Community Platform: Key Features + Top Platforms
When you think of a community platform, what comes to mind? A group of people coming together to learn from each other and solve problems? People collaborating in a virtual or physical place based on a shared hobby like cooking or mountain biking? Or perhaps you imagine a room full of professionals shaking hands and sharing business strategies.
A community is defined as a group of people who share a common interest or goal, so either scenario would be correct. But in today’s digital age, these community connections don’t have to take place in-person like they may have in years past. Digital community platforms now make it possible for anyone to join a group and connect with like-minded individuals, no matter where they are in the world.
There’s a community for every type of group, whether that’s a book club, a fitness class, or even a network of industry professionals. Even large companies can create that space for connection and belonging by building their own community platform.
Community platforms play an important role for organizations of all sizes and sectors. Online communities serve as a space for companies to connect and better communicate with a group of stakeholders whether that’s customers, employees, or industry professionals. Community software also make it possible for companies to bring people together for a variety of goals, whether that’s to improve internal or external communication, create a personalized brand experience, or provide thought leadership opportunities within an industry.
Below, let’s go over the benefits of a community platform, the types of platforms available and their features, and the best online community platforms worth exploring for your business.
What are Community Platforms?
Community platforms are software solutions used to create an online community. These digital spaces bring together people who share common interests, professions, needs, or goals. Community platforms offer a variety of ways for individuals to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another, whether through discussion boards, online meet-ups, or resource sharing.
Community platforms can be a great way for brands to share content, commerce, or communication channels for a group of people with similar interests or who work in the same industry.
While you can create your own community from scratch, there are also many community platforms that businesses can tap into to build an online community of their own.
Benefits of Community Platforms
Community platforms are used by a range of businesses, from enterprise companies to non-profit organizations, to foster engagement, build brand awareness, and promote collaboration. These digital spaces are a great way to create a resource for individuals who are looking for support, advice, or networking opportunities.
Community platforms are particularly beneficial for businesses seeking to build a space for customers. These types of communities are called customer communities and they have several benefits.
A customer community not only helps improve customer acquisition and build brand awareness, but it can also help boost retention and provide an engaging channel for customer support. Having a dedicated community for your customers to communicate openly can also help you gain deeper insight into their behaviors, use cases, and pain points.
When used right, community platforms can have a valuable impact across the entire business, not just customer success. A community’s ROI reaches multiple functions from product to sales to marketing.
Here are some of the specific benefits the best online community platforms can bring to your business:
- Increased engagement
- Personalized experience
- Improved communication
- Access to niche-specific content
- Networking and community building
Below, let’s go over each of these benefits in more detail.
Whether you want to engage customers on a deeper level or bring together industry professionals, a community platform offers a space for people to interact with other people who are familiar with your product, service, or industry.
Community platforms provide a dedicated space for community members to connect, interact, and share ideas through discussions, gamification features like upvoting and downvoting, and even interactive elements such as polls or quizzes. All of these elements provide several opportunities for members to participate and interact with the resources your brand is providing on the platform.
Think about the last time you attended an in-person conference. You were likely greeted at the door and then asked to put on a name tag to make it easier to introduce yourself to people. Then you were probably given the choice between attending session A or session B, depending on which topic you were most interested in. The whole experience felt personal and tailored to your wants and needs, right?
A community platform offers the same personalized experience, but it happens to be online. When a member joins a community, they’re usually given many options to tailor their experience, whether that’s subscribing to channels or topics they’re interested in or customizing their member profile.
Some community platforms even use algorithms to personalize the user experience for each member, recommending content, events, or other members to connect with based on their interests and behavior within the platform.
All of this personalization helps make the experience feel tailored to the member which ultimately increases their engagement.
If you want to provide a more efficient or engaging way for a large group of people to communicate, a community platform is the answer. Community platforms provide multiple channels to communicate asynchronously so you never have to worry about people missing out on key messages or notifications due to being in different time zones.
Many community platforms offer features such as private messaging, forums, live streaming, and even event calendars. All of these elements can improve communication and coordination within the community — which is especially helpful when your group members are located around the world.
Access to niche-specific content
Many community platforms cater to specific niches or interests, such as customer support, entrepreneurship, or even fitness. These platforms allow members to not only connect with others who share similar interests and passions but dive deeper into a topic with access to niche-specific content.
Some platforms even offer access to expert insights as these groups bring together thought leaders or subject matter experts. Whether hosting an AMA session or actively participating in conversations on the platform, these industry leaders tend to offer invaluable insights and advice that can help other members with personal or professional growth.
And as a brand, community platforms also offer the opportunity to share thought leadership content that positions your brand as an expert. Keep in mind, however, that branded thought leadership should be shared sparingly and in a way that’s not sales-y. You want to make sure you maintain trust and credibility with your members, and sharing too much branded content on your platform is a quick way for them to lose interest. Think of your brand as a guide or a curator of the conversations happening on the platform rather than a thought leader, and instead boost the resources and conversations of your members.
The definition of a community is a group of people who have a characteristic in common, so it only makes sense that community platforms offer an opportunity to connect and network with other like-minded individuals. In fact, 42% of people join online communities simply to stay connected with others, according to HubSpot’s Consumer Trends Report.
There’s immense value in forming connections on a community platform. These digital relationships can lead to new partnerships, collaborations, or career opportunities — which ultimately help build both on and offline professional networks.
Overall, communities help create an increased sense of belonging by providing a dedicated space for people to connect.
Types of communities
Before you can decide which community platform is best for your brand, you have to understand what your goals are so you can choose the right type of community.
Here are the most common types of communities:
- Discussion Forums
- Customer Support Communities
- Social Networks
- Knowledge Management Systems
- Community of Practice
Below, let’s go over examples of each of these types of community platforms to better understand when and how to use them.
Discussion forums, also referred to as message boards or online forums, are essentially digital bulletin boards. These communities offer a place online for people to have open conversations in the form of threads or messages.
Reddit is a great example of a discussion forum. The open discussion platform is one of the most popular social apps in the US with over 48 million monthly active users. Users can participate in conversations in one of over 130,000 sub-forums on the platform, using upvotes and downvotes to rank the content they see in their feeds.
Reddit is just one example of how discussion forums can be a great way to bring a large audience together, whether to source new ideas, seek advice, or share stories.
Customer support forum
A customer support forum is a valuable tool for any product or service company. Customer support forums serve as an online space where customers can seek out guidance and support through a product education library as well as share their feedback, tips, and experiences with other customers. These self-service platforms help your customers better understand your product or service and can act as the first line of support by automatically troubleshooting any issues they may have.
Businesses typically use customer support forum software to build these types of platforms so they can easily set up, moderate, and address questions.
A social network is probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think of a community platform. From Facebook to Twitter to TikTok, social networks continue to be a place where people all over the world can connect with one another.
Social networks have evolved from the simple messaging and image-sharing platforms they started as, with most now offering content management, commerce, and community opportunities. Facebook Groups is an example of a community platform within a social network, which we’ll discuss more below.
Knowledge management systems
A knowledge management system (KMS) is a platform that maintains and communicates information that an internal or external group needs to access. This information or “knowledge” can be anything from onboarding documents to training videos to company data.
A community platform like a KMS serves as a central resource and source of truth whether it’s being used by an internal customer support team or an external group of stakeholders.
When used for internal purposes, knowledge bases can be valuable employee engagement tools. Whether used for onboarding or employee training, having access to a single source of information through a KMS can make an employee’s experience much easier and more enjoyable than the alternative of spending too much time searching for the information they need to complete a single task.
Community of Practice
A Community of Practice is a community where industry professionals can share best practices with each other. This type of community platform is a great way to bring a single group together to learn and grow, which ultimately makes the entire industry stronger.
Superpath, a community for content marketing professionals, is a great example of a community of practice. Superpath runs a robust Slack group that offers a range of channels where members can discuss specific topics related to content marketing — everything from writing tips to strategy to budgeting — as well as seek advice get recommendations from fellow professionals.
For brand communities, starting a community of practice is a great way to position your company as the go-to resource within an industry. These types of communities often rely on word-of-mouth to grow, so creating member loyalty and advocacy is key.
Key Features of Top Community Platforms
The best community platforms today have a wide range of features — usually more than you’d need or could even think of at first. These features address a variety of needs, both current and future so that your platform is ready to scale with your business.
If you’re looking for a community platform for your business, here are the key features to keep in mind:
- User experience and design
- Customization and branding
- Integration and automation
- Engagement tools
- Security and privacy
- Analytics and insights
Below, let’s go over the key features of the top community platforms in more detail.
User experience and design
Members are the foundation of your community platform. This means user experience and design should be one of the first features you consider when looking for the best community platform for your business.
User experience can include everything from ease of use when signing on — such as Single Sign-on (SSO) or using social media accounts to log in — to user-friendly navigation within the platform to member profile functionality.
Anything that makes your platform easy and enjoyable to use is worth considering when searching for the right community platform for you and your members.
Customization and branding
Another valuable feature of modern community platforms is the ability to customize the platform. Customizing your platform to match your brand helps enhance the user experience and build a connection between the two spaces. Many community platforms allow you to customize the visual elements of your space such as color and typography, while others also let you create a custom domain and build the pages, layout, and navigation of your community space.
Being able to customize your community platform so that it’s cohesive with the rest of your brand is essential if you want users to associate the platform and its resources with your company. Depending on the purpose of your community platform, there may be users who join without any prior knowledge of your company.
For example, if you start a community group for product managers, anyone who works in product management could join even if they aren’t currently a customer or users of your product. If they have a positive experience on your platform, then they may want to learn more about your product as a result. But in order to associate the community with your brand, there needs to be clear and cohesive branding throughout.
Integration and automation
The last thing you want is for your community platform to cause any friction within your current workflow. To make sure your community platform works with your current tech stack, look for its integration capabilities.
Most community platforms can integrate with a range of other apps and tools such as Zapier, Intercom, and HubSpot. If there’s a community platform you’re interested in, check out its integrations to see if it will meet your needs.
Seamless integration can also help automate your processes such as sending welcome emails, setting up a member profile, or sharing resources. Automation will be key as your community grows, so keep these features in mind as you’re getting started — even if your community is small at first.
As your community grows, moderation becomes more essential. With an increase in members, content, and discussions on your platform, moderating a large community becomes a job in itself. The best community platforms make it easy to moderate content, conversations, engagement, and membership authorization. Some even automate operating tasks such as welcome messages or onboarding documents which helps eliminate some of the workload that comes with a growing community.
Community moderation tools not only help keep your members safe, but they also help maintain your brand’s reputation. The last thing you want is for people to post spam or make other members feel unsafe as this can ultimately harm your brand’s trustworthiness.
No matter what the goal of your community is, generating engagement is one of the main purposes of a community platform.
Decide what type of community engagement features are most important for your group. Member profiles? An activity feed? Notifications?
Many community platforms are designed to emulate a social media platform because that’s what people are accustomed to online. The gamification elements such as a leaderboard and badges can make your community more engaging and connected, so you’ll want to check out how what types of social features are included such as an activity feed, the ability to rank content, tags and comments, and notifications.
Security and privacy
When a member joins your platform, they trust you to keep their information secure. Maintain that trust by choosing a community platform that offers security and privacy capabilities.
Security and privacy features can include secure connections through an SSL certificate, SOC II certification, password requirements that encourage strong log-in information, or two-factor authentication.
Analytics and insights
It’s important to understand how your community platform engagement is performing so you can measure its success within your overall business goals.
Modern community platforms have analytics capabilities that provide insights into how your platform is growing and the ways community members are engaging most. Look for reporting capabilities on metrics such as member growth, reach, and post engagement.
Tracking these insights not only lets you know how your content is performing, but it can even help you identify trends. For example, if you can see that a certain type of content or conversation is driving the most engagement, then that tells you where your members’ interests or pain points lie.
10 Best Online Community Platforms
Ready to start building your online community? Here are the top 10 community platforms for businesses of all sizes:
- Vanilla Forums
- Salesforce experience cloud
- Disciple Media
- Mighty Networks
- Facebook Groups
To help you decide which platform is right for your business, let’s go over the key features, pricing, and benefits of each of these top community platforms.
Bettermode is an all-in-one customer engagement platform that’s designed to help businesses convert, engage, and retain more customers. The community software offers countless community features that every online community needs to create a self-serve platform, whether you’re a SaaS company that wants to improve and streamline the customer experience or an online training platform seeking to share resources and collect feedback. Bettermode can be completely customized to fit your brand and drive results that will impact your business.
- Pre-built templates that were modeled off successful communities and allow you to quickly launch popular use cases like customer support and product updates, while customizing them to fit your community’s needs
- Customizable, no-code design with flexible layouts, header and footer options, navigation options, and a theme to suit your brand. Simply select, arrange, and configure blocks to visualize and create a unique community layout that’s all yours.
- Post types feature that allows community managers to create unique post types for different use cases, such as event posts that showcase location and time or Q&A posts that let members upvote or follow their favorite questions
- Seamlessly integrates with software you’re already using, like Slack, Salesforce, HubSpot, and Intercom to ensure your business workflow stays uninterrupted
- App Store that allows you to choose from a range of apps to add new functionalities and automate workflows.
- Embeddable into your existing mobile app or website to create a social experience along every step of the customer journey. Embedding also improves community adoption by ensuring customers come across your community while using your website or product.
- Robust Developer Portal that lets you build custom apps and integrations using API and Webhooks to create a feel and functionality that’s entirely your own.
- Pricing starts at $599 per month for the advanced plan
- The Advanced plan is for growing brands and companies
- The Enterprise plan is for large businesses and companies in regulated industries
Best for: Enterprise-level and mid-market companies that want to build a robust customer experience or product marketing program in a single platform.
Higher Logic Vanilla
Higher Logic Vanilla (formerly Vanilla Forums) is designed for customer success and support. The platform offers community essentials such as discussion forums and engagement tools, as well as a knowledge base that companies need to build out self-service support.
- Expansive widget catalog
- Accessibility-friendly and built with WCAG standards
- Pre-built charts to measure analytics
- Contact the sales team for a quote
Best for: Mid-level companies that are seeking an efficient way to connect with customers.
Discourse is a 100% open source discussion forum. The modern message board provides a platform where members can have open discussions, customize the topics they want to see in their feeds, and chat with other members in real time. Discourse is also adamant about encouraging civil discussions and implementing community guidelines and community moderation.
- Continuous scrolling feed with just-in-time loading
- Community channels for members to chat in real-time
- Built-in mobile layout
- Community moderation led by trusted, engaged members
- 100% open source that can be integrated into your website
Since Discourse is 100% free open source software, you can technically install it on the cloud yourself for free. However, if you’re not a technical developer, Discourse offers four hosting packages:
- The Basic package is $50 per month and includes 100 members, 5 admins and moderators, 50k monthly page views, and 10GB storage
- The Standard package is $100 per month and includes unlimited members, 100k monthly page views, and 20GB storage
- The Business package is $300 per month and includes unlimited members, up to 15 admins, 500k monthly page views, and 100GB storage
- Enterprise package includes unlimited admins and moderators, over 3 million monthly page views, and 200GB storage. Contact Discourse for a quote for the Enterprise package.
Best for: If you’re looking for an upgraded version of a discussion board that your members can essentially manage on their own, Discourse is the community platform for you.
Hivebrite offers a range of services to support a growing community both on and offline. Hivebrite’s features range from event management to networking and job boards to paid membership management. The community platform also serves as a central communication source that keeps members updated through email campaigns and notifications.
- Powerful search and targeting filters for more efficient communication
- Event management capabilities that include ticketing and online payments
- A community job board where members can share opportunities and resumes
- Hivebrite’s Essentials plan starts at $7,000 per year and is a great start for small communities with basic requirements. Pricing is based on a number of factors, including community size, required technical integrations, and other variables. Contact Hivebrite for more information on pricing.
Best for: Organizations such as student or alumni groups, nonprofits, or corporate teams who are looking for a platform to facilitate offline events and opportunities.
Salesforce Experience Cloud
Experience Cloud is Salesforce’s digital experience platform, powered by the leading CRM. The Community Cloud offers case management, prebuilt integration apps, a knowledge base for customers or employees, and support ticketing, among other features.
- Integration with leading apps to create a seamless workflow
- Pre-built templates created for customer service, partner management, or account portal
- Central source of data and personalized content
- Analytics tools that track and measure community performance
- The Essentials package is $25 per user per month and serves as an all-in-one sales and support app
- The Professional package is $75 per user per month and offers complete service CRM for teams of any size
- The Enterprise package is $150 per user per month and offers a customizable CRM for comprehensive service
- The Unlimited package offers unlimited CRM power and is $300 per user per month
Best for: Companies who already use Salesforce and wish to build stronger partner relationships would benefit from using Experience Cloud.
Disciple provides the support you need to scale your community through monetization. Members can create their own profiles and interact with the community through messages, groups, or live streams. Organizations that use Disciple can also create exclusive content and monetize it by turning members into subscribers.
- Central, customizable content library
- Open API to integrate with leading apps without code
- Member engagement tools such as push notifications, events, and emails
- Monetizable content to your members into subscribers and drive in-app purchases
- The Web package is $46 per month and provides a web-only self-service community space for up to 100 members
- The Start package is $308 per month and offers a partial self-service mobile app for up to 100 members
- The Grow package is $633 per month and offers a white label mobile app with the features and support for up to 1,000 members
- The Pro package is $999 per month and offers a white label mobile app with priority support, advanced features, integrations and custom analytics for up to 1,000 members
Best for: Companies and organizations that want to monetize their community through courses, subscriptions, and exclusive content.
Flarum is an open-source discussion forum. Organizations can customize Flarum’s software to host their online community in whatever way suits their needs. As a discussion forum, Flarum is best for sourcing product feedback or providing a space for people to share tips related to a certain product or topic.
- Easy communication channel for members to discuss topics or share feedback
- Organized topics for members to find and contribute to
Pricing: Flarum is free open-source software.
Best for: Organizations that want a simple forum solution to bring users together to collectively discuss product or industry-related topics.
Mighty Networks is a community platform for creators and entrepreneurs who want to scale a course, podcast, blog, or another type of owned asset. The membership site acts as both a central hub to host content such as an online course, as well as a community space where members can engage with the content even further.
- Organize your community in a variety of Spaces including chat, feed, events, and content
- Leverage events or live streams along with chat so members can watch and discuss in real-time
- Content library with a variety of resources including articles and videos
- The Community plan is best for beginners. For $33 per month, it includes live streaming, memberships, chat, and event support through your own branded website.
- The Business plan is the most popular and best for online courses. For $99 per month, it includes all of the Community plan features plus online course capabilities as well as analytics and member data.
- The Path-to-Pro plan is best for scaling your business. For $249 per month, you get additional live streaming and video features.
- The Mighty Pro plan is best for brands that want to create their own branded apps. Contact Mighty Networks for pricing.
Best for: Mighty Networks is the best choice for creators and entrepreneurs that want to monetize their community by selling content such as online courses.
Discord is a voice, video, and text chat app where groups can connect, share work, and have conversations around shared interests. Many of Discord’s communities, referred to as servers, are private and invite-only and focus on a single topic such as gaming or AI, or even music. With 150 million monthly active users and 19 million active servers per week, it’s safe to say there are plenty of conversations to be had on this discussion community platform.
- Topic-based channels that help organize and engage a larger community
- Voice channels for real-time conversations and connections
- Invite-only groups
Pricing: Running a community on Discord is free. However, Discord does offer an upgraded subscription for individuals called Nitro which comes with engagement features and perks such as custom emojis and bigger file uploads.
Best for: Small communities or startups that want to collect user feedback and engage in conversations within a niche group.
For anyone looking for a free or budget-friendly way to start a community, Facebook Groups is the best option. Forming your group on Facebook is also a good way to meet members where they are. With over two billion monthly active users, Facebook is a platform that is familiar to everyone so there won’t be a learning curve when joining the group — meaning members can engage immediately.
While Facebook Groups are great for beginner-level communities, they become a challenge as you scale. The more members you have, the harder it is to moderate content, comments, and member activity.
- Built-in engagement tools such as polls, live streaming, and Q&As, and events
- Light customization around colors, post backgrounds, and fonts
- Community chat channels that allow for real-time conversations within a Facebook Group
Pricing: Free to use
Best for: Small communities who want to use Facebook Groups as a way to build an audience before moving to a scalable platform with expanded community features.
To understand how community platforms have impacted real-life business results, we spoke to community managers from companies who found success after launching a community platform.
Below, learn what type of online community these companies sought out, which platform they used, and the results that had an impact on their business.
Klaus, a customer service quality management platform, uses Bettermode to run its own online community platform, Quality Tribe. Quality Tribe is a community for customer service professionals who care about improving customer service quality and providing better experiences.
“Support communities have played a notable role in Klaus' origin story, from validating early ideas to finding early adopters and customers,” says Klaus Community Manager, Triin Ilves.
For Klaus, launching their own community platform was the next logical step in strengthening the overall customer service industry.
Since its inception, Quality Tribe has grown its community to over 1,000 engaged members. The community has proven to be a resource not only for customer service professionals but also for the Klaus team.
“Quality Tribe and Klaus' network is a great source for joint partnership projects [including] blog posts, events and webinars, surveys, and investigative reports,” says Ilves. “This helps us nurture our brand-led growth through thought leadership in the customer support space by connecting customer support professionals.”
In late 2021, Klaus also began leveraging its online community to organize in-person meetings and events. “Our meetups have proven to be successful not only in connection building but in business growth, says Ilves.
“In 2022, some meetups created a 10x pipeline when compared to event cost for the sales team.”
Writesonic is an AI tool that helps marketing teams, writers, and entrepreneurs produce marketing copy for blogs, sales emails, Google and Facebook ads, and more. As modern AI tools are part of a newer sector, Writesonic knew that customer-driven feedback would be essential for the product’s growth.
“We created the Writesonic community to connect with our users on a more personal level,” says Meenank Minnu, community manager at Writesonic. “Connecting with the community allows us to get feedback directly. They know the use cases well, which will allow us to better our product experience and grow faster.”
After launching their online community on both Facebook and Discord, Writesonic’s customer engagement doubled within the first month. Additionally, community posts by members increased by 1000% in the first two months of implementation and over 200 customer issues were solved with a turnaround time (TAT) of one hour.
Aside from these impressive growth metrics, Minnu notes that there were unexpected yet positive qualifiable results that came from building a community platform.
“Our users also showcase their work [in the community platform], which makes us happy to see how the product is being used for a myriad of different use cases that we didn't think of.”
No matter what your community goal is, community platforms can help organizations of all sizes and industries reach their business goals. Choosing the right community platform for your company starts with understanding what you want to achieve and how a community space can help with that.
Are you looking to collect feedback about your product from current and potential users? Start a discussion forum. Want to provide a space for your customers to get self-service support? Build a customer community that’s focused on support. Perhaps you want to increase employee engagement, particularly for new hires. Build a knowledge base that helps create a smoother onboarding and training process.
There are many use cases for community platforms, and the benefits are endless. Before you choose a community platform for your brand, compare the features and decide which ones fit both your current and future needs. As your community grows, your community platform should scale with it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a community platform?
Community platform is a software product designed to build a virtual community. These online communities offer a variety of ways for individuals to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another using discussion boards, events, and resource sharing.
What are the benefits of a customer community?
Customer communities impact different areas of a company -- from marketing, customer support, and self-service to customer success and product innovation.
What are the top community platform?
Top community solutions for building customer communities include Bettermode, Khoros, Vanilla Forums, Discourse, and Salesforce Experience Cloud.