When building an online community you have many choices of platforms to choose from. Some of these online community platforms are free while others have tier pricing. Some have many features while others are solely group chat. There are pros and cons to each as well, but most importantly you must explore what fits best for your online community.
Discord was initially for the video gaming community. It specializes in text, image, video and audio communication between users in a chat channel. Discord runs on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and in web browsers. It is free for setting up an account and servers. The paid plan, Discord Nitro is $9.99/month, which includes custom emojis, animated GIFs, and high-quality video sharing.
Slack is a realtime team messaging app. It is available for iOS, Android, and is a web app. Slack offers “channels” for community members to hang out and spark conversation. These channels can be public or private. You can even hide your members’ emails protecting anonymity. As a Workspace Admin, you also have the ability to remove members if they violate your code of conduct.
Slack is commonly used within companies as their internal communication tool, so it is familiar to many people. However, Slack is now an ideal online community platform given its popularity and ease. Slack also provides many apps and integrations to provide more value to your community. If you want more than 10K searchable messages you would have to pay for Slack. For $6.67 per person Slack gives you the ability to make group calls with screen sharing. If you are a nonprofit you may be given an 85% discount.
Discourse acts as a forum for community discussion. It provides searchable discussions with your customers, superfans, and team members. The managed forum hosting starts at $100/month. The platform integrates with Slack, WordPress, Patreon, Google Analytics.
Threadbase allows you to create a community website like Product Hunt, Hacker News, or Reddit in just a few clicks for free. No coding required.
The free version allows for unlimited members, unlimited posts and comments, and gives you the ability to customize the community with pre-built themes.
The basic plan is $19/month allows you to personalize pre-built themes with easy customization tools, hide Threadbase ads and branding, and you can even show your own ads.
The plus plan is $99/month that allows a custom domain as well as keeping your online community private.
Notable Threadbase Communities: Huttle
Tribe allows you to create a stand-alone community website. It enables your users to connect and discuss your brand. Users can follow one another, ask questions, start discussions, upvote, comment and share content.
The free version provides you a custom domain, unlimited members, and theme control.
The premium plan is $399 / month that allows you to create groups, single sign-on, advanced analytics, and you can fully white-label the platform.
Mighty Networks allows you to bring together your community, content, events, and online courses. It is available on the web, Android, and iOS. When you invite members into your Mighty Networks community, they’ll instantly see people near them, other members, activity in the topics they select, and other members by the categories they define.
Some of the top features (some are paid) include the ability to ask questions and send out polls, which drives community engagement. The plus of this platform is its design.
The free plan provides you the following:
- Content & activity feed
- Post, cheer & comment
- Share to other networks
- Member profiles
- Member direct messaging
- Unlimited members
The Brand plan is $12/month
- Events: local and virtual
- Member referral incentives
The Business plan is $47/month
- All brand features plus
- Polls, questions, surveys
- Increased engagement and privacy settings
- External integrations and APIs via Zapier
You should budget around $10/month for a Digital Ocean droplet and $20/month for MongoDB database hosting.
Reddit gives you the best of the internet in one place. You can create your own subreddit. You can think of subreddits as threads or categories within the Reddit website. This is where you can build your community. The plus is that people are already familiar with Reddit as it is one of the most searched sites in the world. Your members can post content that gets voted up or down by relevance and user preference.
Facebook Groups is one of the most popular online community platforms. Basically, everyone is on Facebook, so there is no learning curve when joining the platform. Facebook Groups are totally free and you can make the group public or private and even secret. You can create events, write posts, upload media. If you find a user is spamming the group, you can also remove them as an admin.
WhatsApp is a free messaging and Voice over IP service owned by Facebook. It allows users to send text messages and voice messages, make voice and video calls, and share images, documents, user locations, and other media. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption.
A WhatsApp group allows you to have 250 members. WhatsApp is available on iOS, Android, and a Web application.
Notable WhatsApp Communities: Mental Health Unite
Telegram is another free messaging service that provides encryption and even self-destruct messages. Telegram lets you access your messages from multiple devices. Unlike WhatsApp, Group Chats on Telegram can support 200,000 members. Telegram also allows you to share files up to 1.5GB.
Telegram is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows, macOS and Linux. The majority of Telegram messages are stored in Telegram’s cloud servers and are encrypted on the server. Only Secrets Chats are securely encrypted on the sender and receiver devices.
Signal is also free and available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android. Signal also prides itself on security, being an open-source project that uses end-to-end encryption. The platform assures users that no one other than the sender and the intended recipient is able to see messages. Similar to Telegram, group chats can include up to a virtually unlimited number of people.
Which to Choose?
There are many online community platforms. There are some that are totally free while there are others that have a cost but may provide more options that would provide additional value to your community members. You can always transition from a Facebook Group to a Slack group. Feel free to comment below with other suitable online platforms to be included on the list above.
Here are some variables to think about before choosing an online community platform:
- Anticipated or desired size of your community
- Community Demographic