Note: This post was updated November 2020 after more extensive use with bbPress. We have added some more examples, as well as a very important setting that is easy to miss. Have fun with your forums!
Having a WordPress site is a great way to present your ideas with the outside world. However, there comes a time when this one-way communication is insufficient for your organization’s needs. bbPress is an excellent tool to engage your user community in a variety of ways.
bbPress for Clubs and Nonprofits
bbPress forums are ideal for clubs and nonprofits to communicate among themselves and share valuable ideas. For example, an outing club is planning a hike for the upcoming weekend and needs to coordinate logistics. Normally this interaction would take place either via email or social media, each of which having significant drawbacks. With bbPress a member can create a new topic in the “Outings” forum, which will be created on the site as well as sent to all forum subscribers via email. Members can then go to the bbPress site to read and write new posts. Other benefits include:
- Encouraging more members to engage with the site
- Increasing site Search Engine Optimization (SEO) due to additional content relevant to your site’s area of expertise
- Creating an ad-hoc, user-generated knowledge base
bbPress has a wide range of features that make it flexible for numerous situations. For example, you may want to have differing levels of access for reading posts and creating new posts, and allowing only certain users to create forum topics while allowing everyone to reply to the topic. Furthermore, bbPress is a plugin that is actively maintained by core WordPress staff, so it integrates very well into almost any WordPress site. There are numerous third party plugins that further extend the capabilities of bbPress.
bbPress for Businesses
bbPress can be used to connect with customers and even provide a source of income. For example, you may have a WooCommerce shop that sells some new board games. A bbPress forum can be set up to answer questions from the user community, and allow the user community to communicate among themselves about gaming strategy. This will drive more traffic to the site and, hopefully, lead to more purchases. The forum can be set up to allow only verified purchasers to make forum posts to maintain the integrity of the postings.
The ability of bbPress to integrate with other popular WordPress plugins provides numerous opportunities to be creative. One common use is to integrate with the Paid Memberships Pro plugin in order to create a “pay gate” for the forum. If you provide remote desktop support for a certain operating system, you can allow users access to your tech solution forum posts to those who have purchased a subscription to your site. Furthermore, bbPress can be configured such that only certain membership levels have access to certain forums, such as a bronze level forum for interaction with users and a gold level forum for interaction with trained experts. bbPress is nearly as limitless as your creativity.
Useful plugins for bbPress
bbPress is admittedly not the most feature-rich plugin you’ll find. We have discovered two plugins in particular that make bbPress easier to work with.
- Private Groups: This plugin allows you to segment your site users into specific groups strictly for forum access. You can set certain groups to have access to certain forums. Users not in those groups will not see the forums at all, which is useful for having a strict delineation of capabilities on your site.
- GD bbPress Tools: bbPress does not have a particularly robust admin out of the box. The GD bbPress tools provides additional flexibility. Furthermore, it allows admins to be able to view forum subscriptions on the site. That may be useful should the admin ever have to manually subscribe a user to a forum, or see how many users are subscribed to a particular forum.
Bonus Pro Tip: Don’t miss this very important setting!
Here is the scenario: a user who regularly posts new topics to a forum suddenly finds their topic in pending moderation status. They can’t understand why, and they are upset because the information is very time-sensitive. You as the admin can’t figure out either, and neither of you (not to mention the rest of the site users) are happy. You can manually publish the topic, but it is far from ideal.
We have seen this scenario play out multiple times. There is no obvious reason why this is happening if you just look in the bbPress settings. This is because the setting is actually a default WordPress setting! It is under Settings->Discussion->Comment Moderation, with this line:
Hold a comment in the queue if it contains  or more links.
By default this is set to 2. bbPress uses this number to determine if a new post created on the front end should go into moderation. Thus, the user in the example given likely included 2 links in the post. Changing this value to a higher number will allow that original post to be automatically posted without issue. Knowing this obscure fact can save you a lot of head-scratching!
bbPress is a solid tool that can greatly enhance a WordPress site, transforming it from a one-way street to a busy highway of information.