Online communities are a great way to meet and engage with like-minded individuals. There are communities for almost anyone -- from sports fanatics and foodies to business professionals and entrepreneurs.
A successful online community provides excellent content and a user experience that encourages frequent return visits. My company researched every option available while determining what platform to use for our latest project, Entrepreneurs & Business Owners Community.
While we found community software that provided the best base for our specific project, there are many great options available. Here are five resources that serve as great starting platforms for building an online community.
XenForo is widely known for its security, and this is an important thing to consider when using third-party software. Along with being secure, this forum software is fast loading, which contributes to providing an excellent user experience.
When you have an online community there are going to be members logged in around the clock -- reading content, starting discussions and searching -- and since XenForo uses fewer resources than most, it results in pages that load quickly.
This is actually the platform that my company chose to use for our new project, due to two main reasons. First, the software is mobile-friendly right out of the box -- there is no need to create a mobile app, as the forum looks great on all devices. Second, the customizing options are virtually endless -- we took full advantage of this with our install and completely transformed the look and feel for our needs.
One of the most popular community software platforms, vBulletin, offers two options -- a self-hosted version as well as a cloud version, where it handles the hosting, maintenance and upgrades.
This software is very easy to customize and many of its users rave about how simple it is to set up. If you lack the technical knowledge to maintain and self-host a community it's possible to get set up quickly using the vBulletin cloud plan. While the entry cost is less, the cloud option doesn’t offer same customization features as a self-hosted install offers.
For smaller communities that aren’t concerned with being able to create a complete custom look and feel, the cloud option is both simple and affordable. If complete control and customization is desired you would need to host the software and handle the upkeep.
WordPress was used by more than 23.3 percent of the top 10 million websites as of January 2015 -- it’s by far the most popular blogging and content-management platform available. The creators of WordPress are also behind bbPress, which is forum software that allows anyone running on the WordPress platform to set up a discussion forum almost instantly.
This is a great option for WordPress users that want to easily integrate a forum with a single click. It also allows the webmaster to manage the forum from the same main website administrative area. One of biggest benefits, aside from the simple installation, is the price -- like WordPress, bbPress is completely free.
MyBB is open-source software that delivers a powerful product completely free to use. Open-source projects survive and thrive when they have a solid community, which MyBB does. You can access tutorials, custom themes, plugins, modifications and software support within the community.
Many people assume that open-source software comes with very few features, but MyBB isn’t lacking in that department. It’s easy to customize the look and feel through different themes and templates and there are several hundred plugins that allow the addition of new features and functions.
5. Vanilla Forums
Vanilla has both a cloud version as well as an open-source version of its community software. The free open-source option requires the user to host and maintain the software -- and fix it in the event an issue arises. The cloud version of Vanilla offers optimized hosting as well as customer support.
Powering more than 816,000 discussion forums, Vanilla is clearly a viable option that many businesses go with. I spent a lot of time reading reviews and feedback on the Vanilla platform -- overall it was our second choice, as nearly every review I read highlighted the customization capability.
Do you have a favorite online community? Share your favorites in the comments section below or tweet them to me.