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11 best online community platforms for creators

Discover how some of the best online community platforms stack up and what features to look for as a creator.

TL;DR

See how popular online community platforms stack up

Online communities are an amazing way to serve your customers, connect with your audience, and earn recurring income. Building your community on the right platform gives you a strong foundation, no matter where your creator journey takes you.

Keep reading to see how these 11 popular platforms compare:

  • Podia
  • Facebook groups
  • Patreon
  • Circle
  • Discord
  • Discourse
  • Tribe
  • BuddyBoss
  • Mighty Networks
  • Higher Logic
  • Slack

Let’s find the perfect tool to make your online community shine.

A few years ago, I went to a friend’s dinner party. I didn’t know the other guests, but when someone struck up a conversation about house plants, we all talked for hours.

Thanks to our shared interest in succulents and monsteras, I learned fascinating plant tips and walked away feeling inspired.

When people connect over common interests or goals, magic happens.

As a creator, you have the opportunity to curate this experience for your followers, fans, and customers with an online community.

Online communities bring people together. They allow you to spend time with your target audience, serve your customers, and network with like-minded individuals. Communities can also generate recurring income, freeing you up to make even more awesome content.

But choosing the right platform for your online community can be overwhelming. No one wants to spend hours schlepping through sales pages, so we’ll save you some time.

This article breaks down essential elements to look for and some of the best online community platforms for creators. Let’s dive in.

Features to look for when choosing an online community platform

Before launching our online community tool at Podia, we surveyed over 600 creators to learn what features mattered most to our audience.

Based on their feedback, we discovered that effective online community platforms should include the following elements:

The platform houses all your work as a creator: Ideally, you should be able to run your online community, sell digital products, build your website, and offer services all in one place. That way, your customers don’t have to log into ten different platforms to enjoy your content.

Members can interact with each other and the creator: Community is all about engaging interactions, so your platform should make it easy for people to chat with you and other members.

64% of consumers want brands to connect with them , and your online community can be a great place to do that.

Conversations are stored and searchable: There’s nothing worse than answering the same question over and over again. Make your community more efficient and informative with search features so conversations don’t get lost to time.

Moderation tools: The best communities are safe and enjoyable for everyone. Moderation tools make that possible. Being able to block harmful users and remove content that violates your policies keeps your community safe.

Creators can charge for access and offer different tiers: Your platform should make it easy to offer paid plans as well as free community memberships. Having options means you won’t have to migrate as your business evolves.

Price: The platform you use should come at a price that works for your business. Keep an eye out for transaction fees since these can eat away at your earnings as your community grows.

While there are free community tools available, they often have limited functionality. When calculating the price, consider the cost of additional third-party tools you’ll need to make the platform work the way you want.

With these features in mind, let’s look at some of the top online community platforms for creators and small business owners.

Pricing is accurate at the time of publication but is subject to change.

11 best online community platforms for creators

#1 Podia

Podia is an all-in-one platform where you can create free and paid communities in the same place where you run the rest of your business.

What are the features of Podia’s community tool? Having everything under one roof creates a great user experience for your customers because they won’t have to log into dozens of different platforms. With a single sign-on, your audience has everything they need.

And there are no algorithms or distractions to contend with.

In your Podia community, you can organize content by topic, share announcements, and upload rich media files like videos and images. Your members can interact through posts, comments, and likes, and there’s an area where you can upload resources like courses and products.

People can create member profiles with their social media links to build their professional networks. There are also search features and moderation tools to keep your space safe.

Podia communities can be free, paid, or both. You can create as many plans or subscription tiers as you want, giving you lots of flexibility as your business grows. It’s also easy to make private topics for cohorts, masterminds , premium members, or other subgroups.

In addition to running communities, Podia creators can sell digital downloads , online courses , coaching sessions , and webinars . There are built-in email marketing and affiliate marketing tools , and you can even create a website and SEO-friendly sales pages directly on the platform.

Here are popular use cases for your Podia community:

  • Create a customer community around your products and courses so students can interact with what you teach.

  • Build a brand community for increased visibility. Sharing knowledge with your target audience can get your name out there.

  • Offer customer support for your online business.

  • Facilitate connections between people who are interested in the same topics as you.

  • Get financial support from your biggest fans–perfect for artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and other creative entrepreneurs.

Podia community pros and cons

Pros:

  • Create free and paid communities with different pricing tiers

  • Set up private topics for running cohorts or mastermind groups

  • Easily add resources like courses and products into your community

  • Build a sales page and website to promote your community

  • Sell your digital products, webinars, and services all in one place

Cons:

  • If you enjoy coding and building custom tools for your business, turnkey Podia communities won’t be the best fit

How much does Podia cost? Plans start at $39/month. Learn more about our pricing and packages here .

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#2 Facebook groups

In our survey of 600 creators , 88% of those who ran their community on Facebook said they wanted to switch, citing reasons like limited visibility, too many distractions, and issues with platform ethics.

Still, Facebook is a common starting point for small business owners because it’s free, easy to set up, and requires little explanation to your followers.

What are the features of Facebook groups? With 2.91 billion monthly active users , it’s likely your ideal community members are already on Facebook.

New followers can discover your page through Facebook’s built-in search features, and you’ll get helpful tools like live-streaming, content moderation, and polls.

On the flip side, you’ll always be up against algorithms if you host your community on social media. Your posts might only be shown to a small percentage of your audience, and you can’t control who sees what.

Podia creators Jill and Jeffrey Dalton from The Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show moved their community away from social networks for visibility reasons, and they’re not alone.

With Facebook, you can’t create membership tiers or charge for community access, making monetization a challenge. You also can’t use a custom domain or create a white-label community solution if that’s what your business needs.

See how Facebook groups compare to Podia communities here.

Facebook group pros and cons

Pros:

  • You can have unlimited group members

  • Most people are already familiar with the platform

  • Access to live streams, rich media uploads, and moderation tools

Cons:

  • Your content might not be shown to all of your followers

  • The platform can be distracting, resulting in lower member engagement

  • It’s hard to monetize your community and create paid memberships

  • No custom domains or white labeling

  • Concerns with platform ethics and privacy

How much do Facebook groups cost? Facebook groups are free to use.

#3 Patreon

Patreon makes it easy for loyal fans to support your work financially. Artists, musicians, and creatives can set up monthly membership plans that followers can join. In exchange for their support, members get access to exclusive content.

What are the features of Patreon? While Patreon wasn’t designed as a membership community forum per se, participants can communicate within the platform by commenting on a creator’s posts and receiving notifications via email.

The downside is that you can’t make free tiers on Patreon, meaning you can only create a paid online community. If you wanted to start a free community for building customer engagement or as a complement to your online course, Patreon wouldn’t be the right fit.

While Patreon doesn’t charge any fees to join, they do keep a percentage of all income you earn on the platform as their fee. Depending on how large your community grows, this could make a big dent in your bottom line.

You can compare Patreon to Podia here .

Patreon pros and cons

Pros:

  • Create paid membership tiers to earn recurring income

  • Free to sign up

  • Communicate with members through email, messages, and posts

Cons:

  • No free community plans

  • Patreon charges transaction fees on all income you earn on the platform

How much does Patreon cost?

  • Lite: 5% of the monthly income you earn on Patreon

  • Pro: 8% of the monthly income you earn on Patreon

  • Premium: 12% of the monthly income you earn on Patreon

#4 Circle

Circle is streamlined software that’s great for creators who exclusively need community features.

What are the features of Circle? Circle makes it easy to offer open and private areas for organizing cohorts of students. Create different subscription tiers, build a member directory, chat privately or in group messaging rooms, and create events with their own event spaces.

Professional plan members can run live video streams, and Circle comes with thousands of integrations so you can connect it with tools you’re already using.

That said, Circle doesn’t have a built-in system for selling courses and premium products, so you’ll need to connect other tools to make that possible.

While Circle does have handy features for running your community, creators have to pay transaction fees on top of a flat monthly rate. There are also limits on storage capacity, which could be challenging if you want to share large video and image files.

See how Circle compares to Podia here.

Circle communities pros and cons

Pros:

  • Create free or paid community memberships with several subscription options

  • Run events and live streams on the platform

  • Private and public community spaces

Cons:

  • No built-in tools for selling digital downloads, courses, and coaching

  • Creators pay monthly fees and transaction fees

  • Storage limitations

How much does Circle cost?

  • Basic: $39/month

  • Professional: $79/month

  • Enterprise: $399/month

#5 Discord

Discord was originally created so groups of friends could stream video games and chat simultaneously, but you can also use it to build your online community.

What are the features of Discord? Discord allows you to make channels around different topics, converse with members, and run group audio and video calls. You can create private channels and even grant custom permissions for members.

While the basic Discord software is free to use, there’s no direct way to charge for access to a Discord group. Offering pricing plans is a challenge, and you can’t natively create a sales page or sell digital products.

You may need to connect third-party tools to get this functionality. Discord is good for chatting, but it’s best for creators who don’t need content management tools, event management systems, or paid community tiers.

See how Discord compares to Podia here.

Discord pros and cons

Pros:

  • Basic chatroom tool is free to use

  • Group audio and video calls

  • Create channels for different topics and private spaces

Cons:

  • You can only create free communities since there isn’t a direct way to charge for access

  • No sales pages or storefronts to promote your community

  • No built-in tools for selling digital downloads, courses, and coaching

How much does Discord cost?

  • Free

  • Discord Nitro Classic: $49.99/year

  • Discord Nitro: $99.99/year

#6 Discourse

Discourse is a simple community chat platform that focuses on conversations.

What are the features of Discourse? With Discourse, you can set up private spaces, upload file attachments, create polls, and make invite-only communities. You can even install themes for different looks.

This discussion forum software notifies members when they’re mentioned in a post and provides owners with helpful moderation tools and analytics.

However, Discourse creators don’t have the native ability to sell digital downloads or products, so you’ll have to integrate with other tools. If you want to create paid communities or subscriptions, you’ll need to install additional plugins.

While the basic Discourse software is open-source and free on Github, setting it up in a self-hosted environment can get technical quickly. Their paid plans handle the techie details for you.

You can compare Discourse to Podia here .

Discourse pros and cons

Pros:

  • Create public and private spaces for members

  • Members are notified when someone mentions them in a tag or reply

  • Design different looks in your community using themes

Cons:

  • No built-in ability to sell digital products

  • You’ll need integrations if you want to create a paid community

  • Best for creators who are tech-savvy

How much does Discourse cost?

  • Free plus the costs of self-hosting

  • Standard: $100/month

  • Business: $300/month

  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

#7 Tribe.so

Tribe is a customizable community platform used by businesses and brands alike.

What are the features of Tribe? Creators on Tribe can set up unlimited spaces, tag posts based on categories and interests, and build public or private communities. There are also community management and moderation tools available.

While Tribe does come with some helpful community features, a downside is that there’s no built-in method for creating paid membership plans. If you want to make your community fully or partially paid, you have to use third-party integrations.

The same is true for selling digital products, so you’ll need to connect additional tools if this is part of your product suite.

Tribe pros and cons

Pros:

  • Post tagging for easy organization

  • Public and private communities

  • Unlimited spaces

  • Theme customization for the layout, sidebar, and header

Cons:

  • Need to use integrations to create paid membership communities

  • No built-in way to sell digital downloads or products

How much does Tribe cost?

  • Basic: Free up to 100 members

  • Plus: $59/month

  • Premium: $239/month

  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

#8 BuddyBoss

BuddyBoss is a WordPress plugin that lets you build an online community on your own website.

What are the features of BuddyBoss? With BuddyBoss, you can create an activity feed, build a member directory, and set up distinct groups and forums.

Creators can add blog functionality, charge for community access, and sell digital products through additional integrations. Essentially, BuddyBoss allows you to build an entire WordPress website for your community.

While you’ll have lots of flexibility, building everything yourself can get complicated quickly. You might need to use additional paid tools to get all the elements you want, which could come with a steep learning curve.

You’ll also need to pay for website hosting and your domain name to house your community. This option is best for creators who are comfortable doing some WordPress DIY to build the system they want.

BuddyBoss pros and cons

Pros:

  • Lots of flexibility since you can build on WordPress and add features you want through integrations

  • Add an activity feed and member directory to your community

Cons:

  • Using lots of third-party tools can get expensive and challenging to manage as you grow

  • Additional fees like website hosting and domain name registration

How much does BuddyBoss cost?

  • One website: $228/year

  • Five websites: $288/year

  • Ten websites: $388/year

#9 Mighty Networks

On Mighty Networks, you can create free and paid communities with unlimited members.

What are the features of Mighty Networks? This online community software allows you to host events and run real-time live streams for two or four hours each month, depending on the plan.

Mighty Networks includes community sales pages, and you can sell courses on the Business plan and above. You can also connect your favorite tools using API integrations and Zapier on the Business plan and up.

That said, Mighty Networks has storage limitations on each plan. They also charge a 2–3% transaction fee on community and course purchases, which can get expensive, considering you also pay a flat rate to use the platform.

See how Mighty Networks compares to Podia here .

Mighty Networks pros and cons

Pros:

  • Free and paid community memberships

  • Unlimited members

  • Host events and run live streams

  • Create a sales page to promote your community

Cons:

  • Storage limitations

  • Transaction fees in addition to a flat monthly fee

How much does Mighty Networks cost?

  • Community plan: $39/month

  • Business plan: $119/month

#10 Higher Logic

Higher Logic is an online community forum tool designed for businesses.

What are the features of Higher Logic? With Higher Logic, you can store a library of information for your customers, build a self-service knowledge base, and keep members up to date with your projects.

You can also design custom branding, create Q&A threads, add gamification elements, and publish blog posts . The platform makes it easy to track community engagement metrics, run virtual events, and create automated email campaigns .

It’s unclear if you can offer paid plans or subscriptions on Higher Logic. If you want to charge for your community, you may need to connect a separate tool.

Also, Higher Logic seems geared toward medium and large companies, not solopreneurs , so there might be features that aren’t relevant for independent creators.

Higher Logic pros and cons

Pros:

  • Build a customer library

  • Create a knowledge base for your members

  • Run virtual events

  • Community automations and customized workflows

Cons:

  • Designed for larger associations and corporations as opposed to independent creators

  • Pricing information isn’t easily accessible

How much does Higher Logic cost? Higher Logic doesn’t list prices on their website. You’ll have to schedule a demonstration to learn about plans and packages.

#11 Slack

Slack was originally designed for teams that work remotely. Used by startups and large corporations alike, Slack mainly functions as workplace chat software but could be repurposed for online communities.

What are the features of Slack? With Slack, you can create public and private channels for each topic you discuss. You can also send messages to groups and individuals.

The software integrates with plenty of popular tools, and there’s a mobile app for iOS and Android.

The downside of using Slack for your online community is that you can’t directly charge for access or create membership tiers. It doesn’t come with a public-facing website or sales page, making community-building a challenge.

Also, you can only search through the 10,000 most recent messages on the free plan. That will go quickly if your community takes off, and over time, important information could get lost.

If you go beyond the free plan, you pay a monthly fee per user, which could be cost-prohibitive for larger communities.

See how Slack compares to Podia here .

Slack pros and cons

Pros:

  • Chat-based software with well-organized conversations

  • Public and private channels

  • Group and individual messaging

  • In-app audio and video calls

Cons:

  • The free plan limits how many messages you can search

  • No option to charge for access

  • No sales pages or websites to promote your community

  • On the paid plans, you pay per user

How much does Slack cost?

  • Free

  • Pro: $8/month per user

  • Business: $15/month per user

  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

Choosing the right online community platform for you and your business

Finding the right place to host your online community can take your program from good to exceptional. Ideally, your platform should offer the following key features:

  • The platform connects all your work as a creator for a user-friendly experience.

  • Members can interact with one another.

  • Conversations are stored and searchable.

  • Admins have moderation and membership management tools.

  • You can charge for access and offer different tiers.

  • You can run your community for an affordable price.

We designed Podia to check all these boxes and more.

Try Podia free for 14-days to see for yourself.

About the author

Nicola is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. She lives for lizards, loves to travel, and can often be found cooking up new recipes in the kitchen.