How Do You Recommend I Add a Forum to My Site?
In this installment from our HelpDesk, one of our team answers a frequently asked question about adding a forum or community feature to your membership site.
A forum can be the lifeblood of a membership site, access to one might even be one of the primary reasons why someone may choose to become a member. It’s a truly unique offering that can only be developed by the specific community your site attracts.
And while a forum can involve a lot of monitoring, content-creation and loving care, if you and your team have the bandwidth and interest, it can also provide a vibrant and dynamic way to differentiate your offering and create a true sense of connection.
Wanting to Connect asked:
“I’m looking to add a forum to my site and am wondering if you have any recommendations about which plugin would work best with MemberMouse? I see that you have a BBPress Extension option. I’ve also been looking into BuddyPress and Website Toolbox but I’m curious to know your opinion about what you’ve seen does or doesn’t work for other MemberMouse users. Thanks!”
John from MemberMouse replied:
“Thanks for contacting MemberMouse Support. I’d be happy to help you with this.
The choice of forum solution will depend on 1/ how much work you want to do to achieve an integration, 2/ how much control you want over what certain people can see, and 3/ if you want to differentiate further by permission to view vs post on the forum. I’ll run down some of the options available and the pro’s and con’s as best as I am aware.
We have developed an integration for bbPress and it will work well for you if you have need of simply protecting a forum and only making it accessible to certain membership levels or bundles. However, it is limited if you want further control. The reason is that bbPress uses methods of generating and displaying content that do not involve WordPress Pages or Posts of any kind, and so we have difficulty protecting it with more specificity.
In terms of getting more specificity of access and ease of setting up the integration, I recommend Simple:Press or wpForo. I’ll discuss what I know about the ones you’ve mentioned (Website Toolbox and BuddyPress), as well as these, in more detail below.
bbPress Integration Information
Using the bbPress extension you’ll be able to protect bbPress forums based on a member’s access rights, either by membership level, bundle, or both, in MemberMouse. If you have multiple forums, you can select each one individually and choose different access rights for each, if desired.
There is a downside to trying to protect forums with bbPress because of the presentation of user profiles. At this time, access to user profiles cannot be protected. On a user profile, you can find lists of direct links to any topic started or reply created. These direct links allow forum posts to be directly accessed through the profiles of forum users regardless of logged-in status. There is a WordPress Plug-in called bbPress Toolkit that can restrict profile visibility to logged-in members, but at the present time, access to forum user profiles cannot be limited to certain membership levels or bundles.
Additionally, if your site is to offer a search function, forum posts can also generally be located through it. It may prove necessary to restrict or eliminate search. Our customers have told us that plug-ins such as this one are capable of restricting search.
As best I can tell, Website Toolbox is a totally off-site forum, and you’re supposed to put some code on your pages that “embeds” the forum. If that’s the case, you should be able to use the Member Decision SmartTag to control which members can see the forum, but I don’t think you’ll be able to control their access to specific parts. I could be wrong about that, since as a paid service I haven’t actually installed it and tried it, but I’m pretty confident in that assertion.
We haven’t created an integration for BuddyPress, and their plugin uses a unique loading mechanism that bypasses standard MemberMouse content protection, so you’ll need to utilize a different method to restrict access to these pages that takes advantage of the MemberMouse PHP Interface. PHP is the programming language that WordPress and all your plugins are written in. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds!
We have an article that describes how to use third-party tools and our PHP interface to restrict access to these special pages in BuddyPress. In summary, you can install a plugin that allows you to execute redirection code on pages you specify, and then edit that code as needed for your specific content protection scenario.
Simple:Press is another plugin that can provide forum functionality for your WordPress site and one that I would recommend with MemberMouse, though there is some extra work necessary depending on how specific you want to be with your access. When used with MemberMouse, you can provision and sell access to Simple:Press forums. What I like about Simple:Press is its ease of setup as well as the flexibility it allows for control over who can see the forums as well as allows control over whether there is ‘read only’ access.
I have heard the objection that the built-in Simple:Press theme looks kinda early 2000s. I have to say, I agree. However, if the default look will not work for you, they do have two “premium themes” called Reboot and Unified that currently are $20/year. Note that the example screenshots they show are using several of the different included color overlays; Group View and Forum view wouldn’t normally be two different colors in your installation. As themes, I still don’t think they’re perfect, but they’re much, much better places to start than what comes in the free version.
Simple Forum Protection
During the installation process of Simple:Press, a new page gets created on your site. By default, this page is called Forum, but this may have been customized during the installation process. You can globally restrict access to your forums by Protecting this Page with a MemberMouse Membership Level or Bundle.
Limit Certain Forum Permissions to Members
In some situations, you may wish to make certain forums publicly accessible to guests, while limiting others to logged-in members. Since some forums will be accessible without logging into your site, you cannot globally restrict access to the forums page. Instead, you will use features built into Simple:Press to restrict forum access.
Simple:Press includes the concept of User Groups, and several groups are created when the plugin is installed. By default, all MemberMouse members will be assigned to the Members user group. Any visitor to your site who is not logged in is considered to be part of the Guest user group.
When Creating a Forum or a Forum Group, you will assign a permissions level to each of your user groups. You can choose from any of your Permissions Sets. The default permissions sets include No Access, Read Only, and Standard Access, among others.
For example, assigning No Access to the Guest user group limits a forum to logged-in members, while assigning Read Only allows guests to view a forum, but prevents them from posting in it.
Advanced Forum Protection
This solution requires custom development. You would need to contact one of our Implementation Partners for assistance.
If forums are a critical value proposition of your membership site, you may wish to limit access to specific forums based on a member’s membership level, or the bundles applied to their account. Simple:Press allows you to create User Groups and map these to custom WordPress roles. By defining these custom roles, and using MemberMouse functionality together with custom scripting, it’s possible to adjust forum permissions dynamically to match a member’s membership level or bundles.
Our article Using Simple:Press with MemberMouse goes into more detail about this Advanced Protection and how to accomplish it.
Another forum option that works well with MemberMouse is wpForo. While it is not natively integrated with MemberMouse, like bbPress, it’s free, responsive, looks great out of the box and is easy to customize. It’s a great way to validate whether or not a forum will work for a particular membership.
The integration of MemberMouse and wpForo is pretty straightforward. These two plugins use some of WordPress database data and therefore the integration comes naturally. But even so, some changes are needed in order to have a full integration.
Vic Dorfman and his team at Memberfix have worked through the integration and generously shared how to work through the biggest challenge on the Memberfix blog.
Some of our customers who use forums as a signature part of their offering choose to use Discourse, a third party hosted solution.
To integrate MemberMouse successfully with Discourse, these customers rely on our suite of Developer Tools including MemberMouse Webhooks, Filters and PHP in conjunction with the Discourse API. One of our longtime customers has created a thorough tutorial on how she setup the MemberMouse / Discourse integration on the Discourse forum .
Of course, you can also reach out to one of our implementation partners, such as Codeable, to find a developer to assist with the setup of the forum.
Hopefully, this leaves you with a couple of options that will work for your specific needs. Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide you with!”
Cynthia is the Head of Customer Experience for MemberMouse.