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.
However, with so many options on the market, choosing the right online community platform can be a challenge.
In this guide, we’ll share some of the best online community platforms that exist, their key features, and their strengths and drawbacks.
We have thoroughly tested each platform and have hands-on experience with them, so rest assured we’re giving you the best advice possible. Let’s begin!
Best Online Community Platforms
- Circle: Best all-around community builder
- Mighty Networks: Affordable community builder for creators
- BuddyBoss: Best WordPress community plugin
- Kajabi: All-in-one platform for creators
- Disciple: Best for branded community apps
- Facebook Groups: Best for growing audience organically
- Bettermode: Best for customer communities
- Discourse: Best open-source forum software
- Hivebrite: Best for building professional networks
- Higher Logic: Best platform for associations
What to Look For in the Best Online Community Platform?
To choose the right platform, you must understand what a community builder is supposed to do, plus assess your requirements.
First, 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 member engagement features.
Some of these features are must-haves—creating engaging posts, setting up events, community organization tools, member directories, personalized activity feeds, direct messaging, community management tools, etc.
On top of that, there are some other important engagement tools your platform should support:
- Live Videos: Live videos are excellent for connecting with your members and boosting engagement. Your platform should either have native livestreaming or integrate with a solution like Zoom.
- Online Courses: Courses are a great way to educate and engage your members, so native course builder support is a huge plus.
- Mobile Apps: Native apps make it easier for members to access your community on the go, and they can be the difference between gaining an active, long-term participant vs having someone disappear after their first visit.
Beyond this, you may need other features 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.
Similarly, if you have an existing membership website, you’ll need single sign-on (SSO) integration between the two platforms.
Finally, make sure to consider your budget and the cost of the platform.
Now, let’s compare the best community-building platforms out there.
Best all-around community builder
Pros of Circle
- Clean, modern design
- Powerful engagement tools
- Support for online courses
- Powerful community management
- Free and branded mobile apps
- Supports SSO integrations
Cons of Circle
- No polls and quizzes
- Charges a transaction fee
Pricing: $49 – $399/month
Circle (or Circle.so) is a hosted community platform that takes care of all aspects of community building, from design and engagement to monetization and management.
It has a flexible Spaces feature that gives you the freedom to organize your community as you see fit and also lets you control who can access those spaces.
Moreover, Circle has all the important engagement tools, including rich media posts, events and livestreaming, online courses, direct messaging, and personalized notifications.
Regarding monetization, you can charge one-time payments and recurring subscriptions and also create landing pages.
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 you and your members to use the community and find what you need.
It even has free mobile apps for users, which further add to the overall user experience. Plus, there’s an option to get branded apps for your Circle community as well.
Apart from these, Circle offers a few advanced community management tools that help it stand out further:
- Profile fields & tags: You can add custom profile fields and tag your members, allowing you to better segment them, personalize their experience and manage them.
- Workflows: This feature lets you create trigger -> action automation to boost engagement and make community management easier.
- Single sign-on: Circle supports SSO integrations with popular platforms, such as Teachable, Thinkific, WordPress, etc., so your users can log in to Circle with their existing credentials.
- Public API: Circle’s APIs let you build custom integrations and extend platform functionality.
Regarding pricing, Circle offers affordable options, with the Basic plan costing $49/month (+4% transaction fee) for up to 100 members.
If you have a bigger community, you can subscribe to the Professional ($99/month + 2% fee) or Business ($219/month + 1% fee) plans, which support unlimited members.
Overall, Circle is the best all-around community platform. It will work great for all types of users, including course creators, membership site owners, online coaches, SaaS product brands, etc.
MORE ON CIRCLE
2. Mighty Networks
Affordable community builder for creators
Pros of Mighty Networks
- Flexible community organization
- Native live streaming
- Ability to create online courses
- Free and branded mobile apps
- Robust reporting & analytics
- Unlimited admins and members
Cons of Mighty Networks
- No support for SSO integrations
- Charges a transaction fee
Pricing: $39 – $119/month
As the most popular hosted community platform for creators, Mighty Networks allows you to build an online community on your own website.
The platform has a lot to offer in terms of community design and engagement. It has flexible organization tools, including Collections, Spaces, and Hashtags.
When it comes to community content, it allows you to create regular posts, polls and quizzes, full-fledged articles, in-person and online events, livestreams, and group chats. You can also create and deliver online courses inside your community.
Finally, it offers some handy monetization tools so that you can charge for access to your community and courses.
Talking about the user interface, it looks clean and modern, and it’s pretty easy to use for the most part. The only issue is that the admin options aren’t well-organized and can be a bit difficult to find.
However, the end-user experience is great, and what helps it further is the fact that members can access your community through Mighty Networks’ free iOS/Android app. You can also get a white-label app created for your brand.
Where Mighty Networks misses out is the community management side of things. It doesn’t support features like member tagging, single sign-on, public APIs, etc.
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 and lets you have unlimited members and moderators.
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 an affordable solution for creators looking to manage everything—community, courses, and memberships—in one place.
Best WordPress community plugin
Pros of BuddyBoss
- Flexible community builder
- Ability to gamify your community
- Integrates with LearnDash
- White-label mobile app option
Cons of BuddyBoss
- Requires more technical know-how
- 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. You need to know your way around WordPress, plugins, and all the other technical stuff. However, if that’s not an issue, you can use it to build a feature-rich and customizable community platform 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.
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.
However, the biggest strength of BuddyBoss is the fact that you can easily add new functionalities to your community thanks to its integration with popular WordPress plugins. Here are a few popular integrations:
- BuddyBoss integrates with LearnDash—the most popular WordPress LMS plugin—to enable you to create and share an online course with your community.
- It makes use of GamiPress to let you gamify your community. With this integration, you can reward members with points, ranks, rewards, and badges based on their activity in the community.
- It integrates with AutomatorWP to create automated workflows inside your WordPress community.
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.
And keep in mind that the actual cost of building a community using BuddyBoss will be much higher than the subscription fee, as it requires hosting and additional plugins.
If you already use WordPress and want the same level of flexibility and customization for your community, BuddyBoss is a good choice.
All-in-one platform for creators
Pros of Kajabi
- Powerful engagement tools
- Best-in-class course builder
- Supports coaching and podcasts
- Powerful website builder
- Built-in funnels & email marketing
Cons of Kajabi
- Less control over community settings
- Starting price is steep
Pricing: $149 – $399/month
Kajabi Communities is another name for Kajabi’s community builder. They acquired a standalone community solution called Vibely and integrated it into the platform.
The community interface is clean and intuitive, and you can create circles and access groups to organize your community.
It has a range of content and engagement tools, including rich posts, events and livestreaming, challenges, and group chats. Additionally, you can award members badges based on their activity and also display a leaderboard of the top members.
Kajabi also has a mobile app for iOS and Android, so members can engage with your community on the go.
While Communities has excellent features, it misses out a bit on the finer aspects. For example, the notification preferences aren’t granular, and reporting is pretty basic.
However, Kajabi is more than just a community builder. It’s an all-in-one platform that lets you run your entire knowledge business from a single place. It also supports:
- Courses and Coaching: Kajabi has best-in-class features for creating online courses as well as one-on-one coaching programs.
- Website Builder: It has website themes and a page builder, which you can use to create a beautiful website as well as landing pages.
- Blog and Podcasts: You can also create and publish blog posts and podcasts.
- Monetization: Kajabi comes with a powerful checkout functionality that supports flexible pricing options, optimized checkout pages, 1-click upsells, and affiliate marketing.
- Email Marketing: You can use Kajabi to manage your email list, segment the subscribers, and send out automated emails.
- Funnel Builder: Kajabi also has a powerful funnel builder that allows you to create multi-step funnels in a single interface with ease.
Kajabi costs $149/month for its Basic plan and $199/month for the Growth plan. The good thing is that it doesn’t charge any transaction fees.
The starting price is steep, and it won’t make sense if you just want to build an online community.
However, if your business is more than just a community, and you’re looking for an all-in-one platform to manage every aspect of it, Kajabi is quite worth the price.
Best for branded community apps
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 – $1,200+/month
Disciple is a hosted 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 subgroups, 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 $369 per month, paid six-monthly.
Moreover, the initial plan limits your membership to 100 users, and you’ll have to pay around $759 per month for up to 1,000 users and $1,199 per month for up to 10,000 users.
While Disciple is one of the most expensive options out there, its pricing for branded apps is more affordable than competitors like Mighty Pro and Circle Plus (~$30k/year), making it a good option for launching your own community app.
6. Facebook Groups
Best for growing audience organically
Pros of Facebook Groups
- Great for member engagement
- Integrated FB Live functionality
- 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 is the most popular option for building an online community and is completely free. Tens of millions of 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:
- With a FB group, you don’t own the community or the audience, leaving you vulnerable to changes in Facebook’s policies and algorithms.
- You have limited control over group notifications on Facebook due to the algorithm determining who receives them.
- Facebook is filled with noise, such as polarized debates, advertisements, messages, and notifications, making it a distraction machine.
- There is no built-in option to monetize your Facebook group or integrate with third-party checkout platforms like SamCart.
Having said that, Facebook Groups continue to remain a popular online community platform. Its best use case is when you want to build a free community and tap into the huge audience base of Facebook.
MORE ON FACEBOOK GROUPS
Best for customer communities
Pros of Bettermode
- Fully customizable & extendable
- Native gamification tools
- Single sign-on functionality
- 100% white-labeled solution
Cons of Bettermode
- No mobile apps functionality
- No events and livestreaming features
Pricing: $599/month – Custom
Bettermode is focused on helping product and service companies run their customer communities. The platform has been on the market for some time now, and it’s used by top brands like Decathlon, ASUS, Pipedrive, and ConvertKit.
Bettermode makes it possible to create a fully white-label experience and customize everything from the header and color themes to the sidebar and space layouts.
When it comes to content creation, you can write articles, post images and videos, and ask questions. It also allows you to categorize content and offers seamless discovery through a personalized activity feed.
What we 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 Bettermode is its library of apps and integrations that can be used to extend the platform’s functionality
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.
- The second is that Bettermode doesn’t offer any mobile app functionality. Your members can access your community through mobile browsers, but the experience won’t be as seamless.
As far as pricing is concerned, Bettermode costs $599/month and includes all the platform features. There’s an Enterprise plan (custom pricing) where you get additional things, such as migration services and legal review.
Overall, Bettermode is a great option for SaaS & software companies who want to build a completely customizable community experience for their customers.
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 or do live streams inside a Discourse forum.
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.
- Second 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, nonprofits looking to develop volunteer/donor networks, and, for that matter, for any organization looking to build a professional network.
10. Higher Logic
Best 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 – The Final Verdict
This article discussed the best online community platforms out there, and we hope you were able to choose the right one.
In the end, it all depends on your needs and resources, but here are our top recommendations:
Circle is the best all-around community builder and is suitable for most types of online communities. It has a 14-day free trial, so you can try it out without any commitment.
Mighty Networks is another great option for creators. It has a range of community engagement features and is reasonably priced.
Finally, BuddyBoss is best for creators looking to build a community on WordPress.
We 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 us know in the comments below.