Pensil, a powerful alternative to Vanilla Forums

In a world ruled by technology and the internet, most businesses and organizations have gone online in the hopes of increasing their client base. They build comprehensive and engaging websites to give their visitors a good experience. One additional feature that businesses or organizations can have on their website is a forum.

Forums have been one of the most important forms of communication since the birth of the internet. In the past, they were a gateway for people all over the world to connect with one another through a common interest.

But, these days when there are social media platforms out the wazoo, traditional forums are feeling pretty antiquated. If you’re a creator looking for a modern forum platform for your online community then you might have come across Vanilla forums & must be wondering whether to choose traditional forum or modern community platform.

What Should the Best Forum Software Offer

Forums have an unjustified reputation of being outdated. This is why one of your goals should be to find the best community forum software to fight this misconception. So what features exactly should you look for?

1. The Best Forum Software Has High Customizability

Way back when forums first became a thing, they all kind of looked the same. This trend seems to have persisted for way too long. Finally, forum software companies are putting in the effort to offer higher customizability of their product.

What does this customizability include? You will be able to create a visually unique forum – one that doesn’t resemble all the other forums on the internet. Also, the members of your forum will be able to customize their profiles, change profile pictures, add signatures, use fun fonts, or even work their way up through a reward system you set up.

Customization features Vanilla Forums does not offer:-

  • Customer support teams

Under the hood, Pensil comes equipped with powerful tools to connect your forum community with social media networks and popular search engines. While Pensil is easy to integrate using a WordPress  or open-source tools, customizing your new forum for proper indexing and social network integration can be tricky.

If that’s the case, the Pensil community and our own in-house support team can help you personalize and white label your website in record time.

From SSL to SEO, our customer support teams can help
  • White labeling

There are thousands of online communities out there. Pensil makes it easy for you to create a forum that you can be proud to call your own.

Our white labeling tools make it easy for you to create a community website that stands out from the crowd. If you have the technical know-how, you can also use a hosting service to host your website on your own domain name.

From customizing fonts, logos, and colors to web-hosting options for subdomains and forum hosting, Pensil gives you everything you need to succeed.

  • Custom domain

Using custom domain tools, you can create a subdomain on your own web page when embedding your forum or even create a domain specifically for your forum.

Setup is seamless, and users will see your custom domain name rather than our Pensil domain.

  • Deep embedding

Looking to expand your existing website with a rich community space? With our SDK and APIs you can integrate Pensil in a matter of hours and have full control over member data and experience.

  • Webhooks

Webhooks allow other services and applications to stay in sync with your community data or to perform an action after a specific event occurs in your community.

Webhooks are a performant alternative to continuously polling for changes to the IPS REST API.

For example, a webhook can notify your service when a new topic is created so that your app can perform then any further actions.

Webhooks can also be used to connect your community with Zapier, IFTTT or Integromat, so that any event which is covered by webhooks can trigger any further actions.

Common webhook use cases

🔎Sync your member base with 3rd party newsletter lists

🌆Sync your Event RSVP with your Online Ticketing System

🔼Update your inventory after a purchase was made

You can find the webhook functionality in the AdminCP, under the API section. There is also a useful webhook reference built in.

Forget about working with HTML/CSS, IFrames, and Javascript. Use our integration tools to get your embeddable forum up and running in minutes.

2. Awards and Achievements for Active Members

Speaking of awards, they are an amazing tool for community engagement. Knowing that they can get an award or an achievement for being active prompts people to engage in quality discussions more frequently. The awards can bring certain benefits, such as access to secret subforums or ad-free browsing for a certain period of time.

Engagement features Vanilla Forums does not offer :

  • Direct messages and group chats

Spontaneous conversations are easy in Pensil. Easily spin up a group chat or send a private message.

  • Leaderboard

Leaderboards are a popular form of community gamification in which the top performing members are displayed according to their contribution to the community. How rankings are determined depends on values and priorities of the community, but they are typically the result of various actions that have been quantified into points.

Some examples of points-worthy activities include creating, replying or engaging with a post, visiting a new community, inviting other members to a community, or receiving replies or engagements on a post the member has created. In most cases, administrators do not receive points for their activities and hence do not rank on the leaderboard.

Community Leaderboard

Interactive live streams, group chats & events — so you can actually connect

3. Management Tools are a Crucial Factor

Being able to manage your forum effectively is much more important than making it look good. The best forum software provides you with community building and management tools that are comprehensive and easy to use. The members should have the option to flag or report inappropriate content, and you and your admin team should have available options for repercussions for rule-breaking.

Management features Vanilla Forums does not offer :

  • Email Notifications Preferences

  • Moderation tools

Keep your members safe, and secure your brand reputation. Pensil helps you leverage a powerful moderation panel, keyword blocklist, and post-hiding capability to ensure that the community is free from spam, abuse, and harmful language.

  • SEO Friendly Content

If you are concerned about how your community is performing in search engine results (SEO), there are a number of questions to keep in mind when looking to optimize your community software of choice. We frequently get asked  questions in our support inboxes and in our public community about how Pensil handles SEO.

If you’re new to search engine optimization, be sure to check out our primer on community SEO

The White label Mobile App comes with a bunch of functionality - essentially everything you will need to build, run and engage your community.

🗂️ Open, Private, and Paid Spaces

You can create an unlimited number of spaces - whether it is open spaces, that are accessible to all members, or private spaces, that are invited only. You can also link a payment gateway to a paid section and monetize your content and courses.

💬 Private Messaging

You can send and receive DMs from your community members. You can attach videos, pictures, or documents in the DMs.

📆 Host Live Events

You can create an event and host it live within the App. Your community members will receive email notifications for the event, they can RSVP and stay updated with any changes in the event.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Member Directory

You get all your members listed in a dedicated section. You can send them individual DMs or start a live chat with them. Also, you can always download that list or use the upcoming email marketing functionality to send them custom emails.

📲 Upload on your own Google or Apple Playstore (Optional)

To give the ultimate white-label experience, we have made the app such that you can upload it to Google or Apple App stores within your own account. If you don’t want to manage the process, we will do it for you.

Reason to look for Vanilla Forums Alternatives

  • Private spaces are not available.
  • Quizzes Assessments are not available in Vanilla Forums.
  • There are no newsletter options available.
  • There is no way for you to create your own brand on Vanilla Forums.
Free trial is Not available.
  • Expensive: - As we have mentioned earlier, Vanilla Forums comes with a rather hefty price tag with their Starter plan at $99/month and the most expensive VIP plan coming in at $3,499/month. Their Starter plan seems minimal compared to the VIP but it is still expensive when compared to other similar products in the market. This can cause the smaller businesses to avoid Vanilla Forums and go with less expensive alternatives.
  • The API development has been slow but they have recently pushed out their new V2 but prior to V2, there were some inefficiencies in doing some automated user management.
  • User management: pages often require refreshing in the browser after changes have been made. It is not the most intuitive system although does the job.
  • The editing functionality isn't in logical places for Admins.
  • Vanilla's appearance and experience out of the box is still not as modern and seamless as with Pensil.
  • No Live Chat: - Live chat is always the preferred means of customer support as you would often need support when you encounter a problem with the software so it would be best to get support right then and there. With live chat you wouldn’t have to leave your computer or wait days to get a reply for your concern. Though Vanilla Forums provides various ways of giving customer support, this does not include any option for live chat.

Why choose Pensil over Vanilla Forums?

✔ Allows you to add community experience in the customer journey via widgets

✔ Extremely customizable

✔ Modern design with personalized feeds

✔ Scalable pricing model based on active users instead of simple member counts

✔ Top-notch real-time customer support

✔ Comes with an extensive set of in-built apps

✔ Industry-leading integrations with popular third-party tools

✔ All of these at an unbeatable subscription fee

Zero learning curve : Vanilla Forums forces a new user experience upon you and your users. This leads to the need for (most difficult of all) a new behavior. It’s VERY hard to change people’s behavior. You want to avoid that at all costs. It should a last resort. Which is why at Pensil, we (shamelessly) copied the user experience of the most widely-used apps.

Community Features you get with Pensil ommunity platform

Related Posts