Many solutions on the market allow you to build an online community. Discourse stands out from the rest because of its wide adoption across the internet. It powers many communities, from chat groups to customer portals.
More and more people participate in online discussions, provide feedback, and seek answers from more experienced peers online. This is why it's so important to have a community that will serve your audience, be it your friends, students, or customers of your business.
Discourse is one of the first solutions that appeared on the market. It has grown a lot since its release in 2014. But the internet has changed since ten years ago, and Discourse has struggled to keep up.
Discourse is a good tool, but it's unsuitable for business owners who want to work on their product without worrying about hosting problems or maintenance issues. It has a complicated setup process requiring specific knowledge to configure the forum correctly.
Aside from technical issues, businesses are not a priority in Discourse. If you want to create a community around your fantastic product, setting up and running the forum will take much more time and experience.
In this article, we will compare platforms in the light of the following factors:
ease of use and setup for business owners;
the functionality it supports to help you run the community;
performance of the platform;
All those factors contribute to the success of the community you will create.
During our research of the field, we selected seven platforms that provide the best experience for you as a business owner and a member of a community:
Discut is a tool designed specifically to help you run a community for your product. It's extremely easy to set up and doesn't require you to spend time for it to keep running. Discut allows you to gather feedback, host a Q&A board, manage newsletters, and provide support articles all in one place! As a bonus, its beautiful user interface will set your community apart as modern and friendly compared to your competition.
To help your community grow, Discut has world-class performance and SEO capabilities (check it yourself in Google PageSpeed Insights).
Discut is fast and SEO optimized from the start. It doesn't require you to do anything. Focus on growing your business, and Discut will care for the rest.
Discut offers the following features:
different kinds of boards to cover all types of content you might need from a community;
native support for newsletters to keep in touch with your customers;
native SEO features;
headless mode for custom integrations;
Discut is free. All core features are available at no cost. Later, you can upgrade for $99 monthly to access premium capabilities (like using a custom domain).
great for product communities;
can host feature requests, blogs, help articles, Q&A, and more;
excellent customer support;
has an excellent pricing strategy that allows using the platform for free;
is not suited for private communities;
doesn't have a self-hosted option;
Discut is the best choice if you are running a small or medium-sized business. It is designed specifically with those needs in mind. On the other hand, if you need to host the platform on your hardware, you are better off with the other options listed below.
Flarum is open-source software that allows you to create forums. The development of Flarum was started more than ten years ago. Since then, it has become a formidable alternative to traditional forum software like Discourse and phpBB.
The source code for Flarum is hosted on GitHub. Flarum was designed to be extensible and allows you to add custom functionality if you are comfortable writing code in PHP.
Overall, it looks and feels much more modern than Discourse. It also works faster because it's not bloated with features you never use.
Using Flarum, you can expect to find:
support for different categories of posts;
notifications for posts you participate in;
wide variety of third-party extensions;
Flarum is open-source software, so it's technically free. In practice, you will have to rent a server to host your community.
the forum is free;
you can find and install third-party extensions with the help of a developer;
the forum is fast and doesn't require a powerful server to run;
requires a dedicated server to run;
doesn't support newsletters;
self-hosted, so it requires a nontrivial setup;
doesn't have dedicated features for customer feedback and blogs;
Flarum is a good alternative for Discourse as a forum but not as a product community for your business. You can consider using it if you only need discussion functionality. Flarum is excellent for that but still will require manual administration and installation.
Discord is a social platform that you can use for community building. Servers are used to gather large groups of people in one place. Once the server is ready, you can create chats and voice channels to communicate with community members.
Discord is very popular among gamers. Although recently, it made a few updates to become more accessible for an average user, gaming enthusiasts still dominate Discord.
Although it's convenient to have regular chats for communication, it has negative consequences for SEO. Your customers can't find content your community generates via traditional search engines like Google.
apps are available for all major platforms;
voice and video chats;
Discord is free to use. It offers Nitro subscription to improve video and audio quality, but it's entirely options.
excellent for real-time and personal communications;
many users are already using Discord;
has desktop, mobile, and browser apps;
has personal messaging;
no SEO support. Your content will be discoverable only via an app;
no white-label support;
no custom analytics or modifications are supported;
can't use a custom domain for your community;
Discord is a great community platform if you don't care about SEO. It also provides messenger-like functionality, which might be a must for your community.
Circle is a popular platform for creators and brands alike. Although brands can create a community on that platform, their primary focus is on creators. They provide features to help them sell their courses and connect students.
In contrast to Discourse, Circle is straightforward to set up and operate. It doesn't require renting a server or having the technical expertise to upgrade the software.
Thanks to its web-based nature, SEO is on par with platforms like Discut or Flarum. So you can be sure your customers can discover your posts via search engines.
event management for your community;
Circle doesn't have free plan aside from 14 days trial. After that, you will be asked to purchase one of their plans:
$49 Basic plan;
$99 Professional plan;
$199 Business plan;
great platform for creators;
simple to set up and operate;
you can build your business on the platform directly;
brand communities are not the main focus of the platform;
some clients report poor customer support;
no free plan for your community;
Circle is a solid choice for content creators because of the wide variety of features specifically designed for them. You might try Circle for your business, but you likely can find better options on the market.
Facebook Groups is a well-known method to run your brand community. Thanks to being extremely popular, Facebook is an excellent choice if your community is small and doesn't require much organization.
Facebook is a common starting point for many businesses. It doesn't require your customers to be familiar with another platform and allows for personal communication without much hustle.
That said, when your community reaches a certain size, you are better off with a platform built to help you grow your business.
Facebook Groups are entirely free. You can use their ads to attract new clients, but it will cost you money depending on the ad campaign you want to run.
no technical knowledge is needed to set up the community;
most users are already familiar with the platform;
a great starting point for your community;
not many features for brand communities;
minimal SEO support (Google generally doesn't like to show Facebook in their search results);
has privacy implications for your customers;
Facebook Groups might be an acceptable choice during the early days of your community, but you would probably need to choose a different platform down the road.
Unlike the previous option, Higher Logic is a product specifically created for community management. It comes in two flavors:
Higher Logic Vanilla
Higher Logic Thrive
Thrive is a product targeted at content creators, so we will be discussing Vanilla offering here.
Higher Logic is an enterprise-level software. You can't create a community without talking with their sales or requesting a demo.
customer support in your community;
custom theme support;
They don't have any pricing information. You must speak with their sales to know how much it will cost.
mature enterprise-level platform;
great customer support;
vide variety of features available for business owners;
is not suitable for small/medium-sized businesses;
has opaque pricing;
too difficult for a typical user to navigate their interface;
If you own a large business, it might be a viable option. Otherwise, you most likely don't need their software.
NodeBB is another old-school forum software that you can use as a drop-in replacement for Discourse.
Thanks to it being open source, you can host the forum yourself on your hardware. It might be vital if you have to adhere to regulations in your field.
Because you can host NodeBB on your hardware, you can create a private forum accessible only to your company's employees. It can be handy for an internal community.
notifications for likes and replies;
advanced forum search;
built-in analytics tools;
NodeBB is software that you will need to install and operate by yourself. So, while it's free, you must put extra effort into managing your community.
a great alternative to traditional forum software;
many resources on the internet that can help you manage your forum;
realtime chat support;
difficult to get up to speed;
lack of critical features for brand communities;
You can use NodeBB if you already have other forum software like Flarum or Discourse, but it is probably not the best choice for new brand communities.
There are a lot of options out there to choose from. We had a look at the most suitable Discourse alternatives in the article. Of all the options, Discut is the best platform for a brand community. It offers critical business features and doesn't have typical problems with the old forum software.
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