This article is routinely updated as new features are rolled out. Last updated 4/11/2023.
The most common question I get from clients as a platform-agnostic brand community strategist is which all-in-one community platform is best? The only right answer at the moment is, "it depends." This comparison chart has continued to be my most viewed piece, so I figured I would break it down further into some of the nuances between two platforms at a time.
Which All-in-one Platforms are we talking about?
Let's get on the same page here. First, I define an all-in-one community platform as one place to host the three pillars of community programming: events, conversation, and content. This is important because many community tools like to call themselves platforms (please stop doing that!), but really they only offer one element of community programming. They might only offer you additional analytics, or events management, or a way to do matchups in your community. These are great tools, but they are designed to layer over existing communities and they are not a great place to to host your community if what you want is one centralized location).
There are a host of enterprise-level community platforms that afford you tons of customization for almost any type of community you want to build. These are platforms like Vanilla by Higher Logic, Khoros, and Insided. Generally, if you are taking the first step to become community-led as a brand, or this is your first time creating a community from your audience, you probably don't want to fork over the tens of thousands of dollars required to get set up in one of these platforms.
Like most of my clients, you are looking for a slightly more templated and dramatically less expensive community platform that can help you launch quickly but still provide room for you to grow. For this type of all-in-one community platform I recommend platforms such as Circle, Heartbeat, Mighty Networks, or MeltingSpot (see the full comparison here). So let's dive into the differences between the two most common platforms I build on: Circle and Mighty Networks!
Circle.so versus MeltingSpot
It's not going to take long scrolling through this chart for you to see that Circle is better than MeltingSpot when it comes to overall features and functionality. MeltingSpot is newer than Circle, which means that while MeltingSpot is lagging in some of the functionality they also stand to move faster than bigger companies like Circle. When it comes to more established platforms versus new platforms on the market, I'll generally say go with the standard unless the new option has enough good features, gives you a price difference that justifies it, and has founders you trust. MeltingSpot's features are good enough and I'm a big fan of the founders, but I don't believe their pricing helps. They already charge differently for their Advanced plan based on the number of members, which tells me they'll be quick to nickel and dime as they grow (something Circle does).
The main reason I would build in MeltingSpot is if your community is events-focused and and if you're really super attached to your community having a more custom landing page. Circle's Home feed shows you posts relevant to you, but MeltingSpots's landing page allows you to customize text, the header, buttons, and calls to action. To me, this isn't deal-breaker enough, but for you it might be!
Below is a sample of the home landing page for The Community Lab, hosted in MeltingSpot.
And below is an example of the Home Feed in the Circle Community
Simplicity or Complexity
➡️Most Simple with Great Features From the very beginning we have been huge fans of Circle’s simple and sleek design. The spaces are intuitive and it’s hard to get too lost. Accessible for low-tech communities or an older demographic.
➡️Simple with Standard Features MeltinSpot’s layout and design rivals the simplicity of Circle with one toolbar at the top, but lots of customization available.
Each Circle space can take on four different layouts: events, feed view, list view, or card style (and chat coming soon!). The feed view is a thread-style view that works great for long-form posts (their text editor allows you to embed and basic formatting for your post).
MeltingSpot consists of four main spaces in addition to the home page: Lives (events), Discussions (conversation), Collections (resources or content), and the member directory.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
Circle’s Courses feature has launched! We are still testing it out, but really excited for this new upgrade.
MeltingSpot does not offer a courses feature at this time.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Users can RSVP to events directly in the platform and add the event to their calendar. You can host calls directly in Circle, or provide a zoom link. Bummer The privacy settings for events are set in the events space itself, not for each individual event. To have some public and some private events (just for community members), you need to have two separate spaces for events with the differing settings in those spaces. “Public” events also require the user to create an account and belong to the community, so there’s no real way to actually execute public events.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Users can RSVP to events directly in the platform, but like Circle, they must join the community before having access to the event. MeltingSpot seems to have more robust data around the events attendance and participation, but less automations around email invites and follow ups than Circle or Heartbeat.
Video / Livestream / Broadcasting
✅ Broadcasting video (one or multiple speakers broadcasting to an audience like FB Live) on Professional and Enterprise Plan.
✅ Live rooms (like zoom)
✅ Broadcasting video (one or multiple speakers broadcasting to an audience like a FB Live)
✅ Live rooms (like zoom)
Posts / Threads
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Asynchronous Posts + Chat Circle’s post format lends itself to asynchronous conversation. You’ll find thoughtful, long form responses. This means you’ll likely see less chatter, but the quality of engagement is much higher in these communities. If chatter in Discord is on one side of the spectrum, Circle’s posts are way on the other side. Circle recently released a chat-style space as an option, so now you can still have the chitter-chatter if that’s what your community wants.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Asynchronous Threads MeltingSpot’s channels for discussion are very basic. It’s not at all a shining feature of the platform, but good enough for follow up conversation. Members can react and reply to a thread in a channel. I do like that they have a default group of channels and you can opt-in to more as you like. I don't like that you can't pin posts.
Content / Resources / Knowledge Base
The best way we have seen members create a resources or knowledge base in Circle is to use the “Cards” layout to create a page of cards so that your eye can more easily catalog the information. It can be difficult to catalog content well in Circle. Circle’s search function is great, so members can find content that way, but when you think about turning conversations into evergreen content, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to sort this.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
We think MeltingSpot’s layout and functionality around their knowledge base is better than any other platform. Unlike Circle and Heartbeat, MeltingSpot’s place for long-standing content has the ability to create tags to better sort the information. Like Circle, you can create a “card” for a piece of content (much easier for the brain to organize) which can either host an article directly on the platform, or will directly link to a blog post living somewhere else.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Within Circle you have the ability to tag members with badges that essentially puts them into a subgroup. These badges show up in their profile, can be automated with Zapier, and are spectacular for recognition. They cannot, however, be used to filter who has access to which spaces. In order to set up spaces for specific subgroups, you either need to allow for an open space where members may self-select in, or you must create an automation where some other database triggers that the member should be added to a secret group just for that subset of the community.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
In MeltingSpot you have the ability to sort members into different groups. Unlike Heartbeat, you cannot nest groups within each other. Currently groups are a private back-end feature for the admin to use to segment the community.
Circle’s badges include a title and emoji and may be assigned to members for gamification. There are automation triggers and actions for badges.
Privacy Settings + SEO
✅ Each Circle space has the option to be made public, private, or secret. For public spaces, you can customize SEO features and the space can even be embedded in a page on your website.
❌ One hiccup here is that even “public events” cannot be RSVPed to by non-members unless they join the community with their email first. Very difficult to host public events in the circle platform.
✅ Your MeltingSpot community can be either entirely public (anyone can join) or private (have to go through an application to join).
❌ It doesn’t have the ability to make certain elements of the community public and some private. The homepage is like a public landing page, but there are no custom SEO settings.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
In Circle, you have access to admin and moderator roles.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
MeltingSpot currently had just the admin and member roles, but are looking to add a contributor role soon.
Pricing + Plans
Ease of Setup
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Circle’s setup process is super simple and straightforward with a checklist to get you started.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ MeltingSpot is easy to set up and get started - I especially love how easy it is to create a compelling landing page for the community.
✅ Circle communities have a directory and the option to enable direct messaging to connect with other members.
✅MeltingSpot has a member directory and members can make their profiles visible or hidden.
Matching or Meetup Feature
❌ no matchups
❌ no matchups
✅ Direct messaging
❌ Group Messaging
The Circle Community (for people who are building communities on Circle) has a plethora of knowledge and experts willing to jump in to answer questions. The content tends to be difficult to sort through in a linear fashion (something we know they are working on).
The Community Lab is a community run by MeltingSpot dedicated to helping community builders learn and grow. They are also developing a community just for community builders using MeltingSpot to host their communities.
Circle does allow you to customize the onboarding email that is sent with the invitation to join Circle.
MeltingSpot gives you the ability to customize an onboarding email and the application form to join the community
Application to join
❌ Circle does not have a custom application - you have to do this separately and use integrations to connect with the platform.
✅ Circle DOES now have customizable profile fields now to be able to control what information is requested in a user’s profile. This feature is an add-on price
✅ MeltingSpot does have an application with custom fields to customize questions. You can approve applicants directly in the platform.
✅ Open API
✅ Tons of Zapier + Integrately Integrations
❌ MeltingSpot does not have an API available, but has one coming really soon!
✅ Analytics are available for professional and enterprise plans. Professional analytics include:Member analytics: daily active members, 30 day active members, top members, active commenters, post starters, most appreciated (likes received).Posts: # posts per day, # comments per day, top posts + comments in likes.Messages: # direct messages sent, # new direct messages, group chats, new group chats.
✅ Detailed analytics are available for events (they call them “lives”) and regarding your audience.
❌ MeltingSpot lacks analytics around engagement on discussions (conversation) and resources (what they call collections).
✅ Circle allows you to collect payments in your community through Stripe.
❌ Meltingspot does not collect payment at the moment, but has plans to build a stripe integration.
✅ Circle allows for customization by allowing you to set a custom brand color, favicon and logo. In the Professional and Enterprise plan you can further customize your community by adding custom css.
✅ MeltingSpot allows a custom logo, name, and community description. The best custom feature of this platform is their customized home page, which functions as a landing page.
✅ Professional and Enterprise Plan
❌ does not have
✅ Has SSO
❌ login using MeltingSpot email + password
✅ iOs App
❌ iOs app
❌ Android App
Public, private, and secret spaces
✅ Open: Anyone in my community can see and join this space.
✅ Private: Invited members only.Non-members will see a locked page, which you can customize in space settings.
✅ Secret: Invited members only.Non-members will not see this space.
✅ The entire community can be public (Anyone can join, no approval needed) or private (Anyone can join, but the request has to be approved by an admin)
❌ Cannot make just some community elements private or public yet.
❌Coming soon, but not yet
Polls in Posts
✅ Search bar
✅ Filters in search bar
❌ No search bar
❌ Circle doesn’t have a referral program where members can refer other members to my community on their platform.
❌ MeltingSpot doesn’t have a referral program where members can refer other members to my community on their platform.
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How to decide which community platform is right for you?
At the end of the day, the platform you choose matters less than how you design and implement your community. That being said, certain platforms can create way more barriers than necessary depending on the programming of your community. While it's important to plan ahead, try to make the decision about where to host your community based on where it is today and will be in a year, not what you anticipate it will look like in five years.
For a really practical approach, for each row in the table, rate how that platform’s features stack up based on what you need. Total each column up and make a quantitative decision. But we highly encourage you to get in and test each platform yourself (each has a free trial) to play around and get a feeling for it yourself.