The 10 Best Community Features & Plugins for Your WordPress SiteWordPress Plugins & Themes
So you’ve decided to build a community site on WordPress. Great idea!
Community sites can be very engaging, and it’s no surprise. They build a community among your site visitors. That sense of community keeps them coming back—to comment on your posts, discuss ideas with each other, and, if you’ve monetized your site, click on ads and premium content.
WordPress makes it easy to build community websites, but it doesn’t include many of the features you’ll need out-of-the-box, like forums, subforums, and user groups. Rather, the WordPress CMS just lays the groundwork for your website. To actually unlock community functionality, you’ll need to install community plugins on your WordPress website.
The only problem is: there are a hundred community plugins on WordPress. How are you supposed to find the best ones for your site?
That’s what this article is for.
10 Best WordPress Community Plugins
We’ve tested the best WordPress community plugins out there, so you don’t have to. Read on as we break down the key features, so you can pick and choose the best ones for your WordPress site.
Hands down, BuddyPress is the most popular WordPress plugin for community sites. Download BuddyPress, and you can essentially transform your WordPress site into your own social network.
Most community sites are forum-based. BuddyPress includes that functionality, but it goes much further when it comes to user interaction. Users can create and join groups, and follow different feeds (by site, group, and user). User profiles can display custom badges and fields that you define, like their number of friends, where they’re from, and activity on your site. You can even leverage an activity points system to gamify user engagement. There’s also a private and group messaging feature.
The best part about BuddyPress? It’s completely free. And it plays nice with other custom-built BuddyPress extensions as well as third-party plugins and themes.
2. WP Symposium Pro
WP Symposium Pro is basically the runner-up to BuddyPress. Both of these plugins offer much of the same functionality, like user profiles, group and activity feeds, messaging, and more. WP Symposium Pro stands out by simplifying much of your community management through shortcodes. It’s also easier to customize the design of your community site, too.
However, the main difference between these two is theme compatibility. You’ll run into fewer hiccups if you use BuddyPress with BuddyPress themes, while WP Symposium Pro is friendlier with a much larger range of WordPress themes.
Price: Free, or $39.99 to $69.99 yearly.
The UserPro plugin includes all the features you need to build a community site with WordPress. You can easily set up login forms, let users sign in through their social network, restrict content, and integrate email marketing newsletters and notifications through a provider of your choice, like MailChimp or Aweber.
Our favorite part of UserPro is their attention to the user, as hinted by their name. Users can sign up through their social media account, enabling ease of registration and social sharing. They can also fully customize their profile, if you decide to let them—with avatars, backgrounds, flair, badges, and more. There’s even a searchable member directory, so users can interact with their closest friends.
There’s a lot of functionality built into this plugin. If you plan to host a user-focused community site, this is the best one to do it.
Price: One-time fee of $39.
4. Users Ultra
Users Ultra bills itself as the “Advanced Membership Plugin for WordPress.” That’s because in addition to the standard WordPress community features, this plugin also includes advanced functionality that takes your WordPress community site from basic to ultimate.
Just like with other community plugins, you can easily customize the fields you want to display on forum threads and user profiles. Users can sign up using their social media account, share discussions to social media, and more. Engaging with your site will be easy and intuitive for them, because Users Ultra models their community interface after Facebook, with like buttons, photo galleries, and friend requests.
If you’re building a community with the hopes of monetizing it, Users Ultra offers you the functionality and analytics you need to do so. You can restrict content and offer additional perks with paid membership plans, which are easy to set up thanks to built-in shortcodes. You can manage member invites, approve content, and see your top referral sources through the Analytics dashboard. And, you can even allow users to rate content, user profiles, and more using a 5-star rating system, enabling your most popular content to surface to the top and perform even better.
Price: $59.97 to $199.97 yearly, depending on the number of features and installations.
While Users Ultra focuses on user engagement first, with the option to add monetization features to your forum second, MemberPress focuses on monetization first and foremost. This WordPress community plugin is designed to make managing (and profiting from) a membership website as simple as possible.
You can set up member subscriptions, charging your members a price for access to your entire site, or just a part of it, on a monthly or annual basis. You can also sell individual content pieces (like videos and ebooks) a la carte. Leverage their forum features, and your users can discuss the content you’ve produced and start their own topic threads. You can even create coupons so you can run promotions and giveaways.
MemberPress integrates with popular WordPress eCommerce plugins, podcast publishers, affiliate programs, and email marketing services, so you can truly get the most out of your community website. Plus, MemberPress works with any WordPress theme, so you never have to worry about compatibility issues.
Price: $129 to $349 yearly, depending on the number of installations and features. Save with these MemberPress promo codes.
One of the biggest concerns people have with WordPress is whether the plugins they choose will actually work with their WordPress site. There’s always a risk of your plugin developer going out of business, or failing to support the latest version of WordPress.
If you use the bbPress plugin to power your community site, you’d never have to worry about that. Why? Because it’s built by the same people who built WordPress.
bbPress is developed for performance, so this lightweight theme won’t bog down your site load times (good for your user experience and your SEO). It integrates seamlessly with other WordPress themes, and there are over 200 extensions you can download to add additional functionality. You can manage everything from your dashboard, and users can set up basic profiles quickly. There’s also multisite support.
The one thing to be aware of with bbPress is that it does the basics phenomenally, but it doesn’t do much more. That makes it perfect for sites who publish a forum as a secondary site feature, like a company intranet where you want to allow employee discussion, or a support area for a B2B software site. If you need to trick out your WordPress community site with more features, you’ll be better served by one of the other plugins we’ve highlighted above.
What we love about the Simple:Press plugin is that it’s true to its name: it’s simple. The main Admin screen is clean and easy to navigate. It also checks off many SEO boxes like performance (your forum will be responsive and mobile-friendly) and permalinks (you can say goodbye to long URLs with random characters and multiple nested folders).
This community plugin for WordPress also includes a lot of nice-to-have features, like forum nesting, public and private messaging, and custom design capabilities to match your branding.
The Simple:Press premium plans pack in many, even nicer-to-have features, like the ability to insert ads into your forums (so you can make money), reply templates (so you can answer customer service questions faster), and multiple notification options (like SMS, Slack, and more).
Price: Free, or $99 to $199 yearly. The free version of this plugin includes unlimited forums, but if you want to customize the look and design (and get more features), you’ll have to upgrade to one of the paid plans.
8. DW Question & Answer
Are you simply looking to add forum functionality into your existing WordPress site, without building a forum site from the ground up? You might like DW Question & Answer plugin.
This community plugin lets you add in a Q&A-style forum to your WordPress site. This can be as complex or as simple as you need it to be. Integrate a comprehensive community discussion forum into your website, or just add a interactive area to your FAQ page.
The DW Question & Answer plugin offers a number of useful features for your community members, like the ability to upvote and downvote topics and replies, search by keywords, and follow threads. For you and your moderators, you can filter, edit, or delete questions, sticky “pin” threads or answers, and allow public or private Q&As.
9. CM Answers
CM Answers is an alternative to DW Question & Answer. Because this plugin offers both free and paid versions, it’s a good choice for those who might outgrow the functionality of DW Question & Answer. Both plugins include sticky questions, up- and down-voting, and private/public functionality.
Some of the extra features available with the CM Answers plugin for WordPress include social media logins, private messaging, custom permalinks, file attachments, and Google AdSense support. From a user engagement perspective, you can also install social share widgets, answer & vote counts, user stats, and question tags.
The big gotcha with both of these plugins is that they’re limited to a Q&A format, so they’re not the best choice for certain types of community sites.
Price: Free, or a one-time purchase of $39 to $99.
This theme was designed from the ground up to create community websites, so it includes the functionality you need to set up forum threads, create user profiles, and encourage community activity, like posting, replying to, and voting on topics. It also offers your members their own private dashboard where they can see and manage their community activity.
ForumEngine uses a responsive, minimalist design that makes your forum easy for your members to engage in, and just as easy for moderators to manage. You can also personalize the design of your forum, increase member engagement with hot topics and top user widgets, and make money with display advertising.
Speaking of monetization, it’s important to recognize that ForumEngine is better for monetizing a community forum specifically, versus monetizing a full-fledged membership site with products, ebooks, webinars, and more.
ForumEngine is widely considered the best theme for building a community website without having to install plugins, but it may not be your cup of tea. If that’s the case, there are plenty of other top-rated WordPress community themes you can choose from. Some of our favorites include BuddyApp, Kleo, Woffice, Socialize, Olympus, Lynk, and Thrive.
Price: $49 to $109. Save with these EngineThemes promo codes.
Now you should be able to find the perfect community WordPress plugin for your needs. Your community should start to flourish and you should see your followers begin to grow. If you're looking for more information regarding WordPress membership plugins, Wild Apricot has a helpful resource where they weigh the pros and cons of using a WordPress membership plugin versus a Membership Management Software (MMS).