According to a global study funded by Facebook, 77% of people said that the most important group they’re a part of is online. With the pandemic elevating the need for digital connectivity, online community platforms have become a huge part of our lives — and they’re not going away any time soon.
For creators and brands alike, it’s more important now than ever to build an online community that creates a sense of belonging for your audience.
Ready to take on the challenge? Here are the best online community platforms and their top benefits for your business.
What are online community platforms?
Even if you don’t know exactly what an online community platform is, there’s a high chance you’re already a part of one. If you’re a member of a Facebook group, you have a Reddit account, or you support a creator on Patreon, you’re taking advantage of online communities in their many forms.
An online community platform is a catch-all term used to describe any software that hosts and facilitates interactions between people. Essentially, they’re platforms built to allow users to create online community spaces where people can interact, share, and collaborate with others.
For content creators, community platforms are a really helpful tool for engaging and retaining customers. The right online community platform makes it easier to monetize your business, increase your brand reach, and boost customer loyalty.
A committed community is also a great way to increase word-of-mouth referrals, transforming your existing followers into brand advocates.
What are online community platforms used for?
Whether it’s to discover something new, connect with likeminded individuals, or look for entertainment, people are drawn to online communities by different factors and motivations.
Online communities allow people to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves, enabling them to connect with others who share similar interests, who help them learn, and who keep them entertained.
If you can create a community space that fulfills those needs, you can build a strong, supportive, and long-lasting community around your brand — and that’s pretty powerful.
12 of the best online community platforms
To help you build an epic online community and grow your membership business, we’ve compiled a list of 12 of the best online community platforms. Keep reading for each platform’s key features, benefits, as well as pricing and subscription options.
Tribe is an online community platform for businesses looking to build and scale their online communities. It helps brands foster closer customer relationships, improve customer education, and boost customer success. This online community platform also makes it easy for members to share product feedback and reviews.
Tribe is fully customizable with no coding experience required. Make the community yours with different colors, typography, and styles. You can also integrate Tribe with other community-management software including Slack and Mailchimp.
- Gamified elements like badges and a leaderboard
- Track key metrics with the analytics dashboard
- Segment communities into private and public groups
- Add or build apps to enhance your community
- Ideal for building a self-service support community for your brand
Pricing: Tribe is free for up to 100 members. After that, monthly packages start at $59 per month.
A place to hang out with your loyal followers online, Discord has an invite-only model that lets users create topic-based communities for collaboration, sharing, and learning. While popular among gaming communities, Discord is also well-suited to learning communities looking to spark discussions, work through new concepts, and share ideas with one another.
Discord includes voice channels so you can hop into a live voice chat without having to set up a call. It also offers live streaming and video call features to help foster a feeling of intimacy and immediacy with your community members.
- Personalize welcome streams for a better onboarding experience
- Create special groups and separate communities and chats
- Assign roles to owners, admins, moderators, and members
- Use community discovery features to reach your target audience
- Improve customer service with private conversations and direct messaging
Pricing: Discord is free to use for everyone. Users have the option to upgrade their profile independently to unlock pro features.
The online community platform dedicated to creators, Patreon makes it easier for you to get paid by your fans and followers. Their goal is to help creators build a deeper connection with their audience, while also making a profit. Fans can support you through paid memberships, donations, subscriptions, and one-time payments. In return, you provide them with exclusive access to your latest content.
Patreon helps you keep in touch with your community, with communication tools including direct messaging and posts on your page. It also offers workshops to help you make the most of the community platform, so getting started on Patreon is simple.
- Option for members only posts, messages, and direct messages
- Membership tiers for different customer bands
- Tracking tools for payments, lifetime value, and customer engagement
- Algorithm-free and zero ads
- Mobile app for better flexibility
Pricing: Patreon runs on a commission fee structure that starts at 5% for the Lite plan, and up to 12% for the Premium plan. There’s also an additional payment processing fee.
Trusted by over 40,000 creators, Thinkific is one of the leading course creation and community platforms around. Thinkific Communities is tailor-made for creators looking to build an online community from scratch. With a drag-and-drop editor, you can create an online course and learning community in just one day.
Thinkific is an intuitive community platform that’s fully customizable to your brand. It’s easy to create a supportive, collaborative community for your customers, helping boost student engagement and foster closer relationships with your customers and followers.
- Build dedicated landing pages for promoting your community
- Create named, branded communities using your brand styles
- Sell communities as an independent product or part of a subscription
- Trusted, secure platform
- No ads, tracking, or spam
Pricing: It’s free to get started with Thinkific. Paid plans start at $36 per month.
Built for video content creators, Uscreen is an ideal community platform for monetizing your content and getting paid for your creativity. It gives you the tools to create membership sites for your subscribers, with fully-branded apps to engage your community. With Uscreen, you can host live streaming events and set up a Netflix-style content catalog to show off your content.
Thanks to its video-centric format, Uscreen provides multiple ways to monetize your video content, including subscriptions, donations, video rentals, and one-time sales.
- High quality, secure live streaming with chat function
- Branded code-free OTT apps
- Video CMS to upload, catalog, and distribute content
- Customizable themes and templates
- Personalized user profiles and avatars
Pricing: Plans start at $79 per month, with an additional charge of $0.50 per subscriber per month. Try for free with a 14-day trial period.
If you’re looking for an easy way to chat with your online community, Discourse is for you. It is a free forum platform that lets you chat with members whenever you like. The platform is open-source, so you can also adapt the code to suit your needs and integrate Discourse directly into your website.
From continuous conversation threads, to trusted member badges and invite-only options, Discourse keeps the conversation flowing and the connections growing.
- Built-in mobile layout adapted for touch devices
- Automatic spam protection
- Social login options for easier engagement
- Summarizes topics to show the most relevant and popular posts
- Dedicated admin dashboard for tracking community health
Pricing: Discourse is free to use. Users have the option to upgrade to managed hosting plans, starting at $100 per month.
Circle is an online community platform that’s ideal for first-timers. Creators can engage their audience with livestreams and events, and monetize their community with subscriptions and one-time payments.
Circle also offers a wide range of product integrations through the platform, and there’s the option to add your Circle community directly to your website. For day-to-day community management, Circle lets you invite teammates and set different roles and permissions for each user, including community moderators, administrators, and more.
- Options for live streaming with multiple co-hosts
- A searchable member directory to help users find each other
- Event spaces with RSVPs
- Multiple membership tier options
- Single sign-on (SSO) feature to increase engagement
Pricing: Circle offers new members a 14-day free trial. Its paid plans range from $39 for 1,000 members, up to $399 per month for 100,000 members. Basic plans include transaction fees of up to 4%.
In addition to fixed paid plans, users have the option to pay extra for add-ons, including adding more admins, moderators, and members.
Niche online community platform Hivebrite is built with alumni and non-profit organizations in mind. This community platform makes it easy to engage users wherever they are, with tools designed for community access anytime, anywhere. Hivebrite’s mission is to help more communities connect with one another through managed, accessible networks that make building a community a breeze.
A comprehensive administration dashboard lets you manage your members, payments and content in one place, while a wide range of analytics and tracking options help keep tabs on the health of your community. You can also import and export all member data into your database, so it’s easy to transition to the platform.
- Options to post jobs, share resumes, and connect partners
- Find opportunities and request for help on the community board
- Manage all events, tickets, and payments in one
- Membership tiers include subscriptions, lifetime memberships, and one-time payments
- Centralized communication to contact community members easily
Pricing: Hivebrite doesn’t have a free plan. Pricing starts at $500 per month, making it better suited to bigger businesses and established brands.
As one of the original and biggest online community platforms, Reddit has to be included in this list. It’s a little bit different to the rest in that there are no options for monetizing your community through memberships or subscriptions. Instead, you have the chance to create topic-related subreddits and community groups.
While Reddit limits your ability to make money from your online community, it does give you a way to build your audience organically — with the potential to transition them over to another subscription-based platform down the line.
- Thousands of daily active users
- Simple user interface
- Subscribe to subreddits to build your community organically
- Easy to gain traction on popular posts
Pricing: Reddit is free to use for everyone.
10. Facebook Groups
With 2.9 billion active users in 2022, Facebook is still one of the top online community platforms out there. While there are some limiting factors that might put some creators off, Facebook’s popularity is undeniable.
Facebook’s huge user base makes it an easy win for creators looking to encourage followers to join their community quickly and easily. Most of your users probably already have a Facebook account, so it’s as simple as clicking a link to sign up for your group. The downside is that Facebook groups are limited in their options for customization. And due to Facebook’s algorithm, group activity can easily get lost in your members’ feed.
- Billions of active users
- Quick to set up and onboard members
- Can moderate activity and message members directly
- Free to use
- Set forum rules and community guidelines
Pricing: Facebook is free to use, and it’s free to set up a private group on the platform.
11. Vanilla Forums
If you’ve got big plans to grow your membership business, Vanilla Forums might be the online community platform for you. The platform is tailored to mid-sized businesses looking to drive up engagement and increase sales. Its forum-focused features are open-source, so it’s fully customizable to your business’ needs, putting the power back in the hands of creators.
With Vanilla Forums, you can build up to 20 separate communities and assign up to 100 administrators and moderators. It boasts tools such as performance tracking, gamification options, and member avatars. You can choose whether your groups are public, private, or secret, and members are given reputation scores to enable community-driven moderation.
- Brandable community space
- Ability to embed integrated discussion boards, blogs, and more
- Easy to remove trolls and spammers
- Options to schedule and plan events
- Analytics features to measure impact and ROI
Pricing: Vanilla Forums is priced for mid-sized businesses, so it’s on the pricier side with plans from $689 per month and up.
If you’re using WordPress for your business, try BuddyBoss to enhance your site and build an online community. It helps you create a community space on your website, with features like a public or private community space and social network style posts including comments, likes, and direct messages. You can also use the BuddyBoss plugin to build a dedicated community app for your business.
The BuddyBoss online community platform is white label, meaning there’s no branding or ads. Members can also create avatars and personalized profiles with a custom dashboard that lets them see community activities, new topics, and more.
- Online community platform tailored to WordPress
- Social networking style tools
- Fully customizable community page and dashboard
- Options to add public, private, and hidden groups
- Live streaming for virtual classes and events
Pricing: BuddyBoss is billed annually, with prices starting at $228 for one site, up to $388 for 10 sites.
Find your ideal community platform and grow your business
The best online community platforms for your business will depend on your content, your community members, and the vision you have for your business. If you’re looking to keep your community small and connect with a select number of people, then your ideal community platform will be different to a brand looking to scale and expand their brand community.
Only you would know which online community platform is right for you — and this guide is here to help you choose. Good luck!