Are you looking for a way to host an engaging community for your clients or leads?
If so, you’ll need some kind of community platform.
A community platform allows you to:
- Offer group support
- Let members ask questions
- Upsell additional services
- Charge monthly or yearly membership fees
In this article, we’ll dive into the best online community platforms for business owners who want to build a thriving community experience for their customers.
Best online community platform (summary)
Short on time? If so, here are the top 6 online community platforms for your business:
If you’re looking to utilize an online community to get leads and appointments be sure to take a look at my Free Online Masterclass where I reveal how to get more predictable sales appointments each month.
What are the Best Online Community Platforms?
Best Online Community Platform Overall
- Simple design and interface: Unlike Facebook Groups, Slack, Reddit, Kajabi or other community platforms, Skool uses a very simple user interface. This makes it extremely easy for people to both join and engage in your community.
- Chat, Notifications & Profiles: Real-time app and email notifications allow your audience to keep up to date with posts from others. I’m a member of a few Skool groups and I’ve found the email notifications encourage you to keep coming back to the community and engage.
- Gamification: You can bring excitement to your online community with Skool’s points, levels, and rewards system.
- Powerful search Function: Search through posts, comments, course content, and even members; all with one unified search box.
- Metrics: Easily monitor the performance and profitability of your online community.
- Calendar: Skool makes it really simple to streamline your group event planning. Your audience will have access to all events in their local time zone and receive email reminders about group coaching support sessions.
- Discoverability. Skool communities can appear in Skool’s directory and Google searches. In a recent 2023 search engine update, Google is now displaying more results from communities and forums in the search results.
- Integrations. Skool integrates with Zapier which means you can link it together with your funnel building software to automate tasks. For example, if you receive a new payment from Stripe you can automatically create a new customer for Skool.
What do others say about Skool?
Many business owners have found higher interaction on Skool compared to other platforms (such as Kajabi).
Rafeh Qazi is a YouTuber (1.3m subs), software engineer, and 7-figure entrepreneur who’s used ALL the tools said he prefers Skool for managing his community.
Here’s what he said about Skool…
Here’s the full post:
skool vs. circle. vs. kajabi vs. other platforms…
Here is the consensus…
tldr; skool dominates.
Context: I’m a developer, a huge tech nerd. Have a YouTube channel with 1m+ subs and 5,000+ paying customers. Done well over 7+ figures in revenue. I have used Teachable, Kajabi, Podia, Heartbeat, Facebook Groups, Discord, Slack, and probably few others I can’t think of lol. And spent 100’s of hours in the last few weeks trying to pick a solid platform that meets my needs.
Yesterday I got on free trials for circle & skool. I spent hours and hours talking to my good friend about the pros and cons. I wanted to join circle so bad because the UI/UX seems SOOO much better on Circle.
But skool had simplicty. I couldn’t make up my mind.
So here’s what I decided to do.
A live user test.
I went to my girlfriend.
Opened up a Circle community on the 1st tab.
Opened up a Skool community on the 2nd tab.
Asked her to use them.
I just sat back and watched.
Holy mother of hell.
She kept clicking on random things in Circle and kept getting confused in terms of how to navigate.
She didn’t know exactly where the course material was vs. community. vs. members.
I then watched her use Skool.
She knew EXACTLY where the community was, members, and the course.
Here are her exact words…
“I don’t know how to put it… But Skool just feels familiar.”
And in my head I was like
“Yes it does lol. Because it’s Facebook”.
I then asked my girlfriend to rate her experience on both platforms.
She said 6/10 on Circle.
She said 9/10 on Skool.
I then sat down and started building my course modules on Skool.
The experience was better than ANY course builders experience than I’ve ever had.
It’s fast. It’s simple AF. and it genuinely inspired me to build.
It was a similar experience i’ve had when I used beehiiv for emails. It blew Convertkit and everything else out of the water for me.
So… I think I’m going to be going with Skool.
I’m still in the 14 day trial. Haven’t started paying just yet. But I think very soon I will be.
Currently building my community / course on there.
One con though that I will mention with Skool… You also need to pay for a video platform to host all your video course material. That is annoying.
So I’ll also have to get loom membership.
But… With the speed / creativity boost that I get personally
And the simplicity & community engagement that it brings for my customers…
I think the tradeoff is worth it in the end.
With all the features mentioned above, it’s obvious why Skool is the number one platform for building online community platforms.
2. Facebook Groups
Best FREE Community Platform
Facebook groups is the most popular option for business owners when creating an online community.
With Facebook groups, business owners get access to features such as live videos, polls, and events to foster engagement and increase group activity.
You can also set privacy settings to control who can join and what content is visible to members, providing a sense of exclusivity and community.
Using this can lead to a more tight-knit and active community when compared to open forums or pages.
Pros of Facebook Groups:
- Existing Facebook users. There are already a lot of people on Facebook. This makes it easy for people to join your Facebook group and grow your online community.
- Easy to use. Most people are familiar with how Facebook works. This makes it easy for new people to join and engage with your community.
- Engagement. Facebook groups tend to get higher than average engagement. This is because Facebook notifies users of new group posts via email and through the Facebook app.
Cons of using Facebook groups:
- Lots of ads. Facebook has lots of ads and this can distract users in your community platform.
- Spam. People often join Facebook groups as a lead generation tactic to promote their own products and services. This can make it tiresome for some users. It also means you need more people to help you moderate your Facebook group as it grows.
- A Facebook account is required. Some people might prefer not to use Facebook. People can’t join your group unless they have a Facebook account.
- Privacy concerns. Facebook has faced criticism over privacy concerns in the past. You may be hesitant to use the platform for fear of data breaches or misuse of personal information.
- Less features. Facebook doesn’t give you as many features compared to other community platforms on this list.
Overall, Facebook groups can be an effective free tool for business owners to connect with their target audience, increase brand exposure, and drive growth.
If you’re looking to build a community platform and keep costs low, I’d recommend going with Facebook groups.
Good Runner Up
Thinkific is an online platform for creating and selling courses and building and managing online communities.
Some of Thinkific’s Key Features Are:
- Course creation: Thinkific provides tools to create and manage online courses, including video hosting, course content management, and quizzes.
- Student engagement: Thinkific provides features to engage and interact with students, such as discussions, community forums, and student profiles.
- Membership site builder: Thinkific offers a membership site builder, allowing educators to create and manage membership sites for their courses and communities.
- Marketing and sales tools: Thinkific provides a range of marketing and sales tools to help educators reach and enroll students, including integrations with popular payment gateways, email marketing, and affiliate management.
- Reporting and analytics: Thinkific offers analytics tools to help educators track student progress and engagement, and make data-driven decisions.
Thinkific is a comprehensive solution for anyone creating and managing online courses and communities.
Its combination of community building and course creation features makes it a unique and valuable tool for educators, trainers, and course creators.
Whether you’re looking to teach a single course or build a large community, Thinkific can help you reach and engage with your students.
Key features of Thinkific
Thinkific is great for creating and managing online courses and communities. However, it might not be the best option for you.
Here’s why Thinkific is in second place for this article:
- Competition: There are other platforms that offer more comprehensive or specialized features, making them a better fit for specific use cases. It is one of the reasons why Skool is such a standout platform.
- User preferences: You may have different requirements, such as ease of use, cost, or integrations, that make other platforms a better fit for your needs.
- Market niche: Thinkific is a relatively small community platform and doesn’t have as much recognition as other platforms.
It’s worth looking at what Thinkific can offer its customers, but there’s still something left to desire. Its limitations are evident when you look at how many things you can easily use and integrate on the same platform as Skool.
Largest online community platform
Reddit is a massive online community platform where users can post and discuss content on various topics.
With Reddit, you can create a community specifically for your business or project.
This is a “subreddit”.
The site’s size and reach have also made it a valuable marketing tool for businesses and organizations.
Pros of using Reddit:
- Large platform with millions of active users
- A powerful voting system helps the best content get seen the most. In other community platforms, helpful content gets lost over time.
Cons of using Reddit:
- Has ads. This can distract users from engaging in your community.
- Algorithm-based sorting. Reddit’s algorithms determine the visibility and ranking of posts, which can lead to biases and limitations on the content.
- Limited customization options. Reddit’s layout and features can be limiting for communities looking to tailor their platform to their specific needs.
- Lack of privacy. Reddit is a public platform, which means that community members’ information and posts are accessible to anyone who visits the site.
While Reddit has many notable features, there are also some challenges to consider when hosting an online community on this platform.
These downsides may impact the user experience, or limit the functionality or reach of the community. It’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks before building an online community on this platform.
Best For Business Real-Time Collaboration
Slack is a workplace collaboration tool and instant messaging platform that allows team members to communicate in real-time.
It offers a range of features for hosting online communities. This includes direct messaging, group chat rooms, file sharing, and integration with other business tools.
Slack was originally developed to help teams improve communication and collaboration, but its user-friendly interface and range of features have made it a popular choice for hosting online business communities as well.
Pros of using Slack:
- Perfect for business owners. Business owners likely already use Slack for their teams. So having another Slack group for your community makes it easy for people.
- User-friendly design. Slack makes it incredibly easy to talk to people in your online community. People can reply back directly to certain threads. And they can share images, videos, gifs and more.
- Mobile app. Slack works well in your web browser and in their native app for mobile phones. This makes your online community accessible to people everywhere.
Cons of using Slack:
- Slack has limited moderation tools, making it difficult for community managers to effectively manage and moderate large communities.
- Slack is designed for workplace collaboration and has a business-oriented pricing model, with limited free plans and charges for larger teams. This can make it an expensive option for individuals and small communities that do not require all the features of a workplace collaboration tool.
- Although Slack can be a useful tool for hosting smaller, more focused communities, it may not be the best choice for larger, more diverse communities that require more robust moderation tools and multimedia capabilities.
Cheaper alternative to Slack
Discord is a communication platform for community discussions in real time.
With Discord, you can host an online community similar to the same way you would host a community on Slack.
It offers voice and text chat, file sharing, and server customization.
It’s user-friendly, allowing for easy navigation and organization of channels within a server. Additionally, Discord provides a robust API that enables developers to build and integrate various applications and bots with the platform.
This API further enhances the functionality and efficiency of Discord, making it a versatile tool for a wide range of use cases.
Discord is a popular choice for hosting online communities because of its versatility, ease of use, low cost and security features.
Pros of Discord:
- Cheaper alternative to Slack
- Easy to use
- Great for more casual business communities
Cons of Discord:
- Some Discord users have reported it’s not as professional as other community platforms. Although this could also depend on how the Discord community is managed.
Overall, Discord is a solid choice for a business community platform if your goal is to have fast real-time conversations with people.
When it comes to choosing the best platform for hosting your online community, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. However, Skool sets itself apart with its all-encompassing features and functionalities. It has everything you need – as a business owner – to build and manage a thriving online community.
FAQs about community platforms
What is a community platform?
Online communities are digital spaces where people can get together, exchange ideas, and collaborate with each other. The most common places to find these platforms are on websites, but you can also find them on applications.
Community platforms can be utilized in a number of different ways – anything from social networking to discussion forums, online education, or even customer support.
Online communities for businesses are often used to help people reach a common goal. For example, some online communities are designed to help business owners with marketing their business, sales, lead generation, or social media.
Why Are Community Platforms Important?
Community platforms are important to motivate and help people reach a common goal. For example, many people have reported that being a part of a business community has helped them grow their businesses.
Getting help from other business owners in an active community who have gone through similar problems as you can be a great support for business owners.
In a nutshell, utilizing community platforms can be effective for establishing a strong online community, nurturing a supportive network, and amplifying the voices and initiatives that matter.
What to look for in the best community platform?
When looking for the best community platform, here are some key features and considerations to keep in mind:
- Ease of use: The platform should be easy to navigate and understand, with a user-friendly interface.
- Engagement: The best business online community platform should focus on getting users to engage and participate in the community. This can be done with gamification, email notifications, and mobile app notifications.
- Customization options: The platform should offer a range of customization options to allow you to tailor the look and feel of the community to match your brand or organization.
- Scalability: The platform should be able to handle a growing number of users and handle high traffic.
- Security: The platform should provide robust security features like a safe SSL connection, location proxies, and a strong password generator to protect the privacy and personal information of users.
- Moderation tools: The platform should provide tools for managing and moderating content, such as the ability to flag or remove inappropriate content.
- Analytics: The platform should provide analytics and metrics to track engagement and growth of the community.
- Integration: The platform should integrate with other tools and platforms, such as social media, to help you reach more potential users.
- Support: The platform should have a dedicated customer support team available to help you with any issues or questions.
- Mobile Optimization: The platform should be optimized to support mobile devices as a lot of people access the internet via mobile.
- Accessibility: The platform should be accessible to people with disabilities and meet accessibility standards.
Ultimately, the best community platform for your organization will depend on your specific needs and goals. It’s important to thoroughly research and test different platforms to find one that is the best fit for you.
How does video boost online community engagement?
Video can be a powerful tool for boosting engagement in an online community for several reasons:
- Video content is more engaging: Videos are more engaging than text or images because they can convey emotion and personality, and they can be more easily consumed in a shorter amount of time.
- Video is more shareable: Videos are more shareable than text or images because they are more likely to be shared on social media platforms, and they can be embedded in other websites and blogs.
- Video is great for storytelling: Videos are a great way to tell stories and convey information in a more compelling and memorable way.
- Video is versatile: Videos can be used for a wide range of purposes, such as product demos, tutorials, Q&A sessions, interviews, and more.
- Video is great for building trust and authority: Videos can be used to showcase the expertise, personality and values of the community or the company, helping to build trust and authority with the audience.
- Live video: Live video is a great way to interact with the community members in real-time, create a sense of exclusivity, and increase the sense of community.
- Video can be used to create a sense of community: Videos can be used to create a sense of community by highlighting the people, stories, and experiences that are unique to the community.
Overall, video is a powerful tool for boosting engagement in an online community because it is more engaging, shareable, versatile, and interactive than other forms of content.
Ashley Davis (or ‘Ash’ for short) is the CEO & Founder of Skyline Social. For over 15 years, he has been helping business owners with lead generation. Ash specializes in helping businesses get high-quality leads, appointments and clients each month in an automated, scalable and profitable way. You can watch his free Masterclass training to learn more.