This article is routinely updated as new features are rolled out. Last updated 4/25/2023.
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 Community 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!
Compare Heartbeat and MeltingSpot
While Heartbeat (affiliate link) and MeltingSpot are both more geared towards events-centric communities, to put it simply, Heartbeat has better features for conversation and MeltingSpot has better formatting for hosting content in your community.
What I love about Heartbeat is that you can host events that are both private to the community and open to the public. Meaning when they RSVP they don't have to join your community. No other all-in-one community platform at this tier has that functionality. So if you intend to host public workshops or events for non-members to attract new members to join your community (an excellent strategy), Heartbeat is going to be the platform for you. MeltingSpot, on the other hand, gives you the ability to host either a broadcasted event (just a couple speaker and everyone else is off-camera attending) OR to do a live video room where everyone can come on screen.
If your community is heavy on the conversation, Heartbeat is going to have much more functionality here than MeltingSpot. MeltingSpot's discussions feature are really basic without the ability to pin posts and reply directly to a thread (more chat style format), so it's not great for sustaining more asynchronous communities.
The one spot where MeltingSpot shines is their customized landing page and their "Collections" which is where you house long-standing content in the community. From a UX perspective, they do a great job of integrating a card view so the content organization is pleasing to the eye and easy to find.
It's worth mentioning that while both of these platforms are new to the scene, which means there tends to be gaps in the functionality, but I've found more of these gaps in MeltingSpot than Heartbeat. For example, on a broadcasted call in MeltingSpot you can't see the number of live attendees. I'm confident they will quickly make the small tweaks and adjustments necessary to improve the product, but you need to be aware of these slight feature gaps going into it.
Community Platform Comparison Chart
Simplicity or Complexity
➡️ Simple with Good Features Where circle chose simplicity, Heartbeat is creating an ecosystem of community features and functions that lends itself to complexity, but also has great potential for growth.Simple with Good Features Where circle chose simplicity, Heartbeat is creating an ecosystem of community features and functions that lends itself to complexity, but also has great potential for growth.
➡️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.
Heartbeat facilitates a whole ecosystem of different types of interactions. Each feature (or tool) is called an “app.” There is an app for threads, events, docs, courses, directory, or matchups. Within the threads app there are different channels that can be either post-style or chat-style.
MeltingSpot consists of four main spaces in addition to the home page: Lives (events), Discussions (conversation), Collections (resources or content), and the member directory.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Heartbeat recently launched a Courses app in their ecosystem to build course content directly in the community. While the feature is new, knowing their plan to integrate a course framework into the tool is a big win.
MeltingSpot does not offer a courses feature at this time.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Users can RSVP to events directly in the platform. Admin can host video events on the platform directly (in a pre-existing voice room or create a new room), or users can start voice rooms and turn on their video as well. A zoom integration automatically schedules the zoom call and uploads the recording when an event is made.
🔥 Bonus: At the time of the event, a little live notification will appear at the top for any active users (so they can easily see what’s happening live and join in). Feedback for the event is also posted after the event for the admin to review easily.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
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
❌ No broadcasting
✅ Live rooms (can have just a voice room or a video room) on all plans Heartbeat has a video conferencing tool. (Multiple people on a video call)
✅ Broadcasting video (one or multiple speakers broadcasting to an audience like a FB Live)
✅ Live rooms (like zoom)
Posts / Threads
Synchronous Chat + Threads Within Heartbeat’s Threads app, you can create three types of channels: thread-style, chat-style, or a voice room. Hearbeat’s format is synchronous (someone’s comment will pop up on your screen without refreshing) so it feels live and active when others are online. When a member is reading a post, you’ll see their profile pop up as active on that thread. While Hearbeat posts are far from simply chatter, the emoji reactions do give it more of a chatty feel than the long form conversation posts in Circle. You can also schedule posts in Heartbeat, which is super helpful!
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
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.
Content / Resources / Knowledge Base
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
While Heartbeat’s app ecosystem can add a layer of complexity to the platform, we believe the docs app are a great feature. You can take a thread that someone posted and save it as a doc for content reference. Docs are a notion-style database (however they currently lack the ability to tag or @mention).
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
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.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Groups is one of Heartbeat’s strongest features and allows for a ton of customization within the community. You can sort your community into groups and subgroups up to five levels deep. This is extremely beneficial as your community grows and you want to get better about sending content or prompts only to specific segments of your community. Groups also show up as member tags and can be leveraged as badges, though gamification is not their intended use. There are plenty of automations available around groups as well.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
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.
Heartbeat’s groups can be assigned to members for gamification and segmentation, but their formal gamification feature has yet to be rolled out.
Privacy Settings + SEO
❌ Heartbeat does not have functionality around SEO and all channels are private to the community (you can customize who sees what, but logged-out members cannot view).
✅ Events can be made public and users do not need to log in to RSVP.
✅ 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.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Heartbeat has the ability to create customized roles and toggle different abilities on and off based on the role.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
MeltingSpot currently had just the admin and member roles, but are looking to add a contributor role soon.
Pricing + Plans
Ease of Setup
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Heartbeat provides a “Kickstart” app that walks you through the first steps in getting things set up. It’s super easy to get 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.
✅ Heartbeat has a member directory.
✅MeltingSpot has a member directory and members can make their profiles visible or hidden.
Matching or Meetup Feature
✅ Heartbeat has a meetups app directly in the platform where you can allow members to opt-in to be matched with other members (either in a common subgroup or in general) once or on a recurring basis.
❌ no matchups
✅ Direct messaging
❌ Group Messaging
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.
Heartbeat allows you to customize the onboarding email and you can customize different onboarding experiences based on the group they are tagged in.
MeltingSpot gives you the ability to customize an onboarding email and the application form to join the community
Application to join
❌ Heartbeat does not have a custom application - you have to do this separately and use integrations to connect with the platform.
✅ MeltingSpot does have an application with custom fields to customize questions. You can approve applicants directly in the platform.
✅ Open API
✅ Tons of Zapier integrations (working on Integrately)
❌ MeltingSpot does not have an API available, but has one coming really soon!
✅ Analytics are available for growth + custom plans. Growth analytics include:Overview: feature views broken into % over threads, DMs, docs, voice calls, and the directory, time before first view, emoji, and comment, and platform usage for website vs mobile app vs desktop appActivity: best times people are lurking or engaging, public vs private conversations, top active users (threads, comments, messages, and reacts), top threads, top channels, top docsEngagement: logins over time, and see increase over last month for threads growth, DM growth, logins, doc views, voice rooms
✅ 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).
✅ Heartbeat 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.
✅ Heartbeat allows for custom url, branding color, and logo. The open API allows for you to build onto the tool.
✅ 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.
✅ All Plans
❌ does not have
❌ login using MeltingSpot email + password
✅ iOs App
✅ Android App
✅ Desktop App
❌ iOs app
❌ Android App
Public, private, and secret spaces
✅ Threads can be made private. Members can opt-in to spaces or be added by default. You can also customize threads making them only accessible to certain groups.
✅ Has the ability to make events public or private just for members.
✅ 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.
✅ The ability to create and allow members to start audio chats.
Polls in Posts
✅ Search bar
✅ Filters provided in search bar
✅ Docs can also be organized to help readers find information more easily
❌ No search bar
✅ Heartbeat DOES have an affiliate program where members can refer other members to my community on their platform and receive commission payout.
❌ 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.
If you want to fast-track the process and get on a call together, you can share what you need your platform to do for you and I can share what I know of each platform, things to watch out for, and where their strengths will help you shine.