13 Best Online Community Platforms

Sarah Wisbey

Sarah Wisbey

Content Contributor, HeySummit

Are you a brand that wants to leverage community as part of your marketing strategy? Or are you an individual who wants to connect with like-minded people online? 

Whatever your purpose for building an online community, you can’t do it without a community platform. But how do you decide the best community platform for your needs?

In this post, we’ll discuss how to choose the best community platform for you, along with the pros and cons of the best community platforms on the internet. 

Ready to get into it?

What are online community platforms? 

An online community platform is an online space where people can connect with others interested in the same things. Whether for professional, personal, or leisure reasons, these platforms offer a space for peer discussion and collaboration. 

Why is choosing a community platform important? 

Choosing a community platform is important because it will significantly affect the quality of interactions between your community members.

You want to use your online community to foster connection and engagement—choosing a platform that doesn’t enable this well could be the make or break of your online community.

The platform you choose needs to make it easy for members to interact, making community management easier and more likely for your users to stay engaged with your purpose.

How to choose the right community platform: 5 tips

How to choose the right community platform: 5 tips

When finding the right platform for your community, you’ll want to consider a few criteria. 

Let’s examine the most important. 

1. User experience

  • Ease of use: How easy is participating using your chosen platform? Do users have to create an account? Do they have to pay to sign up? How easy is it to get started? If there are clear barriers to entry, it will put off potential community members from the start.

  • Customization options: Can you easily customize the platform's layout to fit your needs? Is there an option to add your branding and features that are exclusive to your community?

2. Features and functionality

  • Communication tools: How will community members communicate? How time-consuming is it for them? Can they access the community from an app or phone, or must it be done via desktop?

  • Content management: How is the content on the platform organized? Is it easy for community members to find what they’re looking for?

  • Integration capabilities: Can you integrate the platform with your existing CRM and tech stack? Does the platform seamlessly connect with your website?

3. Security and privacy

  • Data protection measures: You don’t want members of your community to risk their online security when they join your platform. What security features does the platform offer to keep your member data safe?

  • User privacy controls: Do your community members have control over their own privacy on the platform? Who can contact them on the platform? Can they have a private profile and accept or decline invitations or personal messages? 

4. Support and resources

  • Availability of customer support: If you aren’t going to actively manage your community yourself, how do users get support? Is there easy access to troubleshooting on the platform?

  • Community resources and tutorials: One of the key pillars of an online community is information sharing. How are resources shared via the platform you choose? Is it easy for users to access the information they need quickly? 

5. Cost and accessibility

  • Pricing models: Define your budget for your community software. Free options may seem appealing, but they often have community member limits and limitations on accessible features.

  • Accessibility considerations: Is the platform you choose available globally? Or are there regional restrictions? What about people with visual impairments or other disabilities, does the platform offer them accessibility?   

Different types of online community platforms

What type of online community do you host or want to host? 

Selecting the format of your community is an important consideration when choosing the right platform for your needs, as different platforms are better suited to specific types of online communities.

For example, forum-based platforms are best for peer-to-peer discussions and information sharing. They are an effective community platform for people who want to be part of a large online community, ask questions, and discuss specific topics publicly. 

If you’re a brand or influencer, you may want to consider an event-focused community platform to host and engage your people while keeping things more exclusive than a public forum. 

Knowledge-sharing or educational-based community platforms focus solely on sharing resources and information. These platforms are best for educators who want to build a community around their online courses. 

When none of the above options suit your needs, you may decide to build your own community website or host your community on social media platforms. 

Remember that when you use a social media platform instead of a specific community platform, you don’t own the information about your members. The platform could shut down at any moment or withhold information; thus building a self-sufficient community platform is more secure. 

13 Top online community platforms 

Let's look at the best online community platforms to use right now.

We’ve categorized them by type, so finding the platform that fits your needs is easier. 

Forum-based community platforms

1. Reddit

What is Reddit?

With over 73 million daily users, Reddit is the most well-known community platform on the internet.  

Founded as a centralized community platform, the website is now categorized around different interests. 

Pros and cons

Anyone can join a discussion and answer questions, and you can find a subreddit about absolutely any topic imaginable on the platform. 

Here’s an overview of the top 20 communities on Reddit: 

1. Reddit

To create your own community on Reddit, you need to be an active member on the platform and have a certain number of “karma” points. You receive these by interacting with other Reddit users and receiving upvotes for what you share. 

Key Features 

  • Option to create private forums

  • Private messaging features

  • Custom feeds 

  • Community muting 

Pricing 

Reddit is free for users, but you can sign up for a premium subscription for ad-free browsing and access to the Reddit lounge.  

2. Quora 

2. Quora 

What is Quora? 

A question-and-answer-based forum, Quora is a community platform where people share knowledge on thousands of topics.

Questions and answers get upvoted so that the most useful, reliable information reaches the top. 

Pros and cons

You can’t create private accounts on Quora, which makes it challenging to host an exclusive community using this platform. Once questions are public, they become the property of the wider Quora community. 

It’s a great place to build authority, especially if you have knowledge of a niche topic. 

Quora is a good platform to check if you want to access crowd-sourced information on a wide variety of topics or find out what your customers are discussing. 

Key features

  • Upvoting and downvoting of answers

  • Categorization and organization of topics to make it easy to find what you’re looking for 

  • Quora spaces (private forums for a selected number of experts)

  • Can promote your business in your answers or Quora answers

Pricing

Free

Discussion-based community platforms 

If you want a discussion-based community with invite-only options less public than Reddit or Quora, try one of these other community platforms. 

3. Discord 

3. Discord 

What is Discord? 

Started as a way for friends in the gaming community to communicate while playing online games, Discord is a text, video, and audio-based app. 

The app now hosts discussions amongst private communities. 

While small communities of friends or co-workers mainly use the app, there are larger, open communities you can join that center around specific topics like games. 

Pros and cons

Members of invite-only communities can discuss whatever they like, and the community owner can moderate discussions if necessary. 

It’s easy to share files, announcements, and information via your Discord “server” and you can host dozens of members on a Discord channel. 

You need to know the people you want to join the community in order to send them an invite. 

Key features

  • Broadcast messaging 

  • Private community hosting

  • Collaboration tools

  • Commenting and notes

  • Discussion forums

  • File sharing 

  • Group messaging 

  • Real-time notifications 

  • Mobile access 

  • Reminders

  • Video conferencing 

Pricing

Discord servers are free for anyone with a Discord account to set up. 

There is a free plan for users to join but upgrading to Nitro for $9.99 a month allows for larger file-sharing capabilities and better-quality streams. 

4. Slack 

4. Slack 

What is Slack? 

While companies primarily use it for internal communication, Slack can also be a great place to manage online communities. It’s especially useful for business communities or communities built around a work purpose. 

It’s an app that you download to your phone or desktop. 

Pros and cons

It’s easy to use, and anyone can join a Slack space if they have an invite. Its free account option means there’s a low barrier to entry. 

Conversations can be organized into separate channels and threads, making it easy to follow specific conversations. The platform has a powerful search capability and integrates with tools such as Zoom, Google Drive, and Trello.

Reactions, mentions, and reminder features make community engagement easy to manage. 

Limited community management and moderation features make it difficult to manage a community of thousands and enforce community guidelines. 

Key features

  • Instant, real-time messaging 

  • Public channels 

  • Private channels

  • Direct messaging 

  • File sharing 

  • Integrations with third-party apps and 

  • Slack bots and automation options 

  • Voice and video calls

  • Analytics and reporting 

Pricing

Free to use for all basic features. 

You can upgrade to paid plans if you want to host a large community or need more than the basic integrations. 

5. Discourse

5. Discourse

What is Discourse? 

Discourse is a fully open-source community platform. 

It is an all-in-one community management software platform that provides hosting, design, and development tools to build your own community-driven site. 

Pros and cons

A user-friendly interface and custom themes make Discourse very personalized to your community group. 

The platform's open-source aspect means you have flexibility over the hosting community environment and complete control over your community's appearance.  

Robust features such as threaded discussions and advanced moderation tools make it easy to facilitate community engagement and keep the community space safe. 

Setting up and maintaining a Discourse community can be technologically challenging and resource-intensive. 

It’s not the easiest community platform for users to set up. It relies heavily on email integration and notifications and doesn’t support private messages between members. 

Key features

  • Real-time chat features 

  • Channels to organize messaging by topic

  • Ai integrations and moderation features

  • Custom sidebar so users can manage preferences 

  • Available as an online community app 

  • Trust system so community members can become more involved over time 

  • Spam blocking 

  • Social login 

  • Topic summaries 

  • Admin dashboard 

Pricing

  • $50/ month for 100 members 

  • $100/month for unlimited members, 5 staff, and 100k monthly pageviews, custom domain, and themes

  • $300/ month for unlimited members, 15 staff, 500k monthly page views, priority support, migration services 

  • An enterprise plan is also available 

Online event-based communities

If creating an online community by running events is your strategy, you’ll want to check out the best online community platform for event hosting. 

6. HeySummit

What is HeySummit? 

HeySummit is more than an event management platform; it gives you the tools and resources to map out your marketing strategy, grow your online community, and turn your events into a profitable venture.

Your customers get the opportunity to interact directly with your brand, and you get to interact directly with them. 

Leveraging the power of experience is the best way to build a dedicated community around business. 


6. HeySummit

Pros and cons

HeySummit’s affordable tech toolkit streamlines your event marketing strategy. Spend less time on logistics and more on what’s important: building your brand.

A wide choice of video, marketing, CRM, and marketing integrations allows simple, effective event management from a single dashboard. Analytics and reporting tools give you a clear overview of community engagement.  

You can host and monetize events of all sizes, from a one-off webinar to a multi-day international conference. You can use HeySummit for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events.

If you’re looking for advanced customization options or a platform explicitly focused on in-person events, then HeySummit may not be for you.

Key features

  • Tool integrations with your favorite platforms, including Zoom, YouTube, Vimeo, and more

  • Easy to customize landing pages

  • Custom event language settings so you can appeal to a global audience

  • Easy speaker management dashboard

  • A built-in speaker network so you can find experts to talk at your events

  • Customizable email marketing flows and broadcasts for potential customers and registered attendees

  • Affiliate support and management

  • Streamlined ticketing

  • Upsell and checkout

  • Offers and giveaways

  • Sponsor booths

  • Advanced analytics and reporting tools so you can understand how your event performed

Pricing

  • Starter: $49/ month includes event landing page builder, theme editor, speaker dashboard, reporting & analytics

  • Growth: $99/ month includes the above + integrated affiliate platform, custom domain, CRM & email integrations, live chat support

  • Success: $349/ month includes the above + in-person & hybrid events, checkout playbooks, advanced ticketing, white-labeling 

  • Enterprise plans available on request

Knowledge sharing, collaborative communities

7. Substack

7. Substack

What is Substack? 

Substack is a great community platform for writers, journalists, and creators. It allows them to own their work and build a community of dedicated subscribers. 

You can use Substack to build an email list and create a subscription-based audience. You can also publish your content for free on the platform to help gain more visibility.  

Pros and cons

Substack is easy to use and requires minimal setup. It offers writers a great opportunity to monetize their community as they can earn direct revenue from subscribers and set their own subscription rates. 

When you use Substack to build a community around your creative work, you depend on the features and policies it provides. Options for customization are limited, and competition levels are incredibly high—you need to stand out from the crowd if you want to monetize. 

Key features

  • Freemium model 

  • Paid subscriptions that charge readers to access content

  • Email list building features help writers import and export subscriber data

  • Engagement tools allow comments and discussion threads on writers' posts

  • Analytics and insights tools help keep track of community metrics

  • Templates and themes allow writers to customize their newsletters and articles

Pricing

  • For writers: 10% fee for every subscriber and a payment processing fee

  • For readers: the writer sets their subscription fee

8. Mighty Networks

8. Mighty Networks

What is Might Networks?

Used by entrepreneurs, online course creators, organizations, and more, Mighty Networks provides the software to create online communities. 

You can use the platform to host paid memberships, your online course, challenges, events, and more. 

Members can create their own profiles on the platform, and the community host can create dedicated spaces and groups within the community for different topics, projects, or member segments. 

Pros and cons

The comprehensive tool provides community building, content creation, and monetization features all in one, taking the hassle out of juggling various tools. It’s user-friendly and provides resources and customer support. 

Strong interactive tools and engagement features, such as polls, Q&As, and direct messaging, help the community interact with each other. 

It’s an expensive platform, especially for small creators or startups with pricing based on the number of users. 

There are design limitations, and the available templates may not be suitable for specific needs. Limited integrations with other tools and platforms also mean a heavy dependency on Mighty Networks and their terms and policies.  

Migrating your community to another platform in the future may be challenging.  

Key features

  • Activity feed

  • Chat

  • Course or resource library 

  • Events 

  • Discovery 

  • Member list 

  • Highlighted hashtags

  • Monetization tools

  • Icebreakers, polls, Q&As

  • Livestream options

  • Integrations with Zoom, Zapier, WordPress, Mailchimp, Hubspot and more

Pricing

  • Courses $99/ month 

  • Business $179/ month 

  • Path-to-pro $360/ month

9. Circle

9. Circle

What is Circle?

Another all-in-one community platform aimed at creators, Circle is a tool for hosting your content, courses, and community in one place. 

Whether you’re a brand, startup, course creator, club owner, or coach, you can use Circle to engage, connect, and monetize your online community.  

Pros and cons

Overall, reviewers positively rate this platform to host their online communities. 

Circle makes it easy for you to create spaces to help your community members share their ideas, get feedback, and host discussions.

You can host private spaces for certain members and use your own branding and content to make the platform feel unique to you. It’s a great option if you’re a creator looking to monetize your community and sell some of your content. 

Circle's other pro is how easily it scales. You can use the platform to host a five-person group coaching call or a 500-person live broadcast. 

However, the platform doesn’t offer a robust analytics dashboard or access to user profiles in the backend. Using all the available features can get expensive quickly.  

Key features

  • Organized discussions

  • Private courses

  • Member Directory

  • Customized branding 

  • Event spaces 

  • Paid memberships 

  • Recurring subscriptions

  • Thousands of integrations

  • Bulk actions

  • Roles and permissions 

Pricing

  • Professional: $99/month 

  • Business: $219/ month 

  • Enterprise: $399/ month

Online learning community platforms

10. Thinkific 

10. Thinkific 

What is Thinkific? 

Thinkific is a platform designed specifically for those who want to share their expertise as part of a course or digital download.

It’s for those with a vast knowledge base who want to build a vibrant community around their educational content.  

Pros and cons

The intuitive platform makes it easy to quickly deliver an online course and launch it to your community. 

However, this is not a platform solely dedicated to building community; it’s a content platform with community features built around it. So, other online community platforms would be a better choice if you’re looking to host your existing community and not create a new one. 

Key features

  • Dedicated spaces to host community discussions 

  • Engagement features such as Q&As, office hours, live classes and coaching

  • App compatibility 

  • Drag and drop interface to create audio lessons, PDFs, and presentations

  • Upload video content and other files to create your courses

  • Offer member-only content 

  • Fully integrated e-commerce features

Pricing

  • Basic: $48/ month: includes unlimited courses, 1 community, your own domain, 5 spaces per community, 5 digital downloads, 1 admin, unlimited students email and live chat support, 

  • Start: $97/ month: same as above with 10 spaces per community, membership and payment plans, live lessons, assignments, advanced website code editing, 

  • Grow: $195/ month: same as above with 3 communities, 20 spaces per community, analytics, bulk enrollments and student emailer, API access 

Branded communities

11. Uscreen

11. Uscreen

What is Uscreen?

This community platform focuses on video creators who want to turn their fans into paying customers. 

Uscreen is a membership-based platform that offers fans a subscription model to pay for their favorite creators' content without ads. 

The platform describes itself as the place where “content and community seamlessly unite.” 

Pros and cons

The Uscreen algorithm helps you retain and grow your audience with the content that engages them most. It offers white-label apps and websites so you can keep things personal and engage your community members with you and each other. 

Easy livestream features make it much easier to connect with your community than other community platforms. Public and private channels within your community allow members to interact with each other once they’ve joined. 

Key features

  • 1:1 support from the Uscreen team

  • Flexible monetization tools 

  • Customizable website and apps

  • Marketing and analytics tools 

  • Easy migration from other platforms

  • User-generated videos and community challenges

  • Live stream capabilities

Pricing

  • Growth $199/ month: Video catalog, 1-hour live stream, 100 hours video storage, member analytics, accept payments 

  • Pro $599/ month: 10 hours of live stream, 150 hours of video storage, content migration, shoppable videos, Zapier integrations 

  • Plus custom pricing: full-feature white label mobile apps, TV live streaming apps, custom branding, API access

12. MemberDev

12. MemberDev

What is MemberDev? 

MemberDev builds custom membership websites for coaches, educators, and thought leaders to scale their online communities. 

From group coaching cohorts to education platforms, mastermind communities, advanced content libraries, and custom course experiences, MemberDev can build the community platform you need. 

Pros and cons

As with most community platforms, MemberDev comes pre-built with all the essential features you need to host and manage your community.

You can manage member profiles and directories, forums and messaging, groups, and social feeds all in one place, making it super convenient to interact with your community members. 

Users rate the platform’s ease of use and claim the platform has helped them boost the visibility of their businesses. 

The downside of this community platform is that it’s expensive and isn’t recommended for startups or first-time business owners. It’s better for businesses with a proven revenue and customer base.  

Key features

  • Sales funnels 

  • Flexible checkout

  • Dynamic subscriptions 

  • Upsells and Add-ons

  • Member CRM and profiles 

  • Member forums 

  • Member dashboards 

  • Advanced access 

  • Content library 

  • Analytics

  • Email integrations

Pricing

  • Custom pricing ranges from $5k to $15k and is feature-based or for a custom-build solution. 

13. Disciple 

13. Disciple 

What is Disciple? 

Disciple offers community building software for all businesses, whatever the size. 

Aimed at creators, the platform offers a range of features to facilitate engagement, content sharing, and monetization via your own app. 

Pros and cons

Disciple stands out from all the online community engagement platforms because it combines community building, content creation, and monetization tools in one platform, reducing the need for multiple services.

Advanced personalization makes it easy to make the community feel like your own and align it with your brand identity. 

The interactive tools within your app provide the opportunity to foster high levels of engagement and interaction with other community members. 

The downside of Disciple is that it is expensive and takes some time to set up your app initially. 

The abundance of features can be overwhelming, and if you’re only starting out with community building, it may be a little too advanced. 

Integration restrictions also make it hard to use the software with other tools you rely on.

Key features

  • Create community building apps with no code!

  • Spaces and groups 

  • Member profiles 

  • Posts and articles 

  • Multimedia support 

  • Discussion forums

  • Direct messaging 

  • Live streaming 

  • Subscription models for access to premium content 

  • Course sales 

  • Customization and branding to make your community look like yours 

Pricing

  • Grow: $583/ month

  • Pro: $932 / month

  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

Comparison of the best community platforms

Here’s a summary of all the community platforms discussed above: 

Platform

Pros

Cons

Target Audience

Reddit

  • Wide range of topics and communities.

  • Free to use. 

  • Custom feeds and private messaging.

  • Requires "karma" points to create a community.

  • Limited moderation tools.

  • Public and less controlled environment.

General public, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

Quora

  • Builds authority in niche topics.

  • Good for accessing crowd-sourced information

  • Free to use.

  • No private accounts.

  • Questions become community property.

  • Difficult to host exclusive communities.

Knowledge seekers, professionals, and experts.

Discord

  • Invite-only communities.

  • Easy file sharing and announcements.

  • Free to set up.

  • Must know members to invite.

  • Limited to smaller, private communities.

  • Nitro upgrade needed for better features.

Gamers, small private groups, and niche communities.

Slack

  • Easy to use with a low barrier to entry.

  • Organized conversations with powerful search features.

  • Integrates with many third-party apps.

  • Limited community management features.

  • Difficult to manage large communities.

  • The free plan has limitations.

Business communities, teams, and professionals.

Discourse

  • User-friendly interface and custom themes.

  • Open-source and flexible.

  • Advanced moderation tools.

  • Technologically challenging to set up.

  • Relies heavily on email.

  • No private messaging between members.

Tech-savvy users, developers, and open-source enthusiasts.

HeySummit

  • Streamlines event marketing strategy.

  • Wide choice of integrations.

  • Can host and monetize community events of all sizes.

  • Very affordable.

  • Limited advanced customization options.

  • Not focused on in-person events.

Event organizers, marketers, and businesses.

Substack

  • Easy to use with minimal setup.

  • Great for monetizing through subscriptions & creator sets the price.

  • Strong engagement tools.

  • Dependence on Substack's features and policies.

  • Limited customization options.

  • High competition among creators.

Writers, journalists, and content creators.

Mighty Networks

  • Comprehensive tool with strong engagement features.

  • User-friendly with good support.

  • Offers monetization tools.

  • Expensive for small creators.

  • Design limitations.

  • Heavy dependency on the platform and its rules.

Entrepreneurs, online course creators, and organizations.

Circle

  • Scalable for small to large communities.

  • Private spaces and customizable branding.

  • Good for monetizing communities.

  • Expensive if using all features.

  • Limited analytics dashboard.

  • No backend user profile access.

Brands, startups, course creators, and coaches.

Thinkific

  •  Easy to deliver and sell online courses.

  •  Fully integrated e-commerce features.

  •  Engagement features like Q&As and live classes.

  • Not solely dedicated to community building.

  • Better for creating new communities, not hosting existing ones.

  • Limited community-specific tools.

Educators, course creators, and trainers.

Uscreen

  • The algorithm helps retain and grow your audience.

  • White-label apps and websites. 

  • Easy live stream features.

  • High monthly costs.

  • Limited advanced customization.

  • Dependency on Uscreen's tools and policies.

Video creators, influencers, and content marketers.

MemberDev

  • Pre-built essential community features.

  • Easy to manage member profiles and directories.

  • Boosts business visibility.

  • Expensive, and not suitable for startups.

  • Custom solutions required for specific needs.

  • Limited to businesses with proven revenue.

Coaches, educators, and thought leaders.

Disciple

  • Combines community building, content creation, and monetization.

  • High level of customization and branding.

  • Strong engagement and interactive tools.

  • Expensive and complex setup.

  • Overwhelming for beginners.

  • Integration restrictions.

Businesses, creators, and organizations.

Using social media platforms to manage your online community

Using social media platforms to manage your online community

While using Facebook groups, Instagram channels, or LinkedIn groups to manage your community may be tempting, remember there are limitations.

These platforms are free to use; however, this means you will never own the data, and they could change their terms and conditions at any moment. Meta likes to make random changes on a whim!

Here are some of the significant downsides of using a LinkedIn group, Instagram broadcast channel, or Facebook group to manage your community:

  • Minimal options for customizing the look and feel of your community make it difficult to align the group's appearance with your brand's identity.

  • Inability to offer a unique user experience. 

  • Platform dependency. 

  • Lack of data ownership. 

  • Lack of privacy and security. 

  • Limited community moderation tools to manage large, active communities. 

  • Less comprehensive analytics tools than those offered by dedicated online community management software.

  • Algorithm influence makes it hard for your members to see new posts and decreased engagement. 

  • Limited monetization options.

  • There may be distractions and noise from other pages and groups, and members may not engage as much as with dedicated community platforms.

  • No long-form content support. 

Selecting your community platform

Now that you know the pros and cons of the best online community platforms, it’s time to decide which suits your needs.

Use these guidelines to help make the decision! 

  • Assess your needs

    • What are your community goals?

    • Who is your target audience?

    • What are the required features you need from your online community platform? 

    • What don’t you need?

  • Evaluate the options

    • Can you get a demo and trial period?

    • Check user reviews and testimonials.

  • Final decision

    • Weigh up the pros and cons of each platform. 

    • Consider your budget. 

Final thoughts

Selecting a community platform that best serves your needs will set your online community up for success. 

Once you’ve evaluated your options using the pros and cons list of the best community platforms out there, it should be easy to settle on the best for you. 

If you want to build a thriving community based on online events, you need an all-in-one event platform.  

HeySummit gives you all the tools you need to plan, market, and host events for your community. 

Check out how easy community building can be with a HeySummit free trial.

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