If you are considering creating a forum, you want a platform that offers easy navigation, an attractive design, and exceptional performance. Like most people, you also want to choose one that is free. There is a wealth of open-source software to choose from, so how do you know which one will work best for your needs?
The first step is determining the type of forum you want to create. Do you want a bulletin board-style where users can post relevant content, or do you want to create a discussion forum to engage with others about the topics of interest? Discussion forums are the most popular forums, as they invite users to engage with each other. For a more in-depth guide on how to make a forum website, click the link.
The best platform for a discussion forum
Simple Machines Forum (SMF) is a free, professional, easy-to-use forum software that is designed to help users create an online community. You have complete control over the design and layout of the message board, and those on your forum can communicate freely with each other. The software is written in PHP, which is a scripting language designed for general purposes and forms the core of WordPress.
The features of SMF include:
- Advanced user management options
- Can support multiple languages simultaneously
- Tracks new and old unread topics
- SEO friendly
- Mods can be automatically installed and uninstalled
- Actions are IP locked, preventing ‘hammering.’ Hammering happens when a user attempts to connect to an unavailable FTP server with no time between attempts. Most sites have policies against hammering, requiring a specific interval between each effort to connect.
- The ability to disable member registration at any time
- Place the board in maintenance mode which allows only admins to log in
- Require authentication via email by sending an authentication link
- Tracking that includes traffic, new members, topics and hits per day
- Communication via email or SMTP
- Ban members who violate the terms of service by their email address, username, or IP address
- An “insert quote” feature allowing users to quote from previous replies quickly
Why add a discussion forum to your website
Adding a discussion forum to your website can be a powerful tool to help build a stronger connection with your audience. In an interactive forum, you provide a space for users to communicate with each other and, in doing so, you learn about your target audience. It is a great way to determine what your audience cares about and identify products or content that is irrelevant.
You can also passively learn important marketing information such as:
- The type of content or merchandise that gets the most traction
- What time of day users on your site are most active?
- The gender and age of your average user
A forum is a powerful tool for content marketing. Introducing anything from a blog post to a new product via the forum on your website gives you invaluable insight into what your audience is thinking. A forum gives you a more in-depth look at what matters to your audience and lets you create content or merchandise customized to their needs.
A forum also allows you to build a genuine relationship with your customers, which drives customer loyalty. A forum lets you provide a feeling of reciprocity to your audience, who likes to feel that they matter to the person, company, or brand they have taken the time to visit. Taking the time to create and manage a forum on your website is a small reward to visitors and will provide an incentive for them to return again and again.
It gives you a chance to speak openly about your brand and the person or people behind it in a personalized way. No matter how terrific your marketing is, there is little that can compare to speaking directly to your customers. A forum has the potential to become a powerful voice about your brand. Two-sided interaction is a unique experience for consumers, and a well-managed forum allows you to create a space where your audience feels as though they are being heard.
A forum is also a great place to share information about things of importance to you. If you have a blog about parenting, but also love to cook, you can create a recipe board on your forum that encourages readers to interact and share their favorite recipes. If your website is about your construction business, but you are also passionate about the environment, you can create a place in your forum to discuss environmental concerns.
Using your forum for multiple purposes can have an added advantage of driving traffic to your site from unexpected sources. You might also find that when someone needs a new roof, they visit the construction website where they have been spending time talking about their concerns over global warming.