Online communities are a goldmine 💰 for your business.
Creating a community that thrives forever, however, is challenging. For this, it is very important to keep your users engaged with gamifying strategies and make them stay forever.
But how do you make them sticky?
For this, you need to provide a strong value exchange 🤝 with your content. And keep them engaged with gamifying strategies, connect live with the users to build rapport (with events, QA sessions), and reward them for the efforts they are putting in.
With these features, your members will always stay connected with you and it motivates them to be a part of your community. So, that’s the power of online communities.
With many free and paid platforms available, it is very important to choose the community platform with all the features pointed above.
We have researched keeping all these aspects in mind and come up with the top 10 online community platforms.
Let’s get started with the review.
|Circle.so – Editor’s best pick||Premium||$39/mo|
|BuddyBoss – Best for WordPress||Premium||$228/year for 1 site|
|Mighty Networks – Powerful of online community + courses||Premium||$33/mo|
|Passion.io – Powerful community within the mobile app||Premium||$97/mo|
|Facebook Groups – Free and powerful community platorm||Free||NA|
Circle.so – Top community platform
Circle‘s co-founder & CEO, Sid Yadav, has previously worked for Teachable(a leading course platform), which enabled him to fast-track Circle’s growth with his experience.
With Circle, you can create private and public spaces to keep the conversations and discussions organized by topic. You can also provide access to these spaces within the groups.
This would be great for memberships and coaching groups, where you can encourage your members to join for more spaces for a subscription fee (like say mastermind spaces) to better serve them.
The best thing is Circle provides its own live streaming service to host meetings, events, and webinars, eliminating the need for integrations like Zoom or even other costly webinar softwares. You can encourage members to engage in the live streams with direct messages and group chats.
Also, it has a searchable member directory & rich profiles making it easier for your members to discover other users and connect with them. Apart from this, there are no other match-making features or rules.
Its live streams support multiple co-hosts, ideal when you invite guest speakers to encourage an active learning environment among community members.
With Circle, you can sell your courses, memberships, or other products for a one-time fee, subscriptions, or trials (maybe as lead magnets). You can also offer free trials, coupons, and upsells to boost sales.
As Circle doesn’t have its own course builder, you need to host your courses on platforms like Teachable or Thinkific. The top entrepreneurs like Pat Flynn (from Smart Passive Income), are using Circle.so to host their community and Teachable for hosting the courses.
More on this later; on how to integrate.
Let’s see what else Circle has got to offer.
Circle has one more feature called weekly digests (if you don’t prefer spamming people’s inboxes everyday). This includes relevant highlights from your community, for example, the most popular topics/posts/comments, the number of unread notifications, etc. to keep people (especially inactive) informed.
When it comes to community engagement, Circle.so lacks gamification features like badges, rankings, achievements, points/scores, etc. If you want to reward people for their engagement, then you are out of luck.
Nevertheless, there are various workarounds like: here is an example of gamified onboarding for new members made by Never Board Learning Community.
Talking about integrations, Circle.so integrates with platforms like Shopify, Teachable, Memberstack, WordPress, and also automations platforms like Integrately, and Zapier.
Circle has recently introduced member tags and you can automate this using Zapier.
You have actions for tag members and untag members – as well as triggers for members and member tags. Suppose a student completes a course in Teachable, you can tag him in Circle.so – saying “[Completed Course] ABC”.
- Its custom single sign-on capability allows users to log in to your community from the platform they are in. For example – The students using Teachable can access your Circle’s community using Teachable credentials itself.
- Has an iOS app (but lacks Android, which is a bummer!).
- Support custom domain and white-labeling. Best for branding.
- It supports bulk actions for creating posts, add/remove tags, remove members from spaces/groups, etc. Saves you a lot of time in doing each individually.
- Detailed analytics to analyze the performance of your community like avg daily active members, monthly active members, top members, active topics, active spaces, and popular days/times.
Circle.so premium pricing starts at $39/mo. It provides all the basic features you need to manage a small community. If you need features like API access, CSS customization, and live streaming features, go with the professional plan at $99/mo.
- Has a built-in live streaming service. Save your money on Zoom!
- Supports custom single sign-on for a seamless experience.
- Completely white-labeled platform enabling you to take brand consistency to the next level.
- A weekly email digest keeps members informed of community activities (rather than spamming their inboxes).
- Lacks an Android app. Depending upon your audience’s technographic, this may be a major deal-breaker for you. Because a good mobile app supercharges audience engagement.
- It lacks gamification features like points, badges, achievements, etc.
- There are no spam filtering or keyword blacklist features to remove spam.
BuddyBoss – Best for WordPress
BuddyBoss is a premium WordPress plugin that helps you build highly engaging online communities, sell your courses, memberships, digital downloads, etc. all from a single platform.
With BuddyBoss you can create your own social networking communities, like that of Facebook, and integrate it with GamiPress to gamify the community activities with badges, assigning points, adding a ranking system, and much more.
BuddyBoss offers native iOS and Android apps (can be white labeled). It also supports:
- Push notifications – For boosting engagement on demand.
- In-app purchases – To use their card stored with their app stores and reduce friction
It integrates well with WooCommerce, LearnDash, Memberpress plugins, and also with other WordPress plugins. Also, it integrates with Zoom for live streaming.
Note that the performance of the BuddyBoss theme depends on your hosting provider’s RAM size too. As it’ll be a personalized community, there’ll be some pages that can’t be cached which in turn causes load on the servers causing poor user experience. RAM memory of more than 1GB is good to go with.
Also, as it is a WordPress plugin, there may be plugin conflict issues that require you to have some technical knowledge.
- Supports forum discussions, social groups, private messaging, group messaging, activity feed, etc.
- The theme provides a custom header and footer builder and is multilingual.
- The theme comes with Plug & Play Sections and sites for Elementor.
- Integrates with 10+ platforms.
- It has a search bar to help members find things quickly.
- You can create custom notifications inside the platform using its customizable email API.
BuddyBoss pricing starts at $228/year for 1 site. If you have an agency and want more site usage, go with its higher plans. The pricing is quite high, but it is worth the features offered. For courses and memberships, you need to purchase additional plugins (like LearnDash or Wishlist Member) adding up the cost.
- As it is a WordPress plugin, you can extend its flexibility by integrating it with other plugins and extensions.
- It is a completely white-labeled solution(best for agencies).
- Has custom-branded mobile apps to increase student engagement. It offers an addon service for creating, customizing and deploying your mobile app.
- No built-in support for courses & memberships. You need to buy LMS and membership plugins for an additional fee, increasing the cost.
- It requires technical knowledge if you run into any issues with other WordPress plugins.
- You need to spend money on good hosting providers (with more 1GB+ RAM) depending on your community size.
Mighty Networks – Powerful community within the mobile app
Mighty Networks is an affordable online course creation & community platform. It has a native course builder to create and sell your courses, so you don’t need to spend money on external platforms like Teachable.
For communities, it has features like member profiles, private direct messaging, group chats, member categories, and much more. Its matchmaking feature connects members based on their interest or location and helps in networking. For example – Bloggers in your community can network with other bloggers, build relationships, and exchange their ideas. This increases user engagement and encourages participation.
Mighty Networks has its own white-labeled iOS and Android apps. You can custom brand the apps to your liking and send branded in-app notifications to keep the students informed on the course/community activities, events, offers, etc.
It has native live streaming, similar to Circle, and even has Zoom integration for you to host live meetings/events to connect with the members in real-time. Mighty Networks supports unlimited hosts, moderators, and members, unlike Circle which has restrictions based on the plan you choose.
Apart from these, Mighty Networks also has a built-in ambassador program where you can incentivize your members to invite new users, thus growing your community. You can ask your members to bring new members and as a reward, you can:
- Offer a discount to purchase products in your store.
- Give them branded badges/feature them (like an ambassador of the week)
- Give them free access to your next event.
- And much more.
Refer to this guide for more on ambassador levels and how you can custom reward them.
- It supports custom domains. You can buy the domains directly from Mighty Networks, thanks to its Google domain integration.
- Has native integrations with Google Analytics and Facebook Ads Pixel to track traffic and user behavior analytics.
- With Mighty Pro, you can create your own custom branded apps. You can have full control over app customization, app store listings, etc.
Mighty Networks pricing starts at $39/mo and it charges 3% transaction fees. This plan lacks Zapier APIs & workflows, analytics & member data, and online course features. To avail these features go with their business plan at $119/mo (this plan charges a 2% transaction fee).
If you need your own app with listings in Apple & Google Play stores, branded app notifications, you need to purchase Mighty Pro (Contact the support for the pricing details).
- It has a native course builder, so you don’t have to purchase external courses/membership platforms.
- To enhance a student’s learning, you can create dedicated communities for each of your courses.
- It is possible to create your own custom-branded mobile apps.
- It has a member matchmaking feature for networking.
- Charges transaction fees on its plans (3% on the lowest plan and 2% on the higher plan).
- It lacks gamification features like points/badges/rankings, for community engagement.
- Its lowest plan lacks important features like Zapier API & workflows, analytics & member data, and online courses.
Tribe.so is one of the best block-based community-building platforms that come with spaces, tags, rich composer, moderation panel, activity feed, notifications, member access, and much more.
Tribe.so excels over other community platforms with its community blocks. You can use these blocks (like CTAs, filter tags, accordion, iFrame, leaderboard, etc) and create customized community space. This gives you more control over designing the communities as you visualize them.
For communities, it has features like spaces, discussion boards, activity feed, member profiles, community search, etc.
Unlike tools like Circle.so or Mighty Networks, Tribe has good community gamification features like points, badges, scores, and leaderboards. These features motivate members to actively participate in the activities and stay on top. As of now, Tribe has 2 smart badges – Welcome and role badges. You have the flexibility to create your own custom badges. Some of the examples include – VIP members, member of the week, top performer, etc.
If you want to offer memberships and courses to your members, Tribe has native integrations with Outseta and Memberful. These integrations help you to sell your content and monetize your community.
Tribe.so is good at security features. To avoid spam, it has a keyword blacklist, post-hiding capabilities, and profanity blocking. This will prevent spammers from joining your community, so you can have peace of mind.
Tribe has a good number of native integrations. It integrates with Google Tag Manager, HotJar, Mixpanel, Google Analytics, Discord, MailChimp, Intercom, Mixpanel, HubSpot, etc. There are also API, Zapier, and Webhooks available to connect with the tools you need. Tribe.so is actively releasing more native integrations.
You can use Zapier to automate community tasks. Some of the scenarios include:
- Add new Stripe customers to Tribe spaces as members
- Add your Tribe community members as Mailchimp subscribers
- Create posts in Tribe when new posts are created on WordPress sites
- Much more
Tribe.so pricing 💲
The premium pricing starts at $599/mo. Compared to other tools on this list, the pricing is quite expensive.
- It has an intuitive interface and you can create a flexible top bar for easy navigation.
- Its community block builder helps you to create unique and customized communities as you wish.
- For spam protection, it has a keyword blacklist and profanity blocker. You can provide the keywords based on your niche to automatically flag posts.
- It has native integration with Google Analytics and gives rich analytics to analyze how your community is growing.
- The pricing is expensive and not affordable for all.
Passion.io (review) is a new LMS app creation platform that has a community feature built-in. You can sell the courses for a one-time fee or charge a subscription fee. You can offer any of the lessons for a free preview. This would be really helpful for lead generation (offer free content in exchange for their email addresses).
You can create a dedicated community for the products you create. For the community to be available for users, first you need to enable it while setting up the product.
Passion.io’s community features are quite different. It has features like push notifications, exercises, sequences (series of exercises), etc. You can assign group-based challenges for the members to take their engagement to the next level. Such challenges motivate and inspire other community members to do more.
With its sequence feature, you can assign multiple exercises to users. This would be very helpful for niches such as health, fitness, spirituality, art, etc., in which you would assign a series of exercises to work on every day in order to stay consistent with learning.
Passion.io has a unique goal tracking feature that allows users to track their performance. This helps users identify their weak points/struggles and work on improving them.
Unlike other platforms on this list, there are no channels, spaces, direct messaging, or private group features available with this tool.
Note: Communities are accessible for users, only if you have enabled it while setting up the pricing for products. You need to provide access to communities along with th courses (products).
As of now, Passion.io has very few integrations. It integrates directly with Stripe, Typeform, Calendly, and has Zapier integration as well. As this is a newcomer, you can expect more features and integrations to come. Keep an eye on their roadmap to view all its features.
- Supports an unlimited number of courses or coaching. You can sell as much as you wish.
- Has built-in live streaming, eliminating the need for external services.
- It has custom branded & completely white-labeled iOS and Android apps.
- Apps work well with Android, iOS, laptops, televisions, desktops, and many more.
Passion.io lowest pricing starts at $97/mo and it limits to 100 subscribers, 100 videos, and 1000 push notifications/mo. It charges a 3.9% fee with PassionPayments. Its ultimate plan costs $297/mo and it provides the best value.
- Creating apps is fun. It is very easy to get started.
- Provides pre-made templates for app creation. The templates include audio app, fitness app, etc. Or you can build an app from scratch.
- You can design the welcome screens and sales pages using its builder.
- Excellent device compatibility. The apps are compatible and accessible on iOS, Android, laptop, TV, desktop, etc.
- You are able to create only one app even in its higher plan at $297/mo.
- The lowest plan charges a 3.9% fee with PassionPayments.
- It lacks gamification features like badges, scores, and achievements.
Communities in Kajabi are pretty basic. It is not as feature-rich as other tools presented above. You can create the posts, create topics to organize the posts, add a community sidebar message, etc. You can sell the community for free or for a fee, or even as an upsell to courses/memberships. The communities lack the most important features like gamification, channels, groups, spaces, private messaging, etc.
Kajabi provides templates to send email notifications when:
- Admin creates a new post,
- Members leave comments, and
- For community connect requests.
You can customize these templates as needed.
Kajabi has a mobile app (both iOS and Android) where students can access their courses, memberships, and communities on the go. You can just remove Kajabi branding but you can’t completely white label the apps.
With the mobile app, you can send:
- Community Mention Push Notifications
- Mention Specifically Push Notifications
- Announcement By The Creator Of The Product
When it comes to analytics, the community dashboard displays the number of new posts and the new members over a chosen time duration. You can integrate Kajabi with tools like Google Analytics to get detailed reports.
Kajabi’s lowest pricing starts at $149/mo, it restricts you to create up to 3 products, and 3 pipelines. That’s it. Even its highest plan at $399/mo allows to create only 100 products and 100 pipelines.
If you need solely a community platform it won’t be worth the money.
- It has courses and members features along with a community. You can sell community as upsell for courses or memberships.
- You can offer communities for a fee and offer discounts to those who reject.
- It has a mobile app and you can send push notifications for engagement.
- The pricing is very costly and not easy to afford.
- The lowest plan lacks advanced automations, access to a code editor, and the ability to remove Kajabi branding. To avail these features you need to spend $399/mo.
- The community feature is not so feature-rich as it lacks gamification and community moderation tools.
Discourse is an open-source platform that helps people to manage their communications. It can be used as a mailing list, discussion forum, chat room, and much more.
It has community features like dynamic notifications, single sign-on, community moderation, one-click upgrades, etc. For engagement, it has badges, emojis, social logins, topics summarization (similar to a weekly digest in Circle.so), etc. Note that in Discourse, the conversations cannot be organized as posts. So, you will end up having all the conversations in the same space.
For security, it has two-factor authentication and spam blocking (has Akismet spam protection). With this, you can have a community of genuine members who value your content.
If you go with Discourse premium (pricing starts at $100/mo.), you will get many integrations like chat integration, Github, subscriptions, canned replies, automation, etc.
- You can integrate Discourse with chat platforms like Slack, Telegram, Rocket.Chat to send notifications on the community activities to keep informed on what’s happening in the community.
- For advertising, you can integrate with ad platforms like Google Adsense, Amazon Affiliates, Google Ad Manager and earn a recurring side income.
Discourse has iOS and Android apps to manage the discussions on the go.
Discourse has three premium plans with the lowest plan costing $100/mo. It limits to
- 100k monthly page views
- 20GB storage
- 100k monthly email
You will get a mobile app with all premium plans.
Discord is an online chat platform for gamers, techies, individuals, and teams to connect with their fellow members. Previously, it was a gaming platform. Later it has extended towards tech niches like bitcoin, education, businesses, etc. Whatever is your niche, you can get started with Discord for building communities at free of cost.
It has servers (similar to spaces) which consist of channels to collaborate with other members. Using its voice, video, and text channels you can connect and talk with other members sharing a similar interest.
It has direct message and group message features available for up to 9 people. Discord has its premium subscription server called Nitro. With this you can customize your Discord tag, use custom emotes, upload large files, and get discounted Server Boosts.
The Discord Nitro costs $9.99/mo, it comes with features like profile badges, bigger uploads, HD video, personal profiles, and much more.
Telegram is one of the highly secured messaging apps that is making users switch to it from other messaging platforms like Whatsapp.
For communities, it has groups, channels, screen sharing, audio & video chats, group calling, secret chats, direct messaging, etc. The best part is you can add up to 200,000 members to its channels. You can make the groups/channels private/public. For community moderation, you can add multiple admins and restrict what access they have.
There are no scam filters in Telegram. Some keywords and external links can be blocked to prevent spam, but not much can be done. So you need to put-in more efforts to monitor the community to avoid the spam content.
Facebook Groups are one of the most widely used and easy to use community platforms. Nowadays everyone has a Facebook account, so it is easier for people to find and join groups on Facebook.
Top brands like Kajabi and Thinkific have hosted their private communities on Facebook itself. It is more likely that the customers of these platforms will be interested in joining these communities, and they can ask their queries/problems, and get solutions from company owners or other customers.
For managing the group you can add moderators, and add welcome messages when new members join. You can take a look at the group’s insights to see how the members are engaging. You can use Facebook Live to connect with members in real-time and have live QA sessions, to provide more value for customers.
There are several disadvantages of using Facebook groups for building communities:
- You have no control over the organization of posts and how your groups should appear.
- Facebook wants its users to stay on its platform. Due to their algorithm, there will be more distractions with their ads, newsfeed, and posts. As a result, users will lose focus and it will affect community performance.
- Suppose you’re using Kajabi to host your courses and memberships, and Facebook groups for your community, users may find it hard to switch between platforms, adding in friction.
If you want to create highly engaging communities to provide value for your members, here are my go to platforms.
- Circle.so – Choose Circle.so if you want to build an engaging community. It provides a seamless experience for members. Its weekly digests, custom branded apps, live streaming, single sign on features make it worth buying. Smart Passive Income and Teachable are among the top brands using Circle to build their communities, proving its value.
- BuddyBoss – It is an excellent plugin for building communities if you’re a WordPress user. Integrating it with other WordPress tools/plugins increases flexibility. For gamification, it integrates with GamiPress to enhance user engagement. You can sell all your products from a single platform.
- Mighty Networks – It is best for coaches and course creators who want to create dedicated communities for their courses. It has its own course builder so you don’t need to spend additional fees on integrating with LMS platforms. It has native live streaming, mobile apps, custom domains, and ambassador programs worth the purchase.
If you are just beginning and the premium platforms are not affordable for you, you can go with platforms like Telegram, Facebook groups, or Discord. They are very user-friendly and easy to get started. After your community grows, you can migrate to premium platforms.
I hope you found this post on online community platforms helpful.