Online communities are hot right now, and their demand will only increase as more people join them to tackle the challenges of “digital isolation.”
Whether you’re an online creator or a SaaS product owner, building a community can be a great way to reach a new audience, improve customer loyalty, gather user feedback, provide customer support, etc.
To build a community, you’ll need an online community platform. However, there are numerous solutions in the market, and it can be challenging to pick the right one.
In this guide, I’ll share some of the best online community platforms that exist, their key features, and their strengths and drawbacks. I’ll also share some quick tips to help you pick the right one for your business.
Best Online Community Platforms
- Mighty Networks: Best all-in-one community builder for creators
- Circle: Best standalone online community platform
- BuddyBoss: Best WordPress-based community builder
- Tribe: Best for SaaS & software companies
- PeerBoard: Community platform with best free plan
- Facebook Groups: Best for growing your audience organically
- Disciple: Best for building premium online communities
- Discourse: Best open-source forum software
- Hivebrite: Best for building professional networks
- Higher Logic: Best community platform for associations
What to Look For in the Best Online Community Platform?
To choose the right online community platform, you’ll need to understand what such a platform is supposed to do, and then you’ll need to be clear about your requirements.
Firstly, online community platforms are very different from traditional forum solutions.
While forum builders mainly offer a discussion board for your members, community platforms generally provide a range of community management and member engagement features.
Some of these features are must-haves—creating engaging posts, setting up events, community organization tools, member directory, rich member profiles, personalized activity feed, member notifications, ability to create sub-groups, SEO compatibility, community moderation, etc.
On top of that, some other features are important for engaging your users, and your platform should support them:
- Live Videos: Live videos are excellent for connecting with your members and boosting engagement. Your platform should either have a native live streaming functionality or the ability to integrate with a solution like Zoom.
- Gamification Tools: Your platform should allow you to reward members with badges/points/freebies based on their activity, which helps keep your audience engaged and motivated.
- Mobile Apps: By making it easy for your users to access your community on the go, native apps can make the difference between gaining an active, long-term participant and having someone disappear after their first visit.
Beyond this, there are other features that may or may not be important for you, depending on the type of online community you want to build and your end goal.
For example, if you want to create a membership site or sell access to your community, you’ll need monetization tools like payment processing, checkout pages, etc.
Another important feature is single sign-on (SSO) functionality. You’ll find several examples of online communities where the community and courses are hosted on separate platforms, so an SSO integration becomes critical.
Finally, you need to consider your budget and the cost of the platform. If you’re on a tight budget, you may consider using a platform that works on the freemium model or is completely free to use.
Now, let’s explore the best online community platforms out there.
1. Mighty Networks
Best all-in-one community platform for creators
Pros of Mighty Networks
- Powerful community features
- Native live streaming
- Ability to create online courses
- Free iOS and Android apps
- Inbuilt monetization tools
Cons of Mighty Networks
- No support for SSO integrations
- Charges a transaction fee
Pricing: Free – $119/month
The platform has a lot to offer in terms of community design and engagement. It allows you to create regular posts, polls and quizzes, and full-fledged articles.
You can also use the platform’s event management feature to create a one-time or a recurring event. Moreover, there’s support for native live streaming, allowing you to connect with your members in real-time.
In addition, Mighty Networks supports other important community features like personalized activity feed, member directory, sub-group creation, notification management, etc.
From an end-user point of view, the platform is pretty intuitive. Some users may have a slight learning curve, but they’ll quickly get the knack for it as they use the platform.
What takes the end-user experience to the next level is that your members can access your community through Mighty Networks’ free iOS/Android mobile app. You can also get a custom, white-label app created for your brand if you want.
Now, Mighty Networks lets you do more than just build an online community. It also includes an online course builder to create and deliver engaging courses inside your community.
Finally, it offers some handy monetization tools so that you can charge for access to your community and courses.
As far as Mighty Networks pricing is concerned, its entry-level tier is the Community plan ($39/month + 3% transaction fee). It offers the core community-building tools.
The highest tier is the Business plan ($119/month + 2% transaction fee). It supports Zapier integration, offers premium analytics, and allows for the creation of online courses.
Overall, Mighty Networks is the best online community platform for creators. It will be an ideal option for you if you’re looking to manage everything—community, courses, and memberships—in one place.
Best standalone online community platform
Pros of Circle
- Clean, modern design
- Powerful community features
- Ability to embed widgets on external sites
- Native iOS app for users
- Supports SSO integrations
Cons of Circle
- Doesn’t have an Android app
- Charges a transaction fee
Pricing: $39 – $399/month
Circle is a branded community platform that is focused solely on the community-building side of things. Unlike Mighty Networks, it doesn’t provide the ability to create online courses.
Having said that, the platform takes care of all the important aspects of community design and engagement, like creating discussions, content organization, community moderation, member connections, private messaging, group chats, live streaming, and much more.
You can also create private Spaces inside your community and make sure only specific people have access to the discussions within a given Space.
Another useful (and a stand-out) feature that Circle offers is the ability to embed a widget, a particular Space, or even the entire community on your main website.
The most attractive aspect of Circle, though, is its clean and modern design. The platform has a simple and intuitive user interface, making it easy for your members to find discussions and navigate your community.
It even has an iOS app, making it easy for your iPhone-using members to access your community. However, it doesn’t yet have a mobile app for Android.
When it comes to monetization, Circle lets you process payments and charge a one-time fee or a recurring subscription for access to your community.
Finally, Circle offers direct integration with Teachable and Thinkific and popular membership platforms like Memberful and MemberSpace. It even supports custom Single Sign On (SSO) integrations, so your users can log in to Circle with their existing credentials from any platform.
When it comes to pricing, Circle offers affordable options, with the Basic plan costing just $39/month (+4% transaction fee) for up to 1,000 active members.
If you have a bigger community, you can subscribe to the Professional plan ($99/month + 1% transaction fee) or the Enterprise plan ($399/month + 0.5% transaction fee), which support up to 10,000 and 100,00 members respectively.
Overall, Circle is the best standalone community platform, and it’s an ideal option if your main goal is to build an engaged community. It will work great for all types of users, including course creators, membership site owners, online coaches, SaaS product brands, etc.
Best WordPress-based community builder
Pros of BuddyBoss
- Most flexible community builder
- Ability to gamify your community
- Integrates with LearnDash & LifterLMS
- Ability to get a white-label mobile app
Cons of BuddyBoss
- Not so easy to use and set up
- Can get pretty expensive
Pricing: $228 – $3,366/year
BuddyBoss is quite different from the rest of the options in this list because it’s a WordPress-based community software rather than a hosted platform.
So, using BuddyBoss requires you to be tech-savvy. However, if that’s not an issue, you can use it to build the most feature-rich and customizable community platform software for your business.
To start with, BuddyBoss covers all the essential requirements of an online community software, including creating posts, social groups, a member directory, private/group messaging, notifications, personalized activity feeds for members, etc.
You can create events inside your community or sub-groups and also host live events through the native Zoom integration.
On top of the essential tools, BuddyBoss offers some advanced features.
The first such feature is for gamifying your community and boosting engagement. BuddyBoss makes use of GamiPress, a free plugin that lets you recognize members with points, ranks, rewards, and badges based on their activity in the community.
Similarly, BuddyBoss integrates with the most popular WordPress LMS plugin, LearnDash, to enable you to create and share an online course with your community.
Moreover, you can sell access to your community and courses through LearnDash, WooCommerce, or any popular membership plugin.
Finally, BuddyBoss gives you the option to get your own branded mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. Your members can access your community and courses through the app, and it also supports features for push notifications, in-app purchases, etc.
As far as pricing is concerned, BuddyBoss costs $228/year for a 1-site license. If you need more than that, you can get a 5-site license for $288/year and a 10-site license for $388/year.
The only caveat is that these plans don’t include mobile apps. That is a completely separate service for which pricing starts from $219/month.
The biggest advantage of using a WordPress-based community plugin is the extendability of functionality. Even if native support is lacking for certain features, you can find another plugin or add-on that allows you to add what you need.
So, if you’re an existing WordPress user looking for an online community software solution to give you unlimited flexibility in terms of functionality and customization, BuddyBoss will work well for you.
Best for SaaS & software companies
Pros of Tribe
- Fully customizable & extendable
- Native gamification tools
- Single sign-on functionality
Cons of Tribe
- No mobile apps functionality
- No inbuilt monetization tools
Pricing: Free – $699/month
Tribe is another standalone community builder with a focus on providing the best-in-class community-building features. It doesn’t include tools for course creation or even monetization.
The platform has been on the market for some time now and it’s used by top brands like Decathlon, ASUS, Pipedrive, and ConvertKit.
Tribe makes it possible to create a fully white-label experience and customize everything from the logo and widgets to colors and domain.
When it comes to content creation, Tribe allows you to write articles, post images and videos, and ask questions and submit answers. It also allows you to categorize content and offers seamless discovery through a personalized activity feed.
What I like about Tribe is the fact that it supports native gamification features to drive community engagement, including badges, points, virtual currency, and a leaderboard system.
Another great thing about Tribe is that it has a library of apps and integrations that can be used to extend the functionality of your community.
For example, it has an SSO app that facilitates integration with other platforms like WordPress and provides easy access for users with their existing credentials.
Having said that, there are a couple of important features missing from the platform. The first is the lack of native live stream functionality or even the ability to integrate with live streaming solutions like Zoom.
Another issue is that Tribe doesn’t offer any mobile app functionality. So while your members will still be able to access your community through mobile browsers, the experience won’t be as seamless.
As far as pricing is concerned, Tribe has a Free plan that gives you access to all the essential features, including using a custom domain. It does limit your community to up to 100 members, but it’s still very generous.
Beyond this, you’ll have to upgrade your pricing package to either the Plus plan, priced at $99/month (2,500 members) or the Premium plan, priced at $399/month (25,000 members).
Overall, Tribe is a decent online community software and the best option for SaaS & software companies who want to build a completely customizable experience for their members.
Community platform with best free plan
Pros of PeerBoard
- Easy to set up and use
- Ability to embed on any website
- Single sign-on and API functionality
- Generous free plan
Cons of PeerBoard
- Limited engagement tools
- No mobile apps
- No monetization tools
Pricing: (Free – $299/month)
PeerBoard is one of the simplest-to-use community platforms that allows you to create a forum, online group, or any other type of online community.
With PeerBoard, you can create short posts and long-form articles, organize discussions, show a personalized feed to your users, and create private spaces.
Moreover, it gives you features for managing your members and moderating your online community.
Also, you can customize the look and feel of your community by choosing colors and fonts and aligning them with your website’s branding.
What makes PeerBoard stand out is the number of platforms it integrates with. It integrates natively with WordPress, Shopify, Thinkific, etc. Plus, you can use the API functionality to integrate with any other platform.
In addition, you can embed the whole community on your website.
However, the platform is still in its initial stages and lacks some features that more established platforms offer, such as mobile apps and live streaming. So, you may find it more challenging to drive active member participation in your PeerBoard community.
PeerBoard has a freemium pricing model, with the free plan allowing you to have unlimited members and content. It just limits the number of new member invites per day to ten.
Its Starter plan costs $29/month and allows you to create three private spaces and send 1,000 member invites per day. The most popular plan is the Professional plan ($79/month) which lets you create up to 30 private spaces.
Overall, PeerBoard isn’t the most powerful community builder, but it should work well if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option.
6. Facebook Groups
Best for growing your audience organically
Pros of Facebook Groups
- Great for member engagement
- Integrated FB Live functionality
- Native FB mobile apps
- Completely free to use
Cons of Facebook Groups
- Lack of ownership and control
- Privacy and distraction concerns
- No way to charge for access
Facebook Groups are the most popular option for building an online community and are completely free. More than 10 million FB Groups exist, which should give you an idea of their popularity.
With Facebook Groups, you get a lot of useful community features. For example, you can create engaging posts with text, images, videos, and polls, create scheduled “Events,” organize your content with “Topics” and “Units,” etc.
It also offers integrated Facebook Live functionality, so you can easily do live streams. You can create “Rooms” inside your Facebook Group and host live video chats with up to 50 people.
Moreover, your members can access the group and engage with the content and other members via the web and mobile apps.
However, Facebook Groups have several drawbacks that can be a deal-breaker in many scenarios.
The biggest drawback is that you and your members don’t have much control over notifications.
Since the FB algorithm decides who will receive what notifications, you don’t have any way of making sure your members get notified about important updates.
Another major issue is that the average user gets a lot of noise on Facebook in polarized debates, advertisements, messages, notifications from friends, etc., making it a distraction machine.
Moreover, you don’t have any way to charge for access to your FB Group, nor can you even integrate with third-party checkout platforms like ThriveCart.
Finally, you need to keep in mind that you don’t own the community (or the audience). A random algorithm tweak or update can instantly plummet your community’s engagement and reach.
Having said that, Facebook Groups continue to remain a popular online community platform. Its best use case is when you want to build a frontend community and tap into the huge audience base of Facebook.
Best for building premium online communities
Pros of Disciple
- Feature-rich community builder
- Native live streaming functionality
- Branded iOS and Android apps
- Inbuilt monetization tools
Cons of Disciple
- Super expensive
- Charges a transaction fee
Pricing: $55 – $2,000+/month
Disciple is another popular platform that allows you to create a fully branded community over which you have complete ownership and control.
Setting up your online community on Disciple is quick and easy, and all the platform’s functionality works great right out of the box.
Like the other top options in this list, Disciple allows you to post/schedule all types of content, create sub-groups, moderate your community, and track important metrics.
One feature that makes Disciple great for engagement is the native live stream functionality, which allows you to go live in your community without resorting to Zoom or another third-party solution.
By default, your members can access your community on the web, but you can also get branded iOS/Android mobile apps for even easier access.
Your members enjoy their personalized community feed, they can create new discussions or engage with existing ones, and they can easily search for and connect with other members.
Finally, Disciple has some handy monetization tools that allow you to create subscriptions and charge for access to the whole community or specific areas inside it.
When it comes to pricing, Disciple has two pricing plans. The lower tier is the Web plan which costs $55 per month, while the Mobile App plan starts from $549 per month, paid quarterly.
Moreover, the initial plan limits your membership to 100 users, and you’ll have to pay around $2,000 per month if you have more than 10k community members. This makes Disciple the most expensive option out there.
Overall, Disciple is the most premium-branded community platform out there. So if you’re an established business owner who doesn’t mind paying the premium price, it should work great.
Best open-source forum software
Pros of Discourse
- 100% open source
- Vast plugins directory
- Free to use
Cons of Discourse
- Lacks engagement tools
- The hosted option is expensive
Pricing: Free – $300/month
Discourse is different from other community platforms on this list as it is an online forum software.
With Discourse, you can create discussion boards and the platform has all the essential tools for running and managing your forum. The platform has features for forum moderation, spam blocking, notifications, etc.
Moreover, the platform is designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, with a clean interface that makes it simple to navigate.
But that’s it. A forum software like Discourse isn’t supposed to do much for engaging community members. For example, you can’t create a blog inside your community or do live streams in Discourse.
As a result, it won’t work for creating interest-based communities.
Regarding pricing, Discourse is free to use and open-source, but you’ll need to buy hosting separately. You can get decent hosting for your forum for about $10 per month.
Discourse also has a hosted option but it costs $100/month, so you’ll be better off going with the first option.
So, if your objective is to build a support community and you’re looking for a forum solution, Discourse will work great for you.
Best for building professional networks
Pros of Hivebrite
- Powerful community management tools
- Job board functionality
- Inbuilt monetization tools
- Branded mobile apps
Cons of Hivebrite
- Suitable only for professional networks
- Expensive pricing plans
Pricing: Starts from around $500/month
Hivebrite is a specialized community management platform—built from the ground up to help organizations manage their alumni networks, volunteer portals, or other professional networks.
The platform delivers all the important features you’ll need. You can create, update and moderate content, host events and sell tickets, send notifications via email and push notifications, break out smaller groups inside your network, offer mobile access for members, etc.
You also get the necessary monetization tools, including the ability to create membership tiers, charge subscription fees, and accept donations.
In addition, Hivebrite has a few unique features which make it ideal for running professional networks.
The first one is the ability to create a job board where people can post employment opportunities, and interested users can upload their resumes and be contacted by others.
Another useful feature is the ability for members to showcase their startups and projects and get help from the community to connect with investors, co-founders, or even prospective employees.
Overall, Hivebrite is ideal for educational institutions or corporations wanting to build an alumni network, for nonprofits looking to develop volunteer/donor networks, and, for that matter, for any organization looking to build a professional network.
10. Higher Logic
Best community platform for associations
Pros of Higher Logic
- Powerful engagement features
- iOS and Android mobile apps
- Lots of design options
- Powerful reporting tools
Cons of Higher Logic
- Suitable only for associations
- Steep learning curve
Pricing: Starts from around $9,000/year
Higher Logic is a specialized community builder for associations. Focus on associations is the core of their product, even though they also cater to corporate organizations.
The platform has all the features you need to build a full-fledged online community. For example, it supports forums, groups, events, private messaging, content management, mobile apps, etc.
In addition, it has some unique features like “mentor matching”, which make it possible to achieve high levels of community engagement.
For designing your community area, Hivebrite has a wide range of templates to get started quickly and you can get custom templates designed as well.
The platform also has robust reporting tools which can help you understand what content is being consumed the most, what topics are being discussed the most, etc.
Finally, Higher Logic provides features for marketing and also membership management, making it an ideal platform for associations to run their community-based membership.
Best Online Community Platforms – Final Verdict
In this article, we’ve discussed some of the best online community platforms out there, and I hope you were able to choose the one that’s right for you.
If you still don’t feel equipped to make a decision, let me summarize my recommendations here.
If you’re an online creator looking for a platform to not just build a community, but also create online courses and be able to monetize, you should go with Mighty Networks.
On the other hand, if your primary goal is community design & engagement and you don’t need features for course creation, you should check out Circle.
If you’re already using WordPress for your online course/membership site, you might want to go with a WordPress-based community platform like BuddyBoss.
I hope you found this guide useful. Do you have questions about these online community platforms? Which platform do you think will work best for you and why? Please let me know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
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