If you’re serious about growing your audience, you cannot afford to do without online community software. Online community software, otherwise called “social software” are tools to help you create virtual communities where consumers can come together to share ideas, feedback, and engage with each other and your business.
Online communities help you tune into what your customers are saying – both the good and the bad. They help you figure out what you need to create better products and services your customers will love and refer to others.
Ultimately, creating online communities is about growing your business. Online community software helps you do this in a smarter and more efficient manner.
In this article we cover what to expect from online community software, how to determine if it’s right for you, and a quick overview of the top 33 online community software available.
(Or skip straight to the online community software below.)
What is online community software?
If you go online, you will find communities for each and every topic under the sun. It’s human nature to want to connect and exchange ideas. These communities can be set up by any business or individual with zero-to-minimal tech skills.
Online community software takes this one step further by providing features that make it easier to manage communities, get feedback, and monetize the platform at the same time.
Understanding online community software
Online community software are tools you can use to create, manage, and monetize online communities much more efficiently by leveraging automation and technology.
With online communities, businesses can engage with customers and glean insights on behaviors, patterns, trends, and preferences. These insights can then be used to create more targeted, more successful advertising messages.
Products and services can be tested ahead of time within the member community before an official release. Businesses can also use these platforms to answer questions, showcase their expertise, and build trust with their audience.
3 examples of successful online communities
- Apple’s Support Communities are simply fun places to hang out. Users can ask questions, find answers, and be a part of specific product communities (iPad, Apple Watch, Apple Music, etc.). Active participants get points, which increases their status level and access to privileges, as well as fuels ongoing engagement and loyalty.
- Virgin Mobile Australia implemented a wildly successful community platform to manage Virgin’s growing social media presence and the increasing customer inquiries.
- TripAdvisor self-hosts a community forum on their website. It brings their core audience of travelers together in one place to share knowledge and experiences. Discussion topics are categorized by destinations and travel themes. The forum enables the business to build long-term engagement with consumers, as well as identify the latest travel trends.
Key features of online community software
There are many features of online community software that provide value for businesses. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Member data management: As a business grows, it becomes more difficult to manually manage all customers and relationships. Community software invites customers (or members) to create their own profiles and even customize their individual spaces. Then, an administrator or moderator can filter, sort, and segment different levels or types of members.
- Content management: Online community software enables you to set up content creation and content sharing features. Your business can share content and measure how well it’s received, and members can also share useful content themselves and with each other.
- Engagement tools: Engagement is necessary for a community to thrive, and these are various tools to facilitate increased engagement among members. The most popular engagement tools are discussion boards, polls, surveys, and chats.
- An omnichannel experience: With online community software, businesses can connect with members through any number of their preferred channels – member forums, social media, emails, chats, and more. Some software offers in-app formats which means members and administrators can stay up-to-date even on the go.
- Notifications: Send out notifications of the most important updates, upcoming events, and promotions through multiple channels in an automated manner to all your members.
- Reporting and analytics: Most community software provides a centralized dashboard with access to advanced reporting and analytics. Get insight into the most popular types of content, the most popular discussion topics or areas for improvement, and how engaged users are in your community
- Event management: You can notify members of upcoming events, sell tickets and souvenirs, and send them ongoing updates.
- Donations management: Nonprofits and charitable organizations particularly benefit from this feature, which provides end-to-end automation for all your fundraising needs.
- Media library: Media libraries allow you to organize content in a centralized location and grant controlled access to members depending on their categories or types
- Security and safety: Online community software makes it easier for you to ensure the safety and security of your members. A lot of tools have automated moderators to scan content for spam, hate speech, or trolling and flag them. This ensures your members feel supported in your community.
Benefits of online community software
Why should you use online community software? Here are some of the top benefits that come from using a tool to create or manage your community:
- Attract and engage customers: Quite simply, a well-designed community platform will help attract new customers and retain existing ones in the long run. This is done through the software’s interactive messaging, automated responses, and engagement tools.
- Solidify your brand reputation: Online communities can encourage trust and credibility among members. In turn, customers are more loyal to brands they see as trustworthy and concerned about their needs. A recent survey revealed that 50% of respondents believe online communities inspire trust in the company.
- Validate products and services: Online communities are a great way to test and validate products and services with a dedicated sample size of your market. The feedback can help you develop a more solid offering and increase overall sales.
- Minimize costs: Automated online community tools are capable of performing a large chunk of customer service and support tasks, reducing costs to a great extent. Marketing can also be made more cost-effective, thanks to the reliable, real-time customer data you get from the software.
Is online community software right for you?
Online community software is a great choice for any type of business or organization looking to scale. No matter what industry or market you’re in, there are different types of software available for different needs.
Some are all-in-one solutions with everything you need for community management in one place. Others offer bespoke options that offer end-to-end customization. There are even software options designed for specific niches, like SaaS, course creators, teacher communities, church communities, and more.
The options can seem overwhelming if you’re new to the world of online community software. We’ve put together a checklist on what points to cover when you’re deciding which software will work best:
- Feature list: Explore the full list of features provided by the online community software and identify your must-haves. Does the software enable customizations based on your needs, or do you have to use a specific suite? Are there add-ons? Can you access the software desktop, tablet, and mobile?
- Ease of setup: How easy is the software to set up and integrate into your team? Does the company help you with set up or offer training?
- Customer support: What type of customer support and material does the company provide? How quickly can they deal with your inquiries or concerns?
- Security: How secure is the platform and the messages sent through online communities? What is the level of moderation available?
- Costs: Finally, is the cost of the product something you can bear? Are there monthly payment options? Do you get a discount if you pay annually?
Alternatives to online community software
If your business isn’t quite ready to create an online community, there are still a lot of ways to engage with your customers. Here are a few other types of software to consider:
- Free referral program software you can try
- Customer engagement tools worth trying
- The best online reputation management services
- Software solutions to create customer success
- Answer customer concerns with help desk tools
The evaluation criteria
Our team has researched and compiled the top online community software tools. Read how we evaluated our list, and then browse through the reviews below:
|Pricing||How much does the software cost? What different plans are available? Are you required to commit for an entire year, or are monthly plans available?|
|Free plan or trial||Does the company offer a free plan or trial period for you to try out the software before purchase?|
|Customer service and support||How does the company help assist you when using the software? What are the ways you can contact them for questions or issues?|
|Review score||How do existing users rate the online community software? Based on an aggregate score from top review sites, our rating is out of 5 stars and indicates how many people reviewed the software tool.|
|Notable features||What makes this online community platform stand out? We’ve broken down the top features of each, such as moderation tools, plugin integration, and data analytics.|
Top 33 online community software tools
Using our evaluation criteria, we put together a list of the top online community software. The table below lists down all the software we cover in this article. Click the tool to read more about the company and its most popular features below.
Note: The software is not listed in any order of rank or recommendation. Our aim is to put together a selected source of online community solutions, and give a clear picture of all the available options.
|Online community software||Pricing||Free demo or trial||Customer support||Review score|
|Answerbase||Starting at $19/month||Free demo and trial available||Email, knowledge base||4.8 stars (15 reviews)|
|Circle||Starting at $39/month||Free demo and trial available||Email, knowledge base||N/A|
|Comradery||Starting at $0/month||Free plan and demo available||N/A|
|Crowdstack||Starting at $49/month||Free trial available||Documentation, knowledge base, tickets||4.3 stars (13 reviews)|
|Discourse||Free platform, with hosting plans starting at $100/month||Free software, demo, and trial available||3.9 stars (54 reviews)|
|Flock||Starting at $0/month||Free plan, demo, and trial available||Help center, guides, videos, chat, tickets||4.5 stars (437 review)|
|Higher Logic||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Email, phone, help center, community, training, support resources, tickets||4.4 stars (222 reviews)|
|Hivebrite||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Help center||4.4 (122 reviews)|
|Honeycommb||Starting at $300/month (+ launch fee)||Free demo available||FAQ, help center, community resources, success manager, tickets||4.8 stars (22 reviews)|
|Influitive||Contact for pricing||Free demo and trial available||Knowledge base, videos, webinars, tickets, Influitive Institute||4.5 stars (512 reviews)|
|inSided||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Email, help center, ebooks, webinars||4.5 stars (58 reviews)|
|Khoros||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Resource center, webinars, ebooks||4.2 stars (57 reviews)|
|OnSemble||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Support center, community, customer conference, tickets||4.6 stars (174 reviews)|
|ProBoards||Starting at $49.99/month||Free plan and demo available||Email, phone, FAQ, support forum, help guide||4 stars (15 reviews)|
|Quip||Starting at $10/user/month||Free trial available||Phone, knowledge base, community, training, webinars, videos, ebooks||4.2 (970 reviews)|
|Tapatalk||Starting at $0/month||Free plan available||Support forum, tickets||3.7 (13 reviews)|
|Tribe||Starting at $0/month||Free plan and trial available||Email, chat, knowledge base, community, ebooks, guides||4.7 (121 reviews)|
|Vanila||Contact for pricing||Free demo and trial available||Knowledge base, training, FAQ, webinars, ebooks, dedicated customer success manager||4.4 (133 reviews)|
|vBulletin||Starting at $249/month||Free demo and trial available||Knowledge base, FAQ, support forums, videos||4 (14 reviews)|
|VeryConnect||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||N/A||4.5 (1 review)|
|Website Toolbox||Starting at $39/month||Free trial available||Email, chat, FAQ, support forums, chat rooms||4.5 (118 reviews)|
|Zapnito||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Email, chat, training||4.8 (42 reviews)|
|Discord||Starting at $0/month||Free plan available||Chat, help center, FAQ, guides, ticket, Mod Academy||N/A|
|Mighty Networks||Starting at $0/month||Free plan, demo, and trial available||Help center, online courses||4.5 (37 reviews)|
|Mobilize||Starting at $49/month||Free demo and trial available||Chat, support center, community||4.7 (99 reviews)|
|Icebreaker||Starting at $0/month||Free plan and demo available||FAQ, help center||N/A|
|Ning||Starting at $25/month||Free trial available||Email, chat, 24/7 phone, community and forum, help center||3.3 (24 reviews)|
|Rungway||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Email, chat, phone, help center, account manager||4.6 (24 reviews)|
|Wild Apricot||Starting at $0/month||Free plan and trial available||Help center, forums, tickets||4.5 (534 reviews)|
|Viafoura||Starting at $0/month||Free plan and demo available||Documentation hub, customer portal, guides, webinars, tickets||4.7 (15 reviews)|
|GlueUp||Contact for pricing||Free demo available||Email, FAQ, ebooks, guides, academy||4.6 (75 reviews)|
|GroupFire||Starting at $750/month||Free demo available||Chat||5 (12 reviews)|
|Memberhub||Starting at $399/year||N/A||Email, chat, help center, initial setup/onboarding, live workshops, community||4.7 (10 reviews)|
Answerbase is a Q&A platform you can attach to your site to answer visitor questions. Common questions are answered automatically by the platform, which saves you additional time and resources. And because answers are readily available to customers, the platform helps increase conversions and engagement.
- Multiple Q&A solutions: The platform is available for ecommerce, self-help, customer support, community support, private collaboration, or lead generation models.
- Knowledge sharing and recognition: Content reviews, document sharing, and fun gamification features can be used to encourage community interaction.
- Seamless third-party integration: Works together with commonly used platforms, including Bigcommerce, Shopify, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Zapier, Zendesk, and more.
|Pricing||Free demo or trial||Customer support||Review score|
|Basic ($19/month), Professional ($49/month), Growth ($129/month), and Business ($249/month)||Free demo and trial available||Email, knowledge base (phone support for Growth and Business)||4.8 (15 reviews)|
Circle calls itself “the modern community platform for creators.” Its mix of interesting features make it a unique value-add for the creator-community. The software offers a range of options for different types of creators, such as course-creators, coaches, brands, and start-ups.
- Flexible membership options:Create specific membership communities for students, coaching clients, product discussions, and more.
- Easy integration: Integrate an online community anywhere you want: your website, online course page, product page, and even your creator stack workflows.
- Premium white-labeling: Choose your own colors and logo, use a custom domain, and own 100% of your member data.
|Pricing||Free demo or trial||Customer support||Review score|
|Basic ($39/month), Professional ($79/month), and Enterprise ($199/month)||Free demo and trial available||Email, knowledge base (priority email support and dedicated account manager for Enterprise)||N/A|