Membership businesses are thriving in 2022, and Hosts are loving the value that a community can bring to both their mission and to their bottom line. But with so many software options to choose from, it’s a little intimidating to try to find the right home for your membership site. Plus, it can feel like there’s a lot on the line, since picking a software feels a bit like getting married–you’d really love to stick with this thing for life.
Now, first of all, it is possible to move your online community. But heck, if you can, why not just start with the right platform and save the trouble?
So in this article, we’re going to talk about how to choose the right membership site platform. You probably know why membership communities are a good idea: Not only are membership sites a way to create a meaningful business around a specific interest; but they can also be an indispensable resource for people who are otherwise unable to surround themselves with people with similar goals and motivations.
And the prospect of recurring revenue for you as a creator or community lead is pretty fantastic–imagine having the freedom to lead the community you love and care about and make money doing it?
Choosing the right platform will make your life WAY easier as a community Host, and help your membership business thrive. Here are some of the best options:
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
In this article…
What is a membership site?
At the most basic level, a membership site is a website that hosts content only accessible to people that become members of that community. So, creating a membership site is a great way to monetize your content through recurring subscriptions or membership that your most dedicated followers pay to gain access to.
A membership site lets you deliver high-value content and benefits to people who pay a monthly or annual subscription. It’s a way for creators to work smarter, not harder, and scale their income potential for their digital business.
What makes a membership site platform successful?
When online entrepreneurs first started to think about membership sites, they were generally looking at a forum that was added to a WordPress blog. This created a sort of gate for content that users could pay for and get a “premium” experience. Although the plugins were awkward and really didn’t work all that well, they still gave an option to create a rudimentary community.
The rise of social media platforms, especially Facebook Groups, gave a new way to create a membership group, and people started building their communities on Facebook. They’d need to integrate with some payment gateway somewhere else, usually on their website, and then let people into a private Facebook group.
There were a ton of problems with this approach too, especially since the Facebook algorithm doesn’t necessarily show people group content, they were competing with cat videos, and there was no reliable way to add payments, to notify members, or to add any sort of complex content. But it was a solution for a while.
The last five years have seen the rise of a bunch of membership site platforms that are DEDICATED to selling and growing a membership community. Memberships aren’t an afterthought with these platforms. Instead, they focus on giving you the tools to be successful with your business.
Ideally, you’re looking for a membership site builder that offers your members a more integrated experience with a variety of features under one brand—your brand. You’re looking for membership site software that:
- Makes it easy to set up a beautiful, streamlined home for your membership site and market it to the right people.
- Offers exclusive content delivered regularly via organized courses, interactive features, articles, and emails.
- Emphasizes community by giving your members multiple ways to foster connections, from polls and Q&As to a central activity feed and direct messaging.
13 Best membership site platforms
1. Mighty Networks
The best all-in-one membership site platform
Mighty Networks is a powerful, all-in-one engine for your free or paid membership site.
It lets you bring your website, online courses, and memberships together all under your brand, and is available on both on web and on a robust native mobile app for iOS and Android. It’s easy to set up, plus you can customize your landing page to make it your own.
Mighty Networks also helps you to market your membership site to the people that matter: your members. It’s one of the only membership site platforms with a serious focus on the power of connecting people.
With a Mighty Network, you can easily connect with your members directly through native live streaming, articles, videos, and events. Plus, you can help them connect with each other via direct & group messaging, a central activity feed, polls, and Q&As that keep them pumped and motivated to keep contributing. And that’s exactly what you want: for your members to be excited about this journey that you’re on together.
The best membership site software for content-only subscriptions
Kajabi is a membership site builder that offers memberships and online courses. It also aggressively emphasizes marketing, so its users can market, sell, and deliver their online courses with email campaigns, weekly updates, and more. It’s a comprehensive option for a course-based membership business.
The downside to Kajabi is that it’s one of the more expensive membership site platforms on the market. And, you won’t be able to host events or connect members with each other, and it has very limited community functions.
3. Wild Apricot:
The best membership site platform for nonprofits
Wild Apricot is another membership site platform that allows creators and entrepreneurs to build and manage an online community space for their business. The platform utilizes cloud-based technology, so your work can go with you no matter where you are.
If you’re someone who is running a nonprofit organization, Wild Apricot has developed drag and drop tools so you can create an aesthetically pleasing membership website quickly and easily.
While this feature isn’t exclusive to Wild Apricot, their cloud-based technology does a good job of making it easy for organizations with large databases to manage their data and keep it up-to-date.
Another benefit of using Wild Apricot as a membership site platform is that their software easily integrates with pre-existing systems at your company. It comes with a robust emailing system that can link with your contact list and send out auto-confirmation emails, as well as reminders to your members. On top of that, it has advanced database search capabilities, target emailing campaign functionality, and the ability to track the analytics of your emailing campaigns.
The best membership site platform for ONLY online courses
Teachable has become a familiar name in households around the world and an excellent membership site platform for creators and entrepreneurs passionate about helping others achieve their goals.
One reason that many content creators have turned to Teachable as their membership site platform of choice is because of the emphasis on multimedia-based content. On their membership site platform, you can create multimedia-based lectures, video lessons, offer online coaching sessions, and more.
Another important feature for any membership site platform is either providing native features for people to utilize (which is the better option) or having third-party integration support. Teachable allows for a plethora of integrations on their platform, and that also means they have a wide variety of currencies that they support. This is a great feature for a membership site platform because it will allow you to make paying for your content easy for a wide range of people.
The drawbacks to Teachable are the lack of options for creating community, and a lack of accessibility options for mobile apps.
The best membership site WordPress plugin
If you’re a creator or entrepreneur who already has an existing website, you might be turned off from transitioning to a full-on membership site platform. While we think that transition is most definitely worth it in the long run, an alternative is using a plugin like Memberful.
Memberful is a solid membership site platform that can integrate with a pre-existing WordPress website.
Since Memberful is built to work best on WordPress websites (although it can work in a more limited capacity on others) that means you’ll get a variety of integration options. You can monetize your membership through Stripe, create transactional emails, utilize a custom domain, accept different currencies, and much more.
It’s no secret that discounts and coupons work for getting people to invest in your products. The best membership site platforms often offer a variety of ways to monetize your business and a great option that Memberful allows is for you to create special promotions, discounts, and coupons, to boost sales throughout the year.
Best for building a following to support you
While it takes a TOTALLY different approach to building a membership business, Patreon is a sort of a membership site too. Although fairly limited in features like community options, creating courses, etc., it CAN be a good place to help members of your audience support you if you’re a creator.
But there does come a point with Patreon where, if you’re looking to give your members perks like an active community or an app, you probably want to just start from scratch with a different platform. We talked about this question in this post.
Best alternative WordPress plugin
We talked above about Memberful, but if you’ve got an existing WordPress site you’re looking to add a membership feature too, BuddyBoss is another option. A relaunch of the older plugin, BuddyPress, BuddyBoss helps you add things like online forums or private groups to your WordPress-run membership site. It also integrates with Learndash to gate online courses if you want to provide these for your members.
Podia allows users to create and sell online courses, digital downloads, and memberships. It comes build with some basic features such as webinar and community functions, plus the option to link a community to a course specifically.
The best thing about Podia is probably its drag and drop website builder, but its community engine is fairly simple. (We compared Podia and Mighty Networks here.)
Tribe is a white-label customer community builder that can be added to a company website, giving the ability to create forums for discussion, asking questions, and sharing content. The discussion can also be taken onto the company’s own mobile app, similar to Mighty Pro.
It's missing some of the community-building features that a Mighty Network has, for example, there aren’t ways to connect members by location or by interest, and it doesn’t have online courses at all. But Tribe is still a solid membership site platform for corporate users.
Substack is a little different than the other membership site platforms on this list. It offers a different type of membership: subscriptions for newsletters. A creator, often a writer, will create a subscription newsletter that members can subscribe to and receive value in their inbox. As traditional journalism has collapsed in the last few years, Substack has been a really important option for freelance journalists to build and monetize their audience for their work.
Discourse is a membership site platform that is based around an online forum, giving the ability to create discussion boards, moderate and respond to posts, and get notifications about new content. Although it’s marketed as free, and the code is open-source on GitHub, most people would have to pay for hosting and potentially a developer to get it up and running. But Discourse gives you a basic membership site.
Kartra is an online CRM platform that can be used to build a membership business. It lets you host online courses, build pretty comprehensive marketing campaigns, and build landing pages and complex sales funnels.
Last but not least, we’ll round out this list with one last WordPress plug-in, for those of you still on WordPress. AccessAlly is another option for selling memberships and digital products on WordPress, and it has an LMS built into it that works well for online learning. It gives your students lots of features to track their progress, things like quizzes and video bookmarks, and works well for WordPress.
But it’s expensive, and since there are all-in-one solutions that give you everything and more for cheaper, without needing any other integrations, most users would probably be better opting to build off WordPress. But if you’re a diehard WordPress user with a course to create, AccessAlly might be a good option.
Which membership site platform is right for you?
Since there are a lot of options on this list and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, let’s talk about what Mighty Networks can do for you.
It lets you offer more than just courses: Your own Mighty Network is an opportunity for you to create a beautiful, streamlined membership site where you can directly market your product to your people; it allows you to diversify your content with courses, interactive features, and more; plus, it helps you to build and strengthen a community by helping your members foster real connections in a world of unknowns. And most importantly, it’s all under your own brand.
And if you want a TOTALLY custom-built experience, complete with YOUR apps for both iOS and Android, we do that too. Check out Mighty Pro.
If you’re ready to create your own membership site, for free, right now, check out the platform. You can use it for 14 days, no credit card required.
Ready to start building your membership site?