5 Circle.so Alternatives For Building Your Online Community

Team Disco
10 min read

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why it's mission-critical for founders & operators of learning communities to find a platform that marries community with learning and integrates them as one
  • How Circle stacks up against other online community platforms (and how to choose which is best for your business)

The future of learning is rooted in community. Founders of learning communities across the globe are constantly in search of a platform that affords them time, money, and resources back to reinvest in their community.

Circle is one platform that course creators specifically often look to as a solution for their growing learning communities and supplemental learning experiences for a few reasons.

The Circle platform empowers founders of learning communities to bring community discussion to the forefront and design learning experiences under one roof.

Screenshot of Circle homepage

According to their website, Circle “brings together engaging courses, discussions, members, live streams, chat, events, and membership — all in one place, all under your own brand.” These are must-have features for any growing learning community, especially the online startup, brand, and newsletter and podcast communities Circle often targets. 

But is Circle the best community platform for virtual academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools that want to help members change the course of their careers and, ultimately, their lives? Will it offer founders the comprehensive features they need to bridge learning and community?

Current and former Circle customers note that the community discussion features are plentiful, but in order to create a robust learning business on the platform, there are too many customizations and add-on features you have to seek out. You need to be able to integrate multiple handy tools that allow you to create online courses, conduct customer engagement, and foster your membership community.

We're breaking down five alternatives to Circle.so you may want to consider if you're a founder and/or operator of your own online community, and you hope to build, operate, and scale a thriving and sustainable learning business.

The 5 Best Alternatives to Circle.so

Disco

Disco is a purpose-driven community platform, designed to power a variety of learning experiences with community at the center.

From self-paced to cohort-based courses to events and member spaces, Disco creates an all in one platform for building, operating, monetizing, and scaling your learning community.

Disco community and learning platform
“It was hard to find a platform for our learning community that aligned with our goals of live interactive learning AND kept us, the user, at the center of their mission until we found Disco. It feels like they made it specifically for us! It is easy to say that we would not have been able to grow as fast as a school if it weren’t for Disco.” – Hannah Baker, Co-Founder of The Fountain Institute

Community Building on Disco

Community engagement is at the heart of everything we do at Disco. We offer engagement features like the ability to create dedicated channels, create private spaces, direct messaging, and other discussion forums within your own app ecosystem.

Let's dive more into Disco's seamless user experience:

Pros: Disco 
  • Disco blends community and learning on one platform, where others make it clunky to navigate between the two or require the use of multiple tools
  • Disco makes it easy for you to monetize aspects of your business and sell courses or other learning offerings like virtual events to generate revenue from paying members as your community grows
  • Disco provides continuity of service and operations by allowing you to scale efficiently on one platform and integrate any key features and services needed
  • Disco provides continuity of learning and experience for your members by not forcing them to jump from one tool to another
  • Disco allows you to create a thriving community and cultivate deeper relationships with the unlimited members you're able to support

Cons: Disco
  • Only offers a free trial period (14 days) rather than lifetime access
  • No mobile app

Pricing for Disco

Our packages are competitively priced to give learning communities of any size the freedom to create a central hub for community-based learning.

Pro Plan - $75 a month

Smaller or younger communities may want to start with our Pro plan. You'll have one admin account, three instructor accounts, and everything you'll need to deliver an integrated communal learning experience on one platform with easy navigation between all features.

Organization Plan - $399 a month

Growing communities that are ready to scale their business and monetize more aspects of their learning community may want to try our competitive Organization plan. With this plan, founders can really take advantage of Disco's customizable environment by adding their own branding across their learning community. More importantly, you'll unlock access to learner progress reports, where you can follow each member's individual journey and gauge proficiency with coursework, event attendance, and more.

Enterprise Plan - Custom

Custom pricing allows us to work with enterprise-level and large-scale online learning communities to migrate their existing platforms onto Disco and scale community membership into the multi-thousands. Your plan is tailor-made by our team of support experts and made to fit your business.

Learn more about our pricing plans and what’s included in each tier here.

Disco's deep capability in building comprehensive learning experiences makes it a far better Circle.so alternative.

With our proprietary curriculum builder and built-in support for members, including progress reporting and member profiles, Disco is equipped to connect the dots between learning and community.

Circle's platform is best suited for founders who want to drop content in and allow members to discuss. That may be perfect for some communities, but Disco is the only platform that scales with you as you grow your learning business and introduce new learning experiences.

We've learned from the best in the biz on what it takes to grow and scale a learning community and packaged up their best advice. You're welcome!

Mighty Networks

Mighty Networks is one of learning's most tenured platforms, providing online communities a place to collaborate and grow their learning experiences for over half a decade.

Their target audience already lives on different sites like Slack or Discord, but Mighty Networks offers stronger membership capabilities and is beginning to build out better online course management and support for different learning experiences.

Screenshot of Mighty Networks homepage

Pricing for Mighty Networks

Community Plan - $33 a month

For their lowest price, their Community Plan members get their own MN website that allows native video, live streaming, and chat functionality or integration with Zoom to host events and other experiences.

Business Plan - $99 a month

Mighty Networks' middle-tier of pricing unlocks access to host and create live or online courses. You can track progress with community analytics and member data, and Zapier API integration lets you customize the platform even more.

Branded Apps - Custom

Mighty Networks offers custom pricing for existing branded apps that want to leverage their functionality to host more community-based and learning-based experiences without having to move platforms. Your app will be available on all major app stores.

Pros: Mighty Networks
  • Affordability: Some of the most affordable pricing for communities of all sizes
  • Tenure: MN enjoys name and brand recognition as an original platform for online communities
  • Strong community aspects and integrations to support community curation and growth

Cons: Mighty Networks
  • Members have noted difficulty navigating the platform, often leading to a distracting learning environment
  • Administrators have noted difficulty setting up the platform to best support a community and supplemental experiences
  • For creators looking for a true learning management system to build a community and business, it doesn't have the same functionality and customization options to really build a tailor-made learning experience

Both Circle and Mighty Networks base their core offering around community empowerment but lack when it comes to building out full learning experiences.

Founders would need to find a new platform entirely or use multiple platforms to create a well-rounded member experience in which community enrichment and learning exposure can happen simultaneously, as they do on platforms like Disco.‍

Tribe

Tribe's platform was built for companies to have an all-in-one communication platform, customizable to their unique needs. Tribe lets you integrate apps, customize with blocks, branding, colors, and logos, and manage customer-brand relationships in their proprietary tool.

Screenshot of Tribe homepage and platform
Pricing for Tribe

Advanced - Starting at $599 a month

Tribe describes their plans as “flexible,” depending on the size and scale of your business, but that flexibility doesn't start until nearly $600 per month. Smaller online communities, startups, and other businesses needing a community function may not have that affordability. The plan does allow for most of Tribe's integrations, functions, and customizations.

Enterprise - Custom

Larger businesses work with Tribe to create a custom pricing plan for hosting a robust community with all the bells and whistles members need to converse with each other and with a brand. This unlocks the option for legal review and custom billing.‍

Pros: Tribe
  • Highly customizable (no code necessary) so brands can create the online community they want with the ability to upload content and link outs to events
  • A hands-on team that wants to help customers create their unique space

Cons: Tribe
  • Expensive for smaller communities and businesses
  • No functionality for creating, hosting, or scaling online courses, events, and other learning experiences, so it's irrelevant for online communities that want a one-stop-shop for hosting learning experiences and communities on one platform

Unlike Circle, Tribe is not a learning platform nor a learning management system. It's not equipped to host learning experiences or allow for curriculum creation and duplication and is rather a deeply integrated community platform similar to Slack or Discord. It wouldn't be suited as an all-in-one learning and community management solution, like Disco, so it's important to consider if and when learning experience integration like events and courses might become a part of your larger offering so you find a solution that brings both aspects of your business together, rather than keeping them on separate platforms.

Read how career accelerator On Deck is using Disco to save time, money, and resources that they can reinvest back into their community and supplemental offerings.

Discord

Discord is one of the most popular community apps on the market, with a specific focus on interest groups and affinities like art, gaming, podcasting, and more. Discord's goal is to bring people together “to talk every day and hang out more often,” says the brand's website.

Illustration of Discords livestream, channels, and video chat

Discord boasts over 300 million registered users. Its simple UX and deep brand recognition make it a favorite of founders and creators in the learning industry, but it's not necessarily equipped to handle the integration of cohort-based courses, self-paced courses, , and other learning experiences as it is the deeper community aspect.

Pricing for Discord

Discord is a great free alternative for creators of communities, but their Nitro plans allow for larger file uploads and profile personalization, should those be relevant to your community.

Nitro is billed based on where you're located. In the US, for example, Nitro Basic clocks in at $2.99 a month, while Nitro comes in at $9.99 a month. Additional server boosting costs $4.99 a month.

Pros: Discord
  • Very affordable, if not entirely free, for large communities to gather on
  • Name and brand recognition lend themselves to easier member onboarding and navigation
  • Great for live streaming capabilities to members for webinars, live events

Cons: Discord
  • Not designed for learning communities — while content can be dropped into Discord, you can't seamlessly run self-paced or cohort-based on the platform, so you would need a separate platform in order to host and create or duplicate curriculum
  • Not as customizable as other community platforms with tool integrations and branding‍

While Discord enjoys brand recognition from millions of active users today, it doesn't have the same impact in the learning industry due to its lack of learning integrations. Some communities still lean on it for the community aspect of their business, choosing to host learning experiences on a separate platform, but learning truly thrives when it's coupled with community. Platforms like Circle and even Disco are better suited for learning communities that want to incorporate and monetize better learning experiences.

Slack

If you've spent time in a corporate setting or a modern startup, chances are you've used Slack. “Slack is your digital HQ,” the brand boasts, proving it's more of a business solution than it is a hub for learning communities, but it corners the market on communication and collaboration tools for both commercial and private use.

Slack platform and channels

Slack provides all the functionality necessary for collaborating with teammates and members, like video and audio calls, custom emoji creation, tool integration, threads, channels, and more. This makes it super favorable as a community tool, but not as an alternative to Circle, Disco, or other learning management systems and platforms.

Pricing for Slack

Free - $0 a month

Slack's basic plan allows users a free channel and a good amount of functionality at no cost. You lose messages after 90 days, however, which isn't conducive for many businesses.

Pro - $7.25 a month

Still affordable, Slack's Pro Plan lets you maintain your channel's full history. You have unlimited integration capabilities and secure collaboration within your organization.

Business - $12.50 a month

At the Business Plan level, Slack takes on a lot of the heavy lifting with managing compliance and 24/7 support from a dedicated customer success team.

Enterprise - Custom

As with most community platforms, Slack boasts custom pricing for its largest, typically Enterprise level, clients. Support for up to 500,000 users gives you the largest community functionality possible, and you'll enjoy full support and security from Slack's team.‍

Pros: Slack
  • Deep brand recognition for easy member onboarding and channel maintenance
  • Customizable with custom emojis, channels, threads, and spaces for members to hang out
  • Affordable for brands and customers of most sizes and scales at under $15 a month for almost all plans‍

Cons: Slack
  • Not dedicated for learning communities; while integrations run deep, Slack doesn't afford founders and teams the capability to host learning experiences like courses and events
  • Would have to be used separately in conjunction with another learning management system or platform

Slack is wonderful — it's why platforms like Circle (and Disco!) offer deep integration with Slack so you can still use its functionality on your own learning platform. While Slack may allow you to host live events for your members through their proprietary video software, it is not a learning platform and can't compete with the likes of Circle, particularly in the learning industry. Founders need the capability to host all types of learning experiences, including courses and masterminds, and monetize them with the functionality of a payment processor.

Circle is one of many learning platforms and community-oriented solutions that have hit the market as the learning industry continues to rapidly grow. It's important for founders to consider not only what their learning community looks like today, but what it may look like in a year, three years, even five or ten years down the line. Do you see a place for extended learning opportunities in your business plan? If so, there is a need for much more robust solutions, especially if you're a virtual academy, bootcamp, or micro-school that's growing its community or is ready to scale entirely.

Disco is Circle’s best alternative for bridging learning and community

Founders and operators of learning communities looking to build, operate, and scale all aspects of their business will need more than Circle's discussion forum and light learning integrations. With Disco, you can create deep community discussion and collaboration for your members while providing them with life-changing learning experiences that will improve their life and careers.

The best part? You can book a live demo or watch one . When you're ready, give our platform and our best features and functionality a try for 14 days free.

Published
November 3, 2022
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