The Best Modern Community Platforms in 2021

Community platforms are having their moment. How can you tell which one is right for you?

There’s never been a better time to create a community for people to come together around a common goal, learn a new skill, or master something interesting or important together.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk around what it means to be a “modern” community platform in 2021. While it’s been hard to get a lot of concrete answers beyond marketing taglines, we’ve got a few ideas to help you. In this article we’ll:

  • Define what it means to be a modern community platform.

  • Capture what makes a modern community platform different from how communities have been built in the past.

  • Explore why you should choose a modern community platform over a Facebook group, WhatsApp group, Slack community, or Discord server.

  • Review the best modern community platforms available today and declare a winner.

Let’s get started.

What is a modern community platform?

A modern community platform is one that’s designed for the unique opportunities only now available to community builders, course instructors, entrepreneurs, and brands in 2021.

A modern community platform enables anyone to create a community you can run under your brand and URL, access on both web and mobile apps, charge for access, and combine features from profiles and direct messaging to articles, events, and even online courses.

What makes a modern community platform different from the past?

To understand what makes a community platform modern, let’s start with a bit of history. Over the past decade, if you wanted to create an online community, your choices were limited:

Start a Facebook or WhatsApp group. The most obvious choice for a community historically was on Facebook and WhatsApp given the 2 billion people who have accounts on these services.

The primary difference between a Facebook group and a group on WhatsApp is the feature set. Facebook groups have events, polls, posts, and external messaging via Facebook Messenger. A WhatsApp group is simpler with just messaging and replies.

Neither has an option for any admin to run the group under their own brand or website.

Build your own online forum or hire an agency to build your own mobile apps. If it was important to you to have your own branding, URL, or create a community away from the Facebook model, the alternatives were scarce. Essentially, you could use a web forum (the software that predated social networks) or hire an agency to build your own mobile apps. Building your own mobile apps gave someone flexibility and branding but at an extraordinary cost, from $250,000 to upwards of $1M.

More recently, two new community options have appeared:

Slack communities. While Slack is a business communications tool used by internal teams of people who work together, it’s also become a common way for communities outside of one company to organize and communicate.

Using “channels,” or organized message threads, a Slack community tends to have channels for new members, general announcements, and for specific topics.

For many, the adoption of Slack for an online community makes sense given the fact that it’s an easy switch between your work team and community, is available on both the web and mobile apps, feels more beautifully designed than a forum, and, most importantly, isn’t Facebook.

Discord servers. Discord has long been an online group communication tool for video gamers. Its distinguishing characteristic is that a group can have its own “server” where members can talk to each other live in addition to texting or video. Recently, it’s being heavily promoted by the creator funding tool Patreon, as a way for content creators to build a community of fans and followers and keep their funding going.

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The emerging creator economy & demand for modern community platforms

In the past few years, there has been an explosion in content creators across social media from YouTube stars to online course instructors, podcasters, and email newsletter writers supported by their fans and followers with new direct, digital subscription businesses.

As these content creators begin to build their audiences and find new ways to keep their digital subscriptions valuable, they often realize they need more than their content alone. They also need a community of their own.

Into this context, a new breed of modern community platforms have emerged in 2021 for content creators and community builders who:

  1. Don’t want to be on Facebook.

  2. Are exhausted by Slack and WhatsApp messaging.

  3. Desire to put a community at the center of their digital subscription.

  4. Feel strongly that their community should exist under their own brand.

  5. Recognize the limitations of messaging features alone.

While there are differences in modern community platforms (which we’ll get to in a moment), overall modern community platforms are built to:

  • Establish new digital destinations under one’s own brand.

  • Deliver new community experiences on both web and mobile apps.

  • Connect the most relevant members to each other.

  • Enable members to pursue and master a topic together via content, online courses, events, and conversations.

  • Purchase ongoing digital memberships or pay a one-time fee for events or online courses.

Essentially, modern community platforms start with what we’ve learned over the past decade from Facebook groups, forums, and now Slack and Discord, and offer the most engaging combination of features under your own brand.

Modern community platforms point to a world where a brand can sell digital subscriptions to their own branded experience that’s more engaging and valuable than social media.

These platforms also redefine what features should be common in a community platform, creating a clear distinction between the future of online community building from the assumptions of the past.

Specifically, a modern community platform prioritizes your own branding, your access to message all members without them needing to jump from channel to channel, and the ability to push your content to the most relevant members without an algorithm standing in the way. A modern community platform is designed to get more valuable to every member with each new person who joins and contributes to your community.

Beyond these core elements, the feature set of modern community platforms diverge based on how far along they are in their development.

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How to choose a modern community platform

The full set of modern community platforms is just now starting to emerge.

As a content creator, podcaster, online course instructor, email newsletter producer, solo entrepreneur, or brand, the most important things to keep in mind as you evaluate a modern community platform are:

Is it available on both web and native mobile apps? Your members are more likely to be on their phones than on their laptops, and a modern community platform needs to be fast and native.

Can I offer it under my brand? Your members no longer want to be on Facebook and subject to the algorithms that surface your group. Nor do they want to race from channel to channel on Slack. They want a community destination that you can make your own. White label community software allows you to host your community on your own URL under your own brand, with the exact right features for your purpose.

Can I bring more pieces of my brand or business together in one place? Creators everywhere today are looking for a way to bring their content, courses, community, and subscriptions together on the same platform. How well does a modern community platform do this?

How much am I expected to rely on integrations with other platforms?  This is the most interesting dynamic among modern community platforms.

Some emerging platforms assume that a community should integrate with external services for a shopping cart (or payments), patron rewards, online courses, events or video live streaming.

Other modern community platforms have taken a different approach. They have heard from early adopters that both these creators and their members want more of the brand, community, content, and payment options to operate together natively.

We tend to agree with this approach because it means an easier platform for members to learn, and for brands and creators to set up.

Which modern community platform is right for you?

With these filters, we looked at a comprehensive set of emerging modern community platforms with the goal of surfacing the strengths of individual platforms and when they shine the brightest.

Here are the winners:

Mighty Networks: The best modern community platform when you want native features

Mighty Networks launched in 2017 and a Mighty Network has come to define the modern community platform.

It starts by offering a beautiful design under your own brand on both web and mobile apps (including a plan where you can upgrade to get your own native iOS and Android apps), full access to member data and analytics, and the opportunity to message all members at any time.

Then, it gives you a choice of features across community, events, sub-groups, online courses, and digital subscriptions. In fact, it’s the only modern community platform we reviewed that offered the ability to run your community, virtual events, and online courses together in the same place under your own brand.

With this modern community platform, the days of bolting together a Facebook group or Slack community to your online course and payment system are over.

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Circle: The best modern community platform when you want to integrate other platforms

In contrast to Mighty Networks, Circle recently launched on the web to serve as a replacement for just a Facebook group, WhatsApp group, Slack community, or Discord server.

Circle is expressly designed so that a course instructor can link a lightweight web community (there are no native mobile apps) offered under their own brand to one of the established course platforms or support an email newsletter or podcast.

Circle has a different approach than Mighty Networks insofar as it focuses on integrations over native features. There are no events, no articles, no video, and no built-in payment system. So as you start to want additional functionality you’ll be forced to incorporate more third-party integration. This will take up more of your time and money in the long run. It’s also earlier and less stable in its development, so requires you to bet your brand and community on a nascent platform available only on the web.

That being said, Circle works if you want to keep your online courses on one platform and simply replace your Facebook group or Slack community.

Here’s a feature breakdown across community platforms:

The modern community platform winner: Mighty Networks

A Mighty Network is the best choice for a modern community platform whether you are starting a community from scratch in 2021 or moving an existing one from Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, or Discord. It’s the best experience for your members because everything is in one place, and it’s more affordable for you because you’re not adding on costly integrations.

It’s got the most important features of a modern community platform–your own brand, messaging, and full access to member data–with much more flexibility over other community options. You can integrate it with other course or email platforms, and it has such a strong feature set that there’s really no alternative for a modern community platform.

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