Platforms and tools are not the secret to successful professional community building but you still have to make the best choice of platform for your needs. You’ll need to consider your tech architecture and stack approach too, across the spectrum: full custom > custom integration > off the shelf with integration points > best of breeds integrated > standalone point solutions.
Following are the platforms that I’ve come across, broken down by category, to help save you time in your research. I’ve added some personal comments and observations where relevant.
1. Conversations & Messaging Apps
Often mobile-focused and about engaging community members in conversations
- Guild – yes, we get to put ourselves first and obviously we’re the best for professional groups, networks and communities if you want the ease/intimacy of mobile messaging but purpose-built for professionals and businesses to use.
- Slack – gets used quite a bit for professional communities despite being designed as a workflow and collaboration tool for teams. Some people like Slack precisely because they also use it for workflow but I still think Slack isn't designed for communities.
- Discord – there’s quite a lot of noise around, and adoption of, Discord which makes sense if you’re in the gaming world or into live streaming or audio hangouts… but I struggle to see how it would work for most professional communities given the anonymity and lack of business admin/controls. But it seems cool to like Discord at the moment…
- Signal – a popular alternative to WhatsApp except blue not green. And not owned by dodgy-data-practices Facebook of course. But it is really for individuals rather than businesses wanting to host communities.
- Telegram – pretty much the same as Signal except a lighter blue. And better stickers than WhatsApp. A possibility for informal peer professional groups and personal private comms but not really a business platform.
- Geneva– quite a broad proposition covering creators, brands and consumer communities… not used it personally so hard to comment further.
- Threema – like the ‘Swiss bank of messaging apps’… and they are Swiss. Perhaps not the most exciting for some communities, but strong on security. Has personal and work versions.
2. Membership Platforms
Tend to be web-based (some have apps) and cover a broad range of features from handling membership payments to content, directories, courses, events etc.
- Zapnito – really shines if your community is an expert one i.e. about the exchange of knowledge and expertise. UK-based.
- Mighty Networks – a fully featured option but which (perhaps because of its breadth) I find quite hard to use and lies somewhere between ‘creator’ and ‘business’ in feel. Also, more ‘American’ in feel and approach.
- Disciple Media – comes from a background in community sites for music fans but now much more of a direct competitor to Mighty Networks above. Not experienced it directly myself yet. But, being UK-based, also feels less ‘US’.
- Bettermode - also fully featured with quite an emphasis on integrations. Feels similar and most directly competitive with the likes of Circle (below). Canada-based. (Formerly known as Tribe)
- Circle – similar proposition to Bettermode (above) except pitched more at ‘creators’ rather than ‘professionals’ or businesses (so good if you want more emojis ?).
- GlueUp – another fully-featured ‘all in one’ community platform that grew out of EventBank (event management platform). Offices in US, Mexico, Brazil.
- Higher Logic – US-based platform best known in the professional association space. Quite ‘enterprise’ in approach.
- Hivebrite – arguably like the European version Higher Logic which started out in France (now with NYC office also).
- Crowdstack – evolved out of discussion forum software to be somewhat more fully featured now. No mobile app as far as I know. US-based.
- Simplero – focused on coaches and education businesses selling courses, coaching programs, memberships and digital products if relevant for you.
There are a number of platforms for ‘creators’ as part of the ‘passion economy’ which might do enough for what you need but probably best suit single-person, or small, businesses (or ‘side hustles’) focused on content/creativity:
3. Newsletter platforms that offer subscriptions or memberships
There are loads of tools to run newsletters but more of them are now offering ways to charge subscribers and also offer some element of ‘community’. Worth considering if you want quite a simple professional community offering based on a newsletter.
4. Payment platforms for subscribers or members
If you’ve already got the tech to do things like content, events, courses etc then perhaps you just need a means to charge your subscribers or members. If so, here are some options to consider:
5. Professional networks where you can run a group or community
Building your own community means you have to attract new members to you. You might want to run your community, or perhaps a free version of it, for marketing reasons, where there is already a network of professionals to find you. Some to consider that are not industry-specific:
- LinkedIn– the ‘big one’ with 600m+ members. But it has become very noisy and LinkedIn groups have generally been in decline for years.
- Guild – yes, us again. Our professional groups and member profiles are discoverable for those who want that so you can tap into the whole Guild community. Our sweet spot is professional services i.e. professionals exchanging information, ideas, IP, advice, knowledge, expertise, connections rather than physical goods.
- Facebook Groups – I don’t use Facebook and don’t think it is appropriate for professional groups. But plenty of people disagree and FB Groups have been eating into LinkedIn Groups in the last years.
- Xing – essentially the European competitor to LinkedIn that is not nearly as big but popular in some countries (e.g. Germany used to be big for Xing). I’m not on it so can’t comment as to how they’re faring now.
- Reddit – has been around forever but is still popular and certainly worth checking to see what communities already exist on it for your area of interest.
Read our free guide “Community Based Marketing – the new play in B2B marketing” if you’re interested in the strategy and best practice around building professional communities.
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