Because no-one remembers a faceless brand.
It’s no secret that as humans, we desire a sense of belonging. Even from a young age, we are encouraged to make friends, share, work collaboratively, take turns, and respect others.
And as we grow, we naturally gravitate towards people who have similar interests to us.
Whether we realize it or not, we create our own little community. This “community” serves as an environment where we can share our ideas, and opinions with like-minded people. It can offer us information and partnerships that we might otherwise have missed.
If you take a moment to think about it, you might notice that you are a member of a few communities already – perhaps a neighborhood committee, your child’s school committee, or an online community for holiday recommendations.
Duncan Elder defines an online community as “a group of people who interact online around a shared interest, challenge, or goal.”
But how can brands benefit from an online community? And why do brands need to focus their efforts in this way?
The answer is simple – because humans want to be around like-minded people. And if they interact with other advocates of your company, they will already have a lot in common. You’d be surprised how much they want to learn, teach, share, and experience on your community platform.
Branded online communities are a great way to humanize and strengthen your brand. They allow you to share targeted information and create deeper connections with your customers and prospects too. Typically a branded online community is connected to your website, and might include customers, prospects, and team members.
A branded community is described by Chloe West as “a place where people who have an emotional connection to your brand can connect with each other and with your brand.”
The best people to sell your brand are your happiest customers. And an online community is the best way to find these customers, meet them, guide them, and get to know them. And for them to get to know you too!
A brilliant way to truly humanize your brand and engage with customers is with video. Video can be used for conversations, ice breakers, informal greetings and welcomes, and also video testimonials.
Probably the worst-kept secret is that I’m quite obsessed with all things video.
Everyone knows that video is the future, or they should by now. If community platforms have any longevity and want to avoid the death in engagement that all community managers fear, they need to be adopting video.
Including a video on your landing page can drive engagement and boost conversion rates by up to 80%. The same is true for video content that's posted to your community channels. Your members will be engaged for longer and more likely to take action as a result of seeing the video. And, as community managers, we all know that more engagement = a happier, healthier community!
With video, there’s really no better way to humanize your brand. And companies should not be afraid of doing this, especially if their competitors aren’t using video themselves – what a great way to stand out!
At StoryPrompt we talk a lot about humanizing your brand. But what does this actually mean? It means showing behind-the-scenes, bringing a friendly face to your company, allowing prospects to see happy customers recommending your brand and engaging with each other. It’s about building trust with your community.
I’m sure you’re thinking, can I create a community on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp? The answer is yes sure, but at what cost?
The thing you have to remember is that if something is free, you’re paying for it somehow and it’s usually with your privacy. I don’t believe your community members will necessarily appreciate that.
There’s also the influx of ads, noise, distractions and behavioral targeting that you have to consider.
Below I have reviewed 15 of the best online community platforms. I have discussed the features, prices, and my overall impression of the platform. And I’ve deeply analyzed their video functionality, if they have any at all. I have then commented on their video efforts so after reading about each platform, you can make the decision for yourself.
Now that you’ve decided that creating an online community is beneficial, where do you begin? I’ll give you a clue – not from scratch! The below list will help you prepare for 2023. I’ve purposely published it now to help you plan and prepare adequately to start 2023 with a bang.
Below are 15 of the best online community platforms that you can use to start creating your own community.
StoryPrompt describe themselves as a "video-first community platform", so I was very eager to see how they differed from the other community platforms.
After signing up for StoryPrompt, I was taken through a very original onboarding. I had to select my requirements from a selection of drop-downs. This was a great touch because it felt like the dashboard was then created for me specifically. I instantly felt that my needs were considered and catered for.
This is an example of the selections I made to get started.
StoryPrompt allows you to create a "Space", basically your own community area. You can then add "Campfires" which are like different channels or topics within your space. In short, this means that I can create a community and then have channels for different discussion topics e.g. Introduce yourself, Ask me Anything. These channels felt very organized and likely to be a good experience for my community members.
The best part of StoryPrompt has to be the face-to-face asynchronous video features. It ensures that all communication is essentially human-to-human. It's like having a Zoom conversation with someone but in your own time, so there is no need for lengthy, scheduled meetings.
And the most awesome feature is that you can create a video testimonial directly from your community dashboard. So imagine you're having a conversation with a customer, they provide feedback on their experience with your company, and 2 minutes later that testimonial is on your social media.
All these features enhance your community:
StoryPrompt has four plans currently available, all prices shown are based on a yearly payment and include 2 months free:
StoryPrompt's video integration is by far the best I've ever seen. It really puts video first. The video features really allow you to get to know your community members. And the idea of creating branded testimonials and UGC from content posted within the Space is a total game-changer.
I think StoryPrompt is ahead-of-the-game and challenging the status quo. It feels like the future of online community! If you feel that your community would prefer text-based communication then StoryPrompt probably isn't for you. However if your community appreciates the personal, human element, they're definitely ready for StoryPrompt.
This is also a brilliant way of boosting engagement in your community and capturing user-generated content (UGC) because through conversations, you can create content like thought-leadership posts and video testimonials. To get a sense of StoryPrompt's community platform, I recommend taking a look at their user community. You can join it here.
Facebook might seem like the natural place to launch your community right? After all, almost everyone you know is probably on Facebook already.
But as beneficial as that sounds, it’s also the main problem with Facebook groups. Facebook Groups are amazing for small communities who want regular updates and a platform to ask questions and receive feedback. But for larger communities, I’d urge you to consider following flaws:
Facebook is free to use but remember that means you’re going to be shown lots of ads. In my opinion, ads = noise, and don’t we all have enough of that?
Facebook allows you to upload videos onto your group, users can then comment directly on the video. All conversations will be typed in the comments though which means there is no two-way communication via video at all.
Facebook seems like the obvious place to launch your community, it’s frictionless and already a place your community members are likely to be. Unlike a new platform for them to navigate.
I think Facebook is a great place for your community to start, but not necessarily scale.
You might think of Slack as a text-based communication tool, you probably use for employee engagement. But with Slack, you can easily create a community space with your existing Slack account. Similar to Facebook, it's likely your community members might already be using and comfortable with the platform, which means less friction.
When posting to your Slack community, you can upload files, record a video or audio clip. You can also add an emoji as a reaction to a post and tag other community members.
All these plans include the pricing per active user, per month. It’s important to multiply this amount based on how many community members you have.
Slack is probably one of the better video integration community platforms listed here. The reason is because they allow you to record directly from the platform instead of forcing you to record and then upload. This ensures that video communication feels natural and responsive.
The one negative of Slack for a community platform is the pricing structure. At first it seems really cheap, and it would be if you had two community members. But imagine your community is growing, and every time it grows it costs you another $7.25 per member. Firstly, that can really add up and secondly, it seems like a bit of a headache. It also could add an element of friction. You might need to justify whether it’s worth adding a community member and if they will bring sufficient value to justify the cost. You could charge for the membership but this is still something to think about.
You have to consider that many of your members might have additional own Slack workspaces which screams out one word to me - distraction! Slack has been known to cause distraction from work because of the constant notifications and multiple Slack channels, so you have to ask yourself, how engaged will my community really be on this platform?
My first impression of Mighty Networks was a very simple platform to use. Immediately I was able to create some posts and invite people to join my fictitious community.
Mighty Networks is very visual, which for a busy community manager, I really appreciate. I often feel that too much effort is spent on fluffy, overcomplicated UX, so I really appreciated Mighty Networks’ effort to keep things simple, and easy-to-use.
Once you register, you will be able to create and customize your own landing page with your own domain.
All these can be added to your landing page:
When you set up your community, you can choose whether you’d like your members to pay to join, or access a course. There is a large range of different currencies, and all plans have unlimited members and hosts.
Mighty Networks offer a free 14 day trial.
With Mighty Networks you can upload a previously recorded video, but it takes about 4 minutes to upload a .MOV 100MB file, and you can’t download it afterwards. You can post a video for your community to see HOWEVER…they can only respond with a photo, file or text.
That made me sad 😥
I think this is a great option for creating a community. It’s simple and intuitive. Mighty Networks have a real niche in supporting online courses – this is a great addition to a community platform.
One slight negative I discovered was the sign in process, I have no doubt this will annoy community members too. After leaving the platform I tried to sign back in. I had to add my email address and then go to my email account to click on a link to sign back in. Felt a bit like I was being punished for leaving. My advice – just don’t leave!
Thinkific prides itself on being a platform where you can leverage your online courses. I feel there is a brilliant link with a community platform. Online courses can be a lonely experience, so to combine it with an online community platform will definitely drive engagement, ongoing motivation, and further learning.
After logging in, I was prompted to take a tour and was shown a video to help me get started. This felt quite personal, with video feedback from their users.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on the community features but if you are looking to launch an online course, I would definitely check out these features.
When posting to my community I had the option of adding an image, video URL or file. Unfortunately I was unable to record a video directly on the platform.
Thinkific offers the following plans:
Thinkific allows you to add video to your posts but like many of its competitors (with the exception of StoryPrompt) this has to be recorded outside the platform and uploaded to your community. Once a video is uploaded, team members can like or comment on it.
I think Thinkific is a brilliant way to link your online courses and your community. Linking a course to your community is a great feature and could generate additional income for the course leader. The posting features might be limited but this is not such a deal-breaker for me. This is because as an add-on to your online course, your members are likely to receive a lot of value without the platform needing to be overly complicated.
But, I need to share my views on the pricing. If we are considering only the community features of Thinkific then the pricing becomes pretty expensive. In order to create a community where you can have 3 communities and 2 administrators, you will need to spend $149/mo (if paid yearly) whereas StoryPrompt will give you 10 spaces with 3 administrators for $79/mo.
Thinkific is a great platform as an add-on to your online course business but would be considered expensive when compared to other stand-alone tools in this list.
My first impression of Circle was that it felt a bit complicated. I was immediately hit with a lot of information and a video telling me to get started in 25 minutes – um, no thank you! I don’t wish to take 25 minutes to get started with anything.
However, after the initial impression, I began to really like Circle. I was easily able to create a post. They have added in the ability to add a cover image which I think is a great touch. There are options from Unsplash, or you can upload your own.
When you set up your community, you can choose whether you’d like your members to pay to join. Circle offers a free 14 day trial.
With Circle you can upload a previously recorded video. I uploaded the same .MOV 100MB video and was significantly quicker than Mighty Networks and you can download it afterwards. You’re then able to respond to the video with text or a prerecorded video of your own. I think they missed a trick here as it would be amazing if you could respond without having to leave, record, and upload.
I think Circle is a great option. It’s simple to use, which I appreciated. I like the fact that with Circle you can respond to a video with a video. Unfortunately, they have to be uploaded and not recorded spontaneously but at least the option is there.
Zapnito is an enterprise-grade online community platform providing everything your business needs to design, engage, manage and grow your customer community.
Since 2013, Zapnito has helped global brands to take their community experience to the next level by replacing multiple legacy engagement tools with one fully customized Zapnito platform. Centralizing where customers learn, share and connect creates more impactful engagement, loyalty and advocacy.With open/private rooms, discussions, premium content publishing, content, events, courses, video panels, analytics, notifications and much more - you can build a one-of-a-kind customer community experience.
In addition to providing a leading online community platform, Zapnito also offers expert strategic support and the Zapnito Community brings together 500+ community leaders to learn, share and connect.
My first impression of Zapnito was that it's got a LOT of text-based content, it's pretty much filled to the brim. Zapnito is very different to the other platforms reviewed in this article because conversations happen in the comment section of the blogs.
Zapnito do not offer a free trial and all their prices are hidden. You have to contact them for a quote – I'm not always the biggest fan of this unnecessary friction point. Below are the details of the plans.
Zapnito allows you to upload a video and post it to your community. But like many of the platforms reviewed in this article, this is prerecorded and not recorded in the actual platform itself. This feature however is only included with specific privileges.
I liked Zapnito as a learning community. I did however feel that their engagement features let them down slightly. By only being able to comment or like a post, it does limit engagement in my opinion. To me it seems like a great place to host your content and invite members to read it. Whether that would give rise to an engaged community, I'm just not sure.
First off, I love this name. It immediately captures that community feeling!
My first impressions of Tribe was that it was simple and easy to follow. I was greeted by the CEO, Siavash Mahmoudian, and was shown a quick tour guide which was very helpful.
To get started with Tribe, you have to create a “Space.” A space is a place where the discussion happens, similar to StoryPrompt. After that you can create a post and invite members to join your space.
You are able to fully customize your landing page and decide how you want the engagement to work, for example by adding reactions. You can also post updates using audio, video, text, and images. To use video, you can add a link or embed a link to your video. These links can include YouTube and Vimeo.
Tribe has three plans and also offers a free 14 day trial.
With Tribe the only way to have video is to upload or embed a video and there is a limit of 50MB on the free plan, and 500MB on the Advanced and Enterprise plans. It’s not really the same experience as recording a video on the platform itself and encouraging an easy two-way video conversation in my opinion.
I liked Tribe, I felt that what it does, it does well. Tribe is easy to use and would definitely help you launch and leverage your community. The pricing is high, there’s no doubt about that but that’s because Tribe is specifically designed for brand-led communities looking to build stronger customer engagement.
Disciple is very clean and easy to navigate. I did however find it challenging to sign up for a free trial. The free trial is slightly hidden as they prefer you to book a demo, even before seeing the platform for yourself. I’m not really a fan of this because I don’t believe you should be taking up 30 minutes of my time if all I want to do is see the interface.
After putting my detective hat on, I was able to find the sign up button and was pleasantly surprised. It’s simple to create and post. I liked the fact that they send you notifications and that the buttons on the toolbar are vast, including adding GIFs. I was able to set up a poll and attach a video onto my post easily and quickly.
When you set up your community, you can choose whether you’d like your members to pay to join. Disciple’s pricing structure is unique and you can create a plan that works for you specifically. To begin with you can select whether you want web or mobile. Afterwards you select your community size and any additional features.
For the sake of comparison, I have made a selection here:
Disciple offers a free 7 day trial - half the time of their competitors mentioned above.
I was able to add a video into a post, it was relatively quick to upload too. Users can then view, comment and share the video. They are then able to respond to the video with text or a previously recorded video of their own.
Like Circle, Disciple gives you the opportunity to communicate using video, but because you’re only able to upload a prerecorded video, the spontaneous video-based communication is lacking.
The pricing on Disciple is incredibly expensive. Considering I have only selected a web-based platform with 1000 members and it’s already coming in at $154 (see image above), whereas Circle would be $39. This came as a bit of a shock.
I have to wonder what it is that truly makes it worthy of that golden price tag. However I can see why it’s popular. It has no fluff and no overcomplicated, unnecessary UX. It’s really simple to follow and post to your community.
Insided has a real community feel. They integrate customer community content with a knowledge base. This means that users can contribute, help others and give feedback within the knowledgebase. They can also react to posts and earn badges.
Unfortunately I was unable to sign up for a trial without booking a demo. I watched a video which was entitled “a brief look at our platform.” It was overly polished and salesy, and didn’t really give me any idea of what the platform looks like.
Insided has integrations with tools such as Google Analytics, Zapier, API, Zendesk, Salesforce available with every plan. Integrations increase when plans are upgraded.
There are no prices on the website, you will need to contact Insided for a quote. However, these are their plans:
When you set up your community, you can choose whether you’d like your members to pay to join.
As I was unable to sign up for a trial, I can’t comment on this truthfully. However I went to their knowledge base and saw that someone had asked how to add a video to a post. The response was that you can embed videos from platforms like Figma and Canva. I have some issues with this: firstly, how obvious is this feature if a user had to ask the question? And secondly, it appears that video is an afterthought, and definitely not a focus of their platform.
This question was asked 2 years ago so maybe this has been updated, but as I was unable to see for myself, we will always have to wonder!
I liked browsing Insided, but “liked” is the only verb I can use here. It feels very hush-hush. I had no access to a free trial or any pricings. I’m not sure if this was to create mystery, or to appear super-premium, but either way it was not a great first impression.
I can’t tell you my first impressions of Hivebrite because, like Insided, I was unable to log into it without booking a demo. I toyed with the idea of removing Hivebrite as one of my options in this article because quite frankly, this first impression of this platform really infuriated me.
I understand that they want me to book a demo to see the value of the product, but I don’t feel I should have to give away my time just to see the interface, or the pricing.
Incase you might have more tolerance than me, I have listed some of information I could find below.
Hivebrite seems to have four specific community use-cases:
In truth, I was unable to obtain this information without a demo but after some research discovered that it’s around $500/mo. That’s quite a price!
I have absolutely no idea how to comment here either. But all I can say is that if video was a massive aspect of their platform, I’d be able to make a comment here despite not seeing the interface first-hand.
I’m sure that Hivebrite is a great platform with fantastic features and networking opportunities but I have no way of confirming that. And to be honest, Hivebrite annoyed me with the cold, uninformative welcome from the very beginning. Personally I have an issue with hiding information and forcing me to give up my time by having to book a demo just to take a peek. For me a demo is useful for an upgrade, to brainstorm ideas, or to explain challenging features. NOT to see the interface.
This one isn’t for me. If Hivebrite have in fact produced a truly wonderful dashboard, then we’ll never know that, will we? Bit of a shame :(
Discord is available in your browser or as a downloadable app. The homepage makes it look fun but in truth, not very B2B. Once I registered, I was asked to “Create a server” and also had the option to use a template.
It was simple to post to my test community. I was able to post using text, add a file, gif, and react using an emoji.
There seem to be two types of channels, text channels and video channels. Text channels seem similar to Slack and can be seen in this image below. Video channels integrate with a video platform similar to Zoom. This is useful for video conversations.
Discord is mostly free but the free plan is limited. You can upgrade by adding Nitro which is $9.99/mo. This means that you get better emojis, bigger uploads and HD video with screen share and live streaming.
Discord allows you to have synchronous video conversations and screen sharing conversations. Within the text channel, you can upload a video but this is restricted to 8MB per video, or 500MB after upgrading. That’s quite a difference!
While Discord looks fun, I question whether this is the correct platform for a business community. I imagine it’s more a platform for gamers to chat while they play together. This type of user would probably be happy to spend money on avatars and emojis.
In my opinion it seems like you would choose between Discord and one of the social media platforms, all are easy-to-use and a great starting point, but seem more geared towards consumers than businesses.
Uscreen is primarily a platform for creators to sell, grow, and scale their business using video. By adding community features, Uscreen are taking engagement to the next level. This feels quite similar to Thinkific where the community can engage on a dedicated platform after receiving value from the online courses (Thinkific) or the video features (Uscreen).
Just like Thinkific, I am only going to focus on the community features for the sake of a direct comparison with the other community platforms in this article.
I have to note here that my first impression with Uscreen was that it was a tad pushy. They kept encouraging me to book a demo, over and over again. To watch a recorded demo of the platform, I had to add in my contact details. Not sure I love that if I’m honest. In a world where competitors offer so much ungated content and make me feel respected and valued, I found this to be a bit of a sticky point.
Creating a community is very simple and creating a post is too.
But then I noticed something missing and my heart was sliced into two!!! You cannot post a video to your community! Huh??? 😥
Uscreen specialize in all things video, but you can only post a .jpg and .png? Disappointed is an understatement!
Uscreen have 2 main plans, with a free 14 day trial, and an enterprise plan.
As I mentioned above, I had such high expectations for the video integration on Uscreen and now I feel a bit foolish. To only be able to post a photo or a file to your community means that Uscreen, a platform of massive video users, have missed the mark completely for me.
I understand what Uscreen are trying to create with their community features. They want it to be a place where members can engage, network and continue learning. I get that. But what I don’t get is why such huge video advocates would eliminate video from the community altogether?
Like Thinkific, the community features are an add-on to the primary video related features Uscreen offer. If you’re considering Uscreen as a standalone community tool, you need to see if you can justify the higher price tag over one of the other dedicated community applications like StoryPrompt.
On Guild’s About page they specify, “Not owned by Facebook, Google, Amazon or Microsoft” I totally love this and support this 100%.
Creating a community with Guild was very simple and quick. I liked that I had the choice whether I wanted my group to be discoverable or private.
Guild allows you to add a photo, video, file and Gif to your post. Unfortunately the video has to be created outside of Guild and uploaded into the community. This obviously prevents a natural-feeling video conversation from taking place.
Guild supports video but it’s pretty limited. All videos must be created elsewhere and then uploaded to your post.
Guild was a great community platform, it’s simple to use and delivers exactly what it promises. No bells or whistles but in the current climate of overly complicated community platforms, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.
I do however think their dedicated phone apps set them apart and are very helpful for mobile community managers and members.
I must admit I never knew about Volley until it was mentioned to me. My first impression was that I love the asynchronous video conversation. This platform felt similar to StoryPrompt, and like StoryPrompt, all conversations are human-to-human and authentic as they utilize video. However, and this is a big however, this platform creates endless scrolling through videos and videos. An engaged community will immediately feel disorganized because of this. Each video that is created is uploaded below an earlier one which immediately made me feel like I could be wasting a lot of time simply trying to view all the important content. And I have no doubt that videos will get lost in the feed. Volley offers threads but this has been separated from the flow of videos which adds to the confusion and can affect engagement.
Because I felt Volley was similar to StoryPrompt, I looked out for certain features that I, and many others, love about StoryPrompt. It didn't take me long to notice that videos couldn't be branded, polls cannot be created, and there were no white-label community options. But you could comment using text, this is not currently available on StoryPrompt.
Volley has three plans:
Their video integration really made me happy. Most of the other platforms on this list, used video but it felt like an after-thought. So it really made me pleased to see video being used as a priority in this community platform. However, a big limitation with Volley is that you can't really create user-generated content from the platform. Sure you can download the videos, but then you still have to do all the editing and video production yourself.
I think that like Slack, Volley may appear affordable to begin with. However, the Grow plan takes 5% of your revenue and with the Pro plan, you pay per user. I think both these plans can be extremely deceptive and Volley may quickly become an expensive tool. I think you need to seriously consider their pricing structure before launching your community because it may become increasingly difficult to budget and scale your community. Also if you launched your community on Volley, and then wanted to scale, moving your community elsewhere is a real hassle for you and your members.
All in all, I was just a bit underwhelmed with Volley. I think it has some great features but I think for an engaged community or coaching platform, there are a lot of friction points: scrolling through videos, inability to brand your community, awkward threads, ever-changing pricing structure, and still needing to create user-generated content externally.
When I started to write this article, I had clear areas I wanted to focus on: features, UX, branding, and the prices of all these platforms. However my main focus was to analyze how they were using video as a means of community engagement.
As a strong advocate of video, I think the best way to truly utilize video is spontaneously. I appreciate that most of the tools like Circle and Disciple, allow you to upload a previously recorded video. But in my opinion when using video as part of your community’s communication, a response should be natural and spontaneous.
If the respondent has to go out of the platform to record a video and then upload it, it adds unnecessary friction, which is a real shame. If asynchronous video communication were to even take place after leaving the platform, it would feel unnatural, overly formal and not very community-spirited.
When reviewing 15 platforms, it’s very easy to see the outlier. Out of all these platforms, StoryPrompt was the only one to embrace video and branding to the degree I was hoping for.
StoryPrompt allows you to respond to a video, with - you guessed it…another video! It’s like being on a live video call, but it’s not live so therefore not taking up a huge chunk of your day! Because StoryPrompt is an asynchronous video-first platform, you can watch and respond to a conversation at a time that suits YOU. Not your already jam-packed calendar! And you can do all this, in your own branded white-label version of the platform.
In conclusion, I’d like to add that the time really has come for community members to get to know each other better. And to stop hiding behind text and overly polished unnatural videos.
I think our communities are ready for a change and it's refreshing to see a platform like StoryPrompt finally encouraging it.
Start truly engaging with your community and sign up to StoryPrompt or join StoryPrompt's user community to experience what a face-to-face, video-first community platform truly feels like.