It’s a fact: Humans crave community. And with online membership sites becoming more and more popular in the online business world, we wanted to explore and review two different membership community platforms: Mighty Networks and Circle.so, to help you determine which one might be the best fit for your community.
Way back in the day, it wasn't so difficult to build community. We organically found community at bars and churches, sporting events, and dinner parties. But since the advent of the Internet, it has become both easier, and harder, to find true community. Sure, we have social networks, but as we all know those can be noisy and distracting, and connections often don't get past the surface.
More and more we’re craving more sane, safe, and calm spaces online to connect. Places that are more peaceful with fewer distractions and where we can hang out with people with whom we have something in common. And where you, the community leader, have more control.
Membership communities are the newest way to build online connections with people in your audience. We launched SPI Pro in July, and we already have hundreds of members who all have an interest in starting and growing their online businesses.
We’re all-in on membership communities, and if you’re an entrepreneur, we want to help you set one up as well.
In the process of creating SPI Pro, there were many things to consider, including where to host it. Mighty Networks? Discourse? Disciple? Circle? There are a slew of platforms out there, and finding the right “home” is crucial to help keep your members engaged and coming back for more.
In this blog post, we’re going to compare two membership platforms: Mighty Networks and Circle.so. One has been around for years. The other launched less than a year ago.
Both are amazing platforms, but as you’ll see, there are some key differences, and they have different strengths and benefits. Which one could be right for you?
Disclosure: This post contains our unbiased review and recommendations to help you decide between Mighty Networks and Circle.so for your membership community platform. However, Circle.so is the platform SPI uses for its membership community, SPI Pro, and this post contains affiliate links for Circle.so. Read our full affiliate disclaimer here.
Mighty Networks Review: An All-In-One Tool
The platform has been around for a few years. Here's some background on how this platform came about.
How Mighty Networks Started
Mighty Networks was founded by Gina Bianchini, who was cofounder of Ning.com, an online social media network platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks. Gina left Ning in 2010 and started Mighty Networks.
She and her team wanted to build something that was mobile-fast and creator-led.
Pat interviewed Gina in session 405 of the SPI Podcast, where she talks about her vision with Mighty Networks: “… to create something that allowed you to bring your people together in one place, do more with them, run online courses, have virtual workshops or even organize in-person events because of some of the features we have related to people near me.”
“What's powerful about a Mighty Network,” says Gina, is that “you're not just bringing your community and courses together in the same place. You are in fact creating and taking advantage of the same underlying dynamics that have built some of the most successful companies in the history of companies [Facebook, Twitter, etc.] The difference is that you as a creator can take advantage of the same underlying dynamics that built those platforms by having your own network effect that is creator-sized, that is for your people that built your business.”Gina Bianchini, founder, Mighty Networks
Gina wanted to create a place for “brands and businesses to come together via online courses, paid memberships, events, content, and community—all under your brand, instantly available natively on every platform.” Mighty Networks serves the growing world of “creators with a purpose” in a category they term the “passion economy.”
Mighty Networks is one of the oldest and most established platforms to host membership communities, and it’s filled with tons of features.
Recently, it has started marketing itself as a “website builder” rather than just a community platform. This is an interesting move, because it offers online businesses a way to build their entire infrastructure on one platform.
Features of Mighty Networks
The platform has a ton of functionality you’d want as a creator, including:
- Website builder
- Online courses
Mighty Networks has the ability to produce articles, online courses, and organized events. The company wants each creator to be in control of their own Mighty Network and to be able to bring their content, courses, and community together in one place.
Mighty Networks discovered through customer feedback that their customers didn’t want to have to go to other platforms to create online courses, so they built a way for creators to create and sell online courses right on the Mighty Networks platform. Today, over 65 percent of their paying customers (premium plan), take advantage of the ability to host their online courses on Mighty Networks.
Mighty Networks Plans
The platform offers three main plans to choose from, based on your needs.
Mighty Networks Free Plan:
- Personalized activity feeds for members
- Topics, articles and direct messaging
- Option to have your community public or private
Mighty Networks Community Plan ($23/month paid annually*):
- Your own web domain
- Unlimited moderators
- The ability to charge for membership
- *$28/month paid monthly
Mighty Networks Business Plan ($81/month paid annually*):
- Online courses
- 2,000 + Zapier integrations
- Premium analytics
- *$98/month paid monthly
You can see the full list of plans and features here. There’s also a Pro plan (price not provided on the website), which includes white label capabilities.
Why You Might Consider Using Mighty Networks
We've identified three key reasons why Mighty Networks might be your platform of choice for your membership community.
It allows you to build your entire online business infrastructure on one platform
As mentioned above, Mighty Networks was originally created as a community platform, but has since transitioned into positioning itself as a “website builder”—which allows people to start with their website and build everything out from there. This allows people to have their community, course sales, and content creation all in one place, rather than having to figure out different platforms for each.
It has been around for a while and has developed a ton of features
Since Mighty Networks is several years old, it has more capabilities than other membership platforms. For now, the built-in events functionality seems a lot better than Circle and other platforms, and their member profiles are more robust. In addition, it has a tool for payments so you don’t have to integrate an outside platform when selling courses or your membership community.
Having everything in one place helps to encourage audience engagement
If your fans have to log in to several different platforms to engage with you and your other fans, then engagement might suffer. If they’ve just finished a course and then have to go to Facebook to connect with others who took the course, it may be too much work.
Gina believes that entrepreneurs want everything in one place: “They’re saying, ‘You know what? I'm sick of having a static website. The fact that I can have my website and my community and my courses and my payments and my marketing pages all in one place is what I want because I want to move from having something that's static to dynamic.’”
It’s also outside of the noise and distraction of Facebook—it’s a dedicated space so you have people coming to the community intentionally, not just when they’re scrolling through Facebook. So you won’t have to work as hard to keep your community members' attention.
Why Mighty Networks Might Not Be Right for You
Mighty Networks isn't for everyone. Here are the main reasons it may not be the best fit for your needs.
You might not need so many features
Some established creators don’t need this many features. If you already have your courses housed somewhere else, you don’t need the “courses” feature. If you’re a more established entrepreneur and creator, you may not want to move your payments, courses, and website all over to Mighty Networks.
It’s not very intuitive
While it’s very feature rich, Mighty Networks isn't as intuitive as other platforms, like Circle. Some users have found it hard to navigate. Sometimes you have to click through one or two levels before you find the conversation. Also, the platform isn’t “white label” unless you pay for the Pro membership, which isn’t priced on its website.
Bottom Line: This platform could be perfect for you if you need an all-in-one platform to build your business infrastructure, but it seems less intuitive and harder to navigate than Circle.
Circle.so Review: A Tool That Turns a Passive Audience into Passionate Superfans
Circle is a much newer platform than Mighty Networks. In fact, it was launched less than a year ago.
How Circle.so Started
Circle was started by three colleagues who left Teachable around the same time. Sid Yadav was Teachable’s first designer and worked there for five years. He teamed up with Andrew Guttormsen, the former VP of growth at Teachable, and Rudy Santino, the former head of design.
According to the Circle.so website, Circle promotes itself as the “modern community platform for creators” that “brings together your discussions, memberships, and content” and enables you to “integrate a thriving community wherever your audience is, all under your own brand.”
The biggest difference between Circle and Mighty Networks is that Circle isn’t trying to do everything. Its main focus is on membership communities, and then providing seamless integration with other platforms you may be using.
As Circle cofounder Sid Yadav says, “We’re not trying to do all of it. Our approach is a little more modular: we’re trying to nail the community piece, and specifically the engagement piece. Our approach is to integrate with everyone else, so we have a partnership with Teachable, with Memberstack, with Memberspace, Memberfull.”
Circle also doesn’t currently have its own payment option, but it does integrate well with payment platforms like Stripe.
The other big difference between Circle and Mighty Networks is that Circle offers a white-label community experience, where you can choose your own brand colors, add a custom domain, etc.
As we wrote in our October 16 blog post about the launch of SPI Pro, we've been all-in on Circle since it launched last winter.
Matt, our co-CEO, had a vision for SPI Pro, and then went looking for a platform that could do everything we wanted. Circle seemed like the perfect fit. Matt and Pat have since become advisors for the company.
Features of Circle.so
Circle's key features include:
- Custom domain
- Private spaces (similar to Slack channels)
- Bulk import/export
- Zapier Integration
- Embed Widgets
- In-app notifications
- Member profiles and directory
- Basic moderation
- Direct messaging
- Weekly digest email
- iOS app
Complete white labeling (for the Professional and Enterprise plans)
To see a full list of Circle's features, go here.
Circle offers three main plans.
Circle.so Basic Plan: $39/month
- 1,000 Monthly Active Members
- 10 spaces
- Custom domain
- Zapier integration
- SSO with Memberstack and MemberSpace
Circle.so Professional Plan: $79/month*
- 10,000 Monthly Active Members
- 100 spaces
- API Access
- Complete white labeling
- Advance reporting
- SSO with WordPress and Memberful
- Priority email support
- *Price reflects a 20% “early bird discount” that may disappear at some point
Circle.so Enterprise Plan: $199/month
- 100,000 Monthly Active Members
- 1,000 spaces
- 3 communities
- Custom SSO via OAuth
- Account manager
Why You Might Want to Consider Circle.so
There are three key reasons to consider Circle for your membership community.
Seamless integration with your existing tech stack
If you already have a website or online courses, and if you’re already using multiple tech platforms, Circle integrates very nicely with your existing tech stack.
It’s very customizable, so you can build your community space from the ground up
When you create spaces, you can customize who has access to each of those, change whether they’re displayed in “post,” “list,” or “card” view, control whether members can create new topics, change the way the topics are ordered, and pin topics to the top or sidebar.
You can also have a blend of a free community on Circle that has private spaces that someone would need to pay to have access to, or a completely free platform on Circle. Every part of the platform is modular so that you can do with it whatever you want.
Circle also lets you choose your colors, add your logo, and use your own custom subdomain so that the experience on the platform feels native to your brand and your products.
It’s intuitive, and combines the best of platforms like Slack and Facebook
Circle feels a bit like Slack with “spaces” you can customize similar to Slack Channels. As an admin, you can choose who is in what space, and it’s easy to make spaces public or private.
It’s not just one long newsfeed, so conversations are easier to join and respond to, without having to be on the platform constantly or having to click through several layers to find the conversation.
Circle has a clean, simple interface that will be very familiar for people who have been a part of a Facebook or Slack group. It’s also more user-friendly than Mighty Networks.
Why Circle.so Might Not Be Right for You
While Circle is a great option, there are a couple of reasons why it may not be the best fit for you.
It doesn’t have as many features as Mighty Networks
One important thing to consider is that Circle does not include a tool to collect payments for your membership community, so you will need to integrate another platform like Stripe in order to process user payments on your own.
It also doesn’t have group messaging (although the Circle team working on including that in the future), or a mobile app (also coming soon).
Circle is new on the scene, and it will take time to develop these features. And some features may ultimately not be a part of Circle’s vision. Instead of adding features like a payment tool, the platform may focus more on community and integration instead.
You’ll need other platforms to build out your business infrastructure
If you’re a new entrepreneur and don’t already have a website, courses, or a payment platform, you’ll need to set those up separately from Circle. Depending on where you want to go with your business, that may not be a bad thing. But just keep in mind that Circle is laser focused on building a membership community platform that will be more user friendly, and keep your fans engaged.
Bottom Line: Circle might be perfect for you if you need a community platform that is flexible and customizable, and you don’t need an all-in-one tool. It’s still new and developing its tools, but the team at Circle is incorporating feedback from its users.
Why We Chose Circle.so for SPI Pro
So far, Circle has been an amazing home for SPI Pro. We didn’t need an all-in-one tool like Mighty Networks, and we liked the fact that we could build our community space exactly how we wanted it, and didn’t have to try to shoe-horn it into an existing template.
We have found that our community members are highly engaged—a recent monthly challenge event generated over 500 comments! That said, we are noticing that some of the spaces aren't being used very much, and so it’s easy to delete them when necessary, or add new spaces based on the needs and interests of our community.
Seeing the spaces (similar to Slack channels) on the left side of the page keeps topics and conversations easy to access which leads to more engagement.
The Circle team has been amazing in responding to our feedback and requests, and we’re excited to see how this new tool can evolve within the next year.
If you’re starting your own membership community, be sure to do your research and find the best fit for your business. If you think Circle might be the right solution for your business, you can get a free 14-day trial to put it through its paces [affiliate link].