy integration with WordPress.

The other plugin, wpForo Forum, is also free and has native SEO and anti-spam features. And you can extend on wpForo by purchasing additional add-ons. The one caveat is that these forum software plugins lack advanced functionality, so they may require add-ons to meet your needs.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

Pricing:

  • Free: $0 per month (with ads)

  • Personal: $4 per month

  • Premium: $8 per month

  • Business: $25 per month

  • Commerce: $45 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact WordPress

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

Unavailable

11. Drupal

Drupal
Image source

Drupal is an open-source, content management system (CMS) with forum capabilities. Drupal’s forum module gives you all the necessary organizational and management capabilities to run a basic forum, allowing you to build threaded message boards where users can discuss issues with each other.

However, you’ll need to extend the forum module with other modules or try the Advanced Forum module for more sophisticated customizations.

Features:

  • Unified search

Pricing:

Free

Free trial:

Not applicable

12. Flarum

Flarum
Image source

Flarum is a free and open-source discussion platform that allows you to build a customizable forum site. The forum software features 41 translation packs, allowing for the localization of forums and the ability to engage customers internationally.

Because of its simple design, Flarum only includes essential forum features, including posts, users, discussions, groups, and notifications. However, users can build out the functionality of a forum by utilizing third-party extensions.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

Free

Free trial:

Not applicable

13. MyBB

MyBB
Image source

MyBB is another free and open-source software that allows you to create a forum and host an online community. MyBB is customizable, including a built-in template and theme editor you can use to customize your forum’s design.

It also includes a reputation system and features like video embedding, polls, and private messages. Additionally, MyBB has moderation tools that allow you to view reported content and ban users, allowing you to keep your forum clean and free of spam.

Features:

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Pricing:

Free

Free trial:

Not applicable

14. Salesforce Experience Cloud

Salesforce Experience Cloud
Image source

Salesforce Experience Cloud is an online community software that lets businesses create customizable forums. The community software includes features such as file sharing, member groups, and topic pages.

Businesses can encourage user participation by rewarding members with badges. Additionally, moderators can use moderation tools to review and approve content within the community.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

Pricing:

  • Customer Community: $5 per member/month

  • Customer Community Plus: $15 per member/month

    *Plans are billed annually.

Free trial:

Unavailable

Learn more about Salesforce Experience Cloud for Zendesk.

15. Bettermode

Bettermode
Image source

Bettermode is a customizable community platform that enables you to create a community-based discussion board, Q&As, and a help center. Businesses can create their online community using pre-built templates or start from scratch.

The community platform also includes gamification features like badges and a leaderboard to help reward the community’s top contributors. Additionally, Bettermode includes moderation features that can automatically flag posts based on set keywords.

Features:

  • Integrated escalations

  • Community moderators and moderator groups

  • Unified search

  • Public and private options

  • AI-powered spam protection

Pricing:

  • Advanced: $599 per month

  • Enterprise: Contact Bettermode

Free trial:

Contact Bettermode

Learn more about Bettermode for Zendesk.

What features should forum software offer?

When shopping around for the best forum software for your business, choose one with the features that matter most to you. And if you’re not sure which features to pay attention to, we’re here to help. Prioritize these five essential features when selecting forum software.

Integrated escalations

On its own, forum software is certainly powerful. But when integrated with help desk software, your community can become a game changer for your service department. A help desk integration lets agents view a customer’s profile and have greater visibility into their community activity when responding to messages.

Similarly, help desk integrations can enable service agents to escalate a community post to a support ticket to continue the conversation when complex issues arise. In short, integrated ticket escalations within community forum software can supercharge the customer experience.

Community moderators and moderator groups

Once you’ve cultivated a strong community, you’ll need help from community moderators to scale it. Community moderator capabilities enable moderator groups to track questions, bring in support agents, and remove unruly users. Also consider implementing tools that help you clean up your community forum. For example, tools that automatically remove duplicate threads and consolidate repeat questions help keep your community from becoming overwhelmed with content.

Unified search

A forum without a unified search feature is as good as a library with no logical means of organization. While you’re confident the information you need is likely there, you have no idea where to find it. With unified search, users can easily search the contents of your entire forum to quickly find the information they are looking for, whether it is an answer to a question or an existing thread they want to comment on.

Public and private options

Another powerful feature of commercial forum software is the ability to host public and private conversations. While public community discussion encourages the open sharing of information, fosters community engagement, and provides a place for collaboration, private messaging can help users have focused conversations with one another that may not apply to the whole group. Additionally, private messaging allows support agents to provide one-on-one support to help answer complex questions.

AI-powered spam protection

While community moderators have a role in keeping your community clean and safe, forum software with AI-powered spam protection can help keep a watchful eye over your community 24/7. Whether flagging and removing malicious content or automatically detecting phishing attempts, AI-powered spam protection can help keep your customers safe and save your moderators time.

What are the benefits of using community forum software?

Community forum software can help provide your customers with a place to find answers to their questions, share information, and engage with other users. But that's not all. Here are some specific benefits of community forums and using forum software for your business.

Higher customer engagement

One of the hardest parts of building a customer community is fostering engagement.

Through gamification features like badges and voting, forum software makes engaging in your community fun and rewarding. People who successfully answer questions earn points for doing so, and, in some cases, may acquire greater permission levels as their score increases. Using forum software to invest in customer experience results in a more vibrant, engaged community.

Clearer insights about customer needs and opinions

Every company wants to know as much as possible about their customers. Knowing your customers’ needs helps you sell more and provide better service.

On forums, customers talk to each other about what works and what doesn’t, providing a distinct user perspective. By facilitating genuine conversations about your company, product, and service, forums create a new, unique source of customer feedback for your organization to mine for insights.

Lower support costs

Online communities aren’t just a scalable way to facilitate conversations among employees, customers, and your organizations, they’re also a great way to support people with problems or questions. In addition to your support agents, an online community gives your users a new self-service help source: other users.

With community forum software, you can reduce ticket volume by increasing ticket deflections, thus keeping support costs down and freeing up your service agents’ time. These savings can be substantial. A Gartner study states that self-service support channels, like company-run websites, cost an average of $0.10 per contact, whereas live support channels like phone or email cost an average of $8.01 per contact.

24/7 support option

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, only 42 percent of businesses offer two or more support channels. If your current customer support channels rely on live agents working regular business hours, there are many hours when your customers can feel left in the dark. By implementing forum software, you’ll automatically provide customers with a self-service solution they can access 24/7.

More sales opportunities

Utilizing forum software can also help provide additional sales opportunities. For example, a service agent can respond directly to a customer support thread to inform customers of an additional or upgraded product that can help solve their problem. According to our Trends Report, 64 percent of consumers spend more when issues get resolved where they already are on the site.

Businesses can also read customer forums to understand individual and macro-level customer needs and identify common pain points within their customer base. This can help your sales team with talking points for promoting upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

How to choose the right forum software for your online community

Choosing the right forum software may seem like an overwhelming process. Fortunately, keeping the following considerations in mind can help you choose the best forum software for growing a thriving online community for your business.

Ensure the tool's security capabilities are adequate

Advanced security features should be top of mind whenever investing in new software. After all, you don’t want your company or customer information at risk of being compromised in a data breach or other related cyberattacks.

You’ll want to choose community software that follows cybersecurity best practices and industry standards to help ensure the security and privacy of you and your customers. Better yet, choosing forum software from a provider that meets global security and privacy compliance standards, like Zendesk, can help give you and your customers adequate protection and peace of mind.

Assess the total cost of ownership (TCO)

In any purchasing decision, cost matters. However, buyers are often unaware of the true cost of their software. To make the best choice of forum software, consider the total cost of ownership (TCO). For instance, the best free forum software may be available with no licensing costs, but that doesn’t mean that forum hosting is free. Deploying and hosting open-source software may require outside help, which will come at an additional cost.

This means you must consider what it might cost to license, configure, and maintain the forum software you choose. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison between the solutions you’re considering.

With Zendesk, you can quickly set up your community forum without developers, saving you time and money, which makes it a great solution for small businesses.

Verify that the software you choose meets your time to value (TTV) expectations

Whenever you purchase software for your organization, it’s a race against the clock to demonstrate that software’s value. The quicker you can get your forum up and running for your employees or customers, the better your purchasing experience will be. This is why it’s critical to get into the details of implementation requirements, maintenance needs, and customization capabilities before you commit long-term.

Zendesk gives you everything you need to set up your community forum right out of the box. That way, you can spend more time helping your customers and less time configuring tricky software.

Look for a solution with a user-friendly interface

No matter what features a forum software offers, they won’t make an impact if your employees and customers don’t know how to use it. Because of this, you’ll want to prioritize a forum software with a user-friendly interface to host your branded support community. If your customers have a difficult time navigating your forum, it is unlikely that they will engage or return to your community.

Frequently asked questions

Read through the following questions to learn more about using forum software for your business.

Try online forum software for free

Zendesk forum software fosters engagement and deepens connections with forums that companies can customize and brand as their own. Conversations thrive in community forums, where users can participate in feedback and engage with other fans of your business.

Related self-service and community software guides

There are many ways to learn from and engage with your customers. Keep reading to find out more about forum software.

See Zendesk in action

Empower customers and build a strong brand community with forum software.