Adding a discussion forum can turn your WordPress site into an interactive place where users can comment, ask questions, and engage with you and your brand. Whether they’re standalone tools or part of a larger social community, forums – or boards – can create more opportunities for engagement than large social networks. Creating one or more forum areas on yourself-hosted WordPress site becomes easy with the bbPress plugin for WordPress. Improving your site with WordPress plugins will help you reach a larger target audience and improve your brand as a whole.
Why Add a Forum to Your Site?
Social networks and blogging are time-tested ways for brands to connect with customers. But creating a highly focused community around your brand right from your own website can create more engagement and interactivity. A growing number of small and large businesses in niches of all kinds are incorporating social networking and discussion boards on their own sites in order to build long term relationships and give users a way to talk to one another, ask questions and offer advice. Forum features can exist alongside blog posts, social networks and other kinds of content as a way of building an engaged and thriving community. No matter what the topic is, forum posts are an excellent way to interact and grow your community.
Building Forums with bbPress
Available from WordPress.org, bbPress is a lightweight plugin for creating a forum on an existing website or launching a new forum site. Integration is easy and can significantly improve the content on your website. It’s been around since 2004 when it was developed by WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg to support WordPress forums. Since then, it has been refined and redeveloped into today’s version: a free and open-source plugin that users can install with one click from the WordPress Plugin Directory that comes with every WordPress installation.
The bbPress plugin (bb stands for “bulletin board”) adds all the features and functions needed to add one or more forums to any WordPress site. To install bbPress, navigate to the Plugins list from your site’s admin dashboard. Click the “Add New” button and search the Directory for bbPress. Select it and click “Install.” The plugin files will be added to the site’s WordPress code. Then, activate the plugin by clicking “Activate” under its name.
Once activated, bbPress can be configured for general forum settings. The plugin includes three new post types: Individual Forums, Topics, and Replies. These are displayed in the sidebar menu of your WordPress dashboard. You can set up just one forum or add multiple forums on the same WordPress site. All aspects of the forums you create can be managed from your WordPress admin dashboard. Options include customizing your forum’s URL and the way threads and topics are displayed.
Along with its basic configuration options, bbPress also offers a number of shortcodes, bits of code that can be inserted directly into a page or post to add highly specific functionality. bbPress shortcodes can be copied directly from the bbPress codex and pasted into any WordPress page to control how forums, topics, and replies are displayed on the site. Shortcodes also allow users to add elements such as search forms, login and register screens, and display forum statistics on designated pages.
bbPress also comes with five widgets that can be added to the sidebar or footer of any WordPress theme. These include a list of forums with title options and lists of most recent replies and recent topics, as well as a login widget. The login widget features a basic signup form that can contain WordPress shortcodes for registering and lost passwords.
Extending bbPress Functionality
The bbPress plugin itself adds basic forum functions to your site, but those functions can be extended and customized through other plugins and themes. bbPress can work with a number of regular WordPress plugins, but users can also choose from more than 200 free bbPress plugins and a number of premium options from third-party developers. These plugins, or extensions, can add new functions, such as styling, messaging options, and additional tools for managing the forums. Installing plugins into your WordPress site is easy, and bbPress is no different. Once activated, they can be customized for the functions and features you want to add to your original bbPress forum.
Along with plugins, a number of WordPress themes can extend the functionality of bbPress and give forums a custom look. More than 80 themes in the WordPress Theme Directory claim to support bbPress, and more can be purchased from outside sources. These themes have built-in options for customizing the look of bbPress forums without the need to install other bbPress plugins on a general WordPress theme. Some premium themes from third-party developers are called “bbPress themes,” specifically designed to support its features and functions.
BuddyPress and bbPress Can Work Together
The bbPress plugin is often confused with the similarly named BuddyPress. Although these plugins aren’t the same, they can work together to turn a WordPress site into a community. BuddyPress is a free WordPress plugin for adding a social network to any WordPress site. It adds general social networking functions that can help to create a highly focused community around a particular interest, brand, or product. bbPress can be installed alongside BuddyPress to give users more options for connecting with one another on the site. These two plugins are often used together to help drive engagement and support relationships around a brand or service.
Forums can bring user engagement directly to your WordPress site, giving users opportunities to interact with your brand in a more personal way than conventional social media allows. The comments and questions shared in forums can provide useful insights for marketing, as well. With an array of essential features and multiple options for creating and customizing forums, the free bbPress plugin allows you to turn your WordPress site into an interactive community.