Over the past 3 years I built 16 communities on Circle and 10 communities on Heartbeat.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
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I’ve been designing and growing communities since 2015 when I created my first brand community that I managed for five years.
I started building communities in all-in-one platforms when I found Circle in 2020.
I built almost exclusively in Circle until 2022 when I discovered Heartbeat and eventually joined their team to help launch their customer community.
I love building on both of these platforms.
When using each of these platforms the way they are intended, your job as a community builder becomes significantly less stressful. You get to spend more time on the things that really matter in your community.
When you pick a shiny platform without considering your overall business methodology and community strategy, you can quickly find yourself patching features and automations over a platform that wasn't built to serve your specific use case.
My intention for this post is to show you the best way each of these platforms are leveraged and what key decisions in your business and community strategy might lead you to choose one over the other.
Both all-in-one platforms serve:
Coaches, creators, entrepreneurs creating community-powered businesses
Public and/or private communities
What Circle was built for: long-form public and private conversation.
Circle was designed as one place to host asynchronous, long-form conversation for an opted-in group of people. They expanded on what forums really missed the boat on - a way to host conversation, content, and events in one place. A Circle community contains a simple lefthand menu composed of spaces customized according to the community needs. Each space can be customized as open and visible to the public, private, or secret.
Some of the reasons my clients go with Circle:
They want to attract new members through public spaces that contain free long-form content or a library. I explain this central difference in more detail in my Circle. Vs. Heartbeat Key Difference Video.
They plan to use the CSS to make their community more accessible.
They plan to eventually customize a white-label app in the future.
Circle secured a round of investor funding in 2022, so they are generally the less-risky choice.
What Heartbeat was built for: events-based communities and segmentation.
Murtaza, co-founder of Heartbeat, approached the creation of the platform from the lens of an events-centric community design. As a result, if you’re managing a community with a lot of events, or need both public and private events, Heartbeat’s functionality will make your life much, much easier. The platform is composed of different "apps" that can be enabled or disabled as needed. Within each app, you can create experiences that are easily segmented to just a portion of your community, making it a go-to for communities that host a lot of smaller groups or cohorts.
Some of the main reasons my clients go with Heartbeat:
They want to attract new members through public events and they want to host those events in Heartbeat to benefit from the events automatic functionality. I explain this central difference in more detail in my Circle. Vs. Heartbeat Key Difference Video.
They have cohorts or smaller groups within their community that need different access to different information. Heartbeat’s “groups” makes this really easy to do and they connect with all the different features and apps to easily customize and keep track of who can see what.
Heartbeat, being the new(er) kid on the block generally offers a little bit more for a little bit less.
The bummers about Circle
Public Events - One subtle functionality gap that can greatly affect my clients has to do with public events. In Circle you can set up an events space to be public and people will be able to view the event even if they are not in your community. However, they cannot RSVP to the event and join unless they are a member of your community. If you plan to host public events in your community consistently you will need to use another event-management platform like Luma to host them.
Asynchronous - Because of Circle’s asynchronous structure (asynchronous meaning updates on a page don’t automatically show up, you have to press “refresh” on your browser), the platform can at times feel slow and a bit unresponsive.
Public vs. Private Spaces - I’ve also found the nature of having some spaces public and some private can create more difficulty when designing the community because you’re simultaneously designing the community to speak to and attract new members while trying to speak to and foster connection between your members. People love Circle for this customizability, but I’ve found it can lead community builders astray when they try to send too many messages to too many places. A great example of this tension can be found in the dissection of the Circle community itself.
Segmentation - But the biggest bummer about Circle is if your community is heavily segmented into different small groups, you will quickly max out on the allotted number of spaces and find yourself paying a lot more than you anticipated. This happened for a client recently who runs masterminds. In order to ensure each mastermind could only view their own mastermind events and conversation, they had to create a new space group for each mastermind group. Now, this is fine because to the member, the sidebar is still really clean and simple. They only see their own mastermind and not the 10 others. But on the back end, it gets expensive quickly.
The bummers about Heartbeat
Mobile experience - While Heartbeat has boasted access to a web app, iOs and android app even before Circle, the gaps between functionality on your desktop browser and the apps can be limiting and frustrating for members. You and your community will need to be patient while Heartbeat improves these experiences.
Video Streaming - While I’ve heard great reviews about Circle’s native video live stream and room capabilities, Heartbeat’s native video experience tends to be buggy and not reliable. Again, you’ll need to be patient and use the zoom integration (which is usually preferred anyways) while Heartbeat reinforces in these areas.
Paywalls that combines one-time and recurring payments - The only other tiny hassle I’ve recently encountered in Heartbeat has to do with collecting payment. You have the option to accept a one-time payment, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually through Heartbeat, but not a combined one-time payment and recurring payment like Circle does. You can do a work around and have members join through a one-time payment and then subscribe to the recurring membership to maintain access, but Circle’s payment feature is just easier in this regard.
Where did you decide to build you community?
Feel free to leave a comment and share with me here.
And for more details on the nitty gritty comparison between platforms and their features, see our Circle vs. Heartbeat vs. Mighty Networks comparison chart here.