Even though Circle has added features since I first published this article, I updated my score from the original 4.9 down to a 4.5. I explain more about why in the article.
Circle.so is a community management platform that allows creators to build their own paid (or free) online communities from scratch. The most common use of Circle seems to be for creating coaching communities, but the case uses are limitless.
The interface is professional, and the branding is focused on your program NOT Circle. It will look like you spent $1,000s on your own custom membership area. It looks like it's your own website built around your own brand.
The learning curve is reduced thanks to the free "Circle for Circle Creators Community" that teaches us how to use the tool effectively (while actually demoing the tool in the process!) It's very meta.
Anyone who is earning money by maintaining a community can benefit tremendously from Circle, but there are some drawbacks and alternatives to consider first (so read on...)
Who Should Use Circle?
Circle can be used as a replacement or supplement to any existing virtual communities. Typically, it replaces or compliments a Facebook group or other social media based community.
Some case use examples include...
- Coaching communities
- Online courses
- Premium masterminds
- Paid newsletters
- Conference communities
Anything that involves bringing people together online could potentially benefit from a Circle community.
How We Use Circle
In 2020, we decided it was time to transition our paid community "The Online Arbitrage Challenge" into its own membership area.
A couple of things to keep in mind...
- We were focused more on hosting the content rather than engagement.
- We already had a ton of engagement in our Facebook groups, but we found them distracting.
- We still maintain the Facebook groups to maximize visibility and make it as convenient as possible for our students to access content.
- We can't currently go live in Circle, so we only host replays (live videos coming soon).
Our experience so far has been great. Students rave about the interface, and integrating it with our payment processor and email marketing services was a breeze.
Overview of Circle.so
Circle online communities consist of what are called groups and spaces.
Groups are like categories. We can restrict access to these and make members pay different rates to access them.
Spaces are what's actually inside of each group. These can either be "posts" or "events." We only use posts for now.
This is where you'd host things like Q+A forums, videos, group assignments, etc.
When we created our course in Circle, we made the course the group and the lessons the spaces.
Inside of each space, we can put all sorts of cool stuff. We can also edit settings such as who can see them, what they look like, whether or not people can comment, and much more.
The best part about spaces is that you can open them up so that community members can create their own posts (or you can turn that off).
What We Like about Circle
Here are the things we have enjoyed the most so far.
#1 Beautiful, Professional Looking Interface
Right out of the box, Circle communities are breathtaking. You can customize the look and feel all you want, but even if you never touch a thing design wise, you'll be pleased with the aesthetics. This can't be said about all the other alternatives.
Also, Circle puts your brand front and center. They don't clog up the design with self-promotion and Circle branding. You can make it look as if you paid $1,000s to have the area created uniquely for you.
Also, you can integrate the interface with your own domain and website if you want to take it a step further and not even include a "circle.so" reference in your membership area's URL.
#2 Amazing Mobile App Experience
Our members rave about the mobile experience. They can easily jump into our modules and watch videos, listen to audio recordings, and view discussions and PDFs.
When I first wrote this article, there was only an iOS app, but they've answered the prayers of many and have added an Android version as well now.
#3 Plenty of Integrations (Specifically, Zapier)
Any software worth its salt should support Zapier integrations. Circle does this, which opens up the world of possibilities for connections tremendously.
We can connect ThriveCart (our payment processor) and ConvertKit (our
The native integrations are great, too. My favorite is Typeform, which allows us to create forms, quizzes, or surveys for our members. Typeform isn't a free tool, but if you're already a user, you'll love that it's built in.
#4 Awesome Community to Learn How to Use Circle - Fittingly, Circle has a private Circle group that is for their members (other Circle creators like you and me).
It's probably the coolest example of a company onboarding their product to their users that I've ever seen. I literally learned about Circle by engaging with a Circle community.
This group is highly engaged, full of answers to all the questions I've ever had and includes tons of real-world examples of what is possible with Circle.
Drawbacks of Circle
Circle isn't perfect. Here are a couple of drawbacks to using Circle as your go to community platform.
Drawback #1 (Relatively) Expensive and Limitations
If you don't already have a community that is earning you money, Circle won't feel cheap. For $79/month (which is the current early bird price I'm paying), I'd love to have had access to build over one community. I can create more spaces than I could ever need, but I can't make a separate brand.
If you have a thriving group, though, this payment is negligible. Relative to the rest of the membership software alternatives, though, it is a bit of a pinch in terms of price and total areas you can create.
Drawback #2 Not the Perfect Alternative for Courses (Yet)
Circle is a community platform first and an online course hosting platform second.
If you ONLY want a static course and don't care as much about the community engagement aspect, low-cost options like Thrive Apprentice will get the job done and then some.
Even though they didn't explicitly say that Circle was for courses, we've used Circle to host courses.
This was before they created an actual "Course" option. This is a brand new feature that Circle has added as of late 2022.
Unfortunately, their current course format is not good at all yet, but I'm positive it will be soon. Currently, it lacks most features you'd expect from a course software.
Drawback #3 Long Load Times on Video Uploads
I can't say with certainty that this is much slower than other platforms, but uploading a video file around 2gb can take over 30 mins (I just walk away and let them load in the background). You can bypass this by embedding videos instead, but there's no perfect fix.
Drawback #4 Not Enough Presets
This is something that I anticipate will improve with time, but currently, there are a lot of settings you need to configure when uploading a new item to Circle. If you want each upload to be different (for instance, you want to limit access to certain members or remove the ability to comment) it can be a bit tedious.
There are several other membership options.
If you're looking for a free option, Facebook groups have become extremely robust and can provide a solid foundation for any membership program. Unfortunately, Facebook groups have drawbacks such as potential restrictions, throttling of your groups visibility, and the myriad of distractions being on Facebook presents.
For paid membership programs, you can check out Mighty Networks, Thinkific, Kajabi, Clickfunnels (not recommended) or a WordPress plugin like Memberpress.
I suggest that once you try one, you stick with it and give it a real chance. It can take time to make a membership program work and optimize it for maximum value. Be patient.
Testimonials for Circle.So
Frankly, I was sold on Circle not by their own marketing team but by the word of mouth advertising some people I follow were giving them.
Our members are so impressed. It’s intuitive. It’s clean. It’s distraction free. I’m so glad we made this decision.
Pat Flynn - SmartPassiveIncome.com
Circle is going to fill the GIANT hole in between FB groups and Slack for virtually every kind of online community.
Ankur Nagpal- Founder of Teachable
The praise from Ankur Nagpal was interesting because his software, Teachable, could be seen as a competitor to Circle.
Circle currently has 3 pricing tiers. They are offering an "early bird" discount of 20% off their pro plan. This is the plan that we currently use, and it's been plenty so far.
All plans come with a free 14 day trial, and there is no credit card required.
Start a simple community with the bare essentials.
20% off Early Bird
Unlock key features and higher usage limits.
Community is a serious business. We’re here to help.
The Circle platform has all the features that you could want in a membership platform. There are other community platforms worth checking out, but I think you'll end up back at Circle if you're really trying to build a thriving community.
Circle.so is my top recommendation for creating a private member only area. You will impress your fans, increase retention, boost engagement, and look like total professionals if you go the Cirlce.so route.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments!
PS: When you try out Circle for 14 days for free, be sure that you head straight into their Circle members community to see everything you can do. It's eye opening!
Thanks. When I see a guy like Michael Hyatt shutting down all 3 of his online communities (Platform University, Compass and Leaderbooks – all closed as of Jan 2022, except Platform Uni, which he sold), I get a little jaded about these closed online communities and their viability. Your thoughts on paid, closed online communities?
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