Starting a Facebook group is one of the most popular ways of launching an online community.
But is it the best way?
Concerns around privacy and a limited feature-set have caused many professionals, including marketers, growth managers, COOs, and others, to reconsider Facebook as the go-to community-building platform.
At a fundamental level, Facebook is an advertising business. It relies heavily on the collection of users’ personal data. And the simple reality is that people don’t want to be tracked.
Finding the ideal replacement for Facebook Groups can be challenging. That’s why we decided to look at ten of the best alternatives. By the end of this post, you’ll have all the information you need to pick the platform best suited to your audience and business.
What are Facebook Groups?
Odds are that you’re already a member of at least one Facebook group. In a nutshell, Facebook Groups are online environments where people can discuss topics of interest. They usually center around a particular theme, such as “indoor gardening” or “SaaS marketing”, and can be set to either public or private.
Anybody with a Facebook account can join a group, enabling them to create posts, reply to comments, and view new posts in their newsfeeds (although it’s not possible to interact with groups through Facebook Messenger).
Facebook groups are easy to set up and manage. They’re also completely free.
How to Use Facebook Groups for Business?
Social media platforms are powerful business tools when they’re leveraged in the right way. And Facebook is no exception.
The following tips will help you turn your Facebook group into a valuable sales and engagement tool:
- Create a group around an in-demand topic – The law of supply and demand applies just as much when it comes to Facebook as it does in any other context. Ideally, you should start a group focused on a topic for which there is high demand (you may have to base this judgment on your own experience) but few existing options. If you’re in a crowded space, “niching down” is always a possibility.
- Set clear rules to cultivate a welcoming environment – Having a precise and comprehensive code of conduct is essential. It will put your members at ease and make it easy to kick troublemakers out of the group.
- Post regularly (especially welcome posts) – Building and deepening a relationship with members (especially new members) takes time. Post original content regularly and welcome new members with weekly or monthly welcome posts.
- Give your members exclusive bonuses – Giving your members a little something extra every once in a while will keep them happy and incentivize them to remain as part of the group. And happy members equals happy customers.
- Don’t overdo it with the commercial posts – We get it – at the end of the day, you’re running a business. You’ll need to post commercial, sales-oriented posts. Just don’t overdo it – there’s no need for thirty posts about the same deal over the course of a single day. Your members know what you do. Trust that they’ll purchase when they’re ready.
How to Evaluate Alternatives to FB Groups?
Picking a home for your online community shouldn’t be a chore. Yet with all the available options, you’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. Asking a few simple questions will help you navigate the cluttered market.
When evaluating your options, do your best to answer these questions:
- Can I use my own domain name and branding? Ensure that you can add your own branding to your chosen community platform and that it’s possible to host it on your custom domain name.
- Will my members find it easy to use? Always test out the user-facing dashboard before purchasing a subscription.
- Does it have all the features that I require? Every business will differ in terms of the feature-set it requires. Be clear about the functionality you need.
- Are there any “hidden” fees? Many community platforms offer straightforward pricing models. Others rely on “add ons” and “extensions”, the costs of which can quickly add up.
Pricing: PeerBoard offers a “forever free” plan that is also completely ad-free and will suffice for most beginning community-builders. Packages with advanced features begin at $29/month. “Professional” and “Enterprise” plans are also available.
You probably won’t be surprised to find PeerBoard on this list. But rather than boast about how good we are, we prefer to let our features speak for themselves. We also have an active online community of happy, helpful users.
We took a different approach and chose to create an embeddable discussion board that people love using. PeerBoard combines the best elements of traditional discussion forum software, with all the benefits of advanced subgroup hierarchies and member profiles, with a single Reddit-style feed.
You can run PeerBoard on your own custom domain and will have full control over branding. You’ll also get access to your members’ data, contact details, and analytics without any restrictions.
- “Forever free” version for those starting out.
- Tools for running both private and public communities.
- Embed your discussion board into any website.
- Take advantage of WordPress and Tilda plugins.
- Completely ad-free.
- Use your own domain name and custom branding.
- Boost member engagement with automated daily email digests.
- Lacks the organic growth potential of Facebook Groups.
Pricing: The entry-level package starts at $8 per person per month. Enterprise plans are priced on a custom basis.
Slack is a popular workplace chat app. While Slack was originally created for use in a corporate context, and lends itself best to project management, it has grown in popularity as a more generic community platform.
Slack allows users to talk on “channels”, which fill the role of traditional post threads. They can also send direct messages to each other. Admins have a large amount of control over the content that members can and can’t see.
That said, new members must be added manually and Slack lacks many features that community managers would expect from a dedicated platform. As your community expands, you’re likely to run into problems.
- Slack is good for managing small private communities.
- Offers desktop, web, and mobile apps.
- Cannot be embedded into your website.
- You can’t use your own domain name and branding.
- It can become expensive very quickly because Slack charges per active user.
Pricing: WhatsApp is free to use. There are no premium plans.
WhatsApp is a text and voice messaging app owned by Facebook. You’ve likely used it in a personal capacity to chat to friends and family. And if you’ve ever been a member of a group on WhatsApp, then you’re already familiar with the majority of community features.
Running a community on WhatsApp involves setting up a dedicated group and manually adding members. Once they’ve been added, users can tag and chat to each other.
Because of its highly limited feature-set, WhatsApp is best suited to small private groups that are focused around a single topic.
- WhatsApp is free to use.
- You can send broadcast messages to all group members
- Communities are fully private.
- WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.
- You can’t use your own domain name and branding.
- WhatsApp cannot be embedded onto your website.
- Users will find it difficult to navigate messages if you have lots of group members.
Pricing: LinkedIn is free to use. There are no premium plans for LinkedIn groups.
LinkedIn Groups have grown in popularity over the last several years and may soon replace Facebook as the preferred option for managing communities. LinkedIn offers a streamlined community platform that allows users to create and comment on posts, check “recommended” posts, and post rich media like images, videos, and polls.
LinkedIn Groups lack the more advanced features of dedicated community platforms but may fit your needs if you’re looking for something free and straightforward, especially if your users are regular LinkedIn users.
- Communities can be both public and private.
- Completely free to use.
- Popular among LinkedIn users.
- No custom branding or website embed options.
- No advanced forum functionality.
- Limited access to member data.
Pricing: The Kajabi “Basic” plan is $149/month, with discounts for annual subscriptions. The “Pro” plan is $399/month. A 14-day free trial is available.
Kajabi is a course creation and hosting solution. Although its core feature-set is geared towards people selling digital courses, it has a reasonably solid (albeit basic) set of community tools.
While Kajabi has an easy-to-use, minimal interface, the community features are somewhat limited. Admins can create new topics and access basic analytics data but do little else.
While you can use Kajabi for the sole purpose of building a community, irrespective of whether or not you sell courses, this is unlikely to be a cost-effective approach in the long term.
- Simple, intuitive community platform with basic features.
- Excellent option for businesses and individuals that sell courses.
- Limited analytics, admin, and member engagement features.
- If you’re not intending to sell courses, you’ll be paying for many unnecessary features.
- Your Kajabi community can’t be embedded on your website.
Pricing: The open-source version of the software is free to download. Managed hosting tarts at $100/month. Nonprofits are eligible for substantial discounts.
Discourse is an open-source forum app that has a popular free version. It’s used by many well-known companies, including Envato and CodeAcademy.
Discourse has a comprehensive feature-set and utilizes a clean, mobile-responsive layout. The organizational structure is fairly typical, with topic categories, threads, and a feed-style homepage of the latest posts. Features include extensive admin controls, social logins, and numerous integrations.
If you have development knowledge and are willing to self-host your Discourse community, you can take advantage of the free version. Alternatively, a number of paid options are available.
- Free, open-source platform.
- Extensive set of features.
- Highly customizable.
- The free version requires self-hosting and development expertise.
- Paid plans are expensive compared to other solutions.
- Steep learning curve for beginners.
7. Mighty Networks
Pricing: Mighty Networks offers a “forever free” plan in conjunction with paid options. The full-feature “Business” plan costs $98/month.
Mighty Networks is a community platform with tools for creators to host and sell courses. It’s a popular choice for small-scale community builders and all of the plans are competitively priced.
Mighty Networks has a good core set of forum features. If you’re looking to run a basic community, you’ll find everything you need. Conversely, if you’re looking for more advanced features, like developer tools and third-party plugins, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
- Offer paid membership subscriptions for your community.
- Very beginner-friendly.
- Competitively priced.
- No developer tools.
- Lack of advanced features.
- Doesn’t integrate with WordPress.
8. Vanilla Forums
Pricing: Vanilla Forums offer a number of packages. You’ll need to contact sales directly for information.
Vanilla Forums is an advanced forum app that’s geared toward mid-sized businesses, enterprises, and companies that are anticipating the need to scale quickly.
The platform comes with an extensive set of features, including advanced admin roles, private community settings, plugins, and multilingual support. It can also be used to create simple question-and-answer discussion boards on your website.
Vanilla Forums packages are priced on a custom basis, and you’ll need to get in touch with the sales team directly.
- Comprehensive set of features.
- Suitable for medium and large businesses.
- Full control over branding.
- Custom pricing can become expensive.
- The number of features can be overwhelming, especially to beginners.
Pricing: Reddit is completely free. There are no paid options.
Reddit is a social network that allows anyone to create a community, also known as a “subreddit”.
Your community members will have the ability to create new posts which support rich media like videos and images. Posts are organized on the community homepage feed by the Reddit algorithm, which considers a number of factors, particularly upvotes. As an admin, you’ll have access to several options for organizing your community.
Reddit is a great option if your community members are already familiar with the platform and you are happy to operate within Reddit rules.
- Free and relatively easy to use.
- Simple user interface.
- Communities can be both public and private.
- You can’t use your own domain name and branding.
- Communities cannot be embedded on your website.
- No monetization options.
Pricing: Telegram is completely free to use.
Telegram is a messaging app that is very similar and a good alternative to Whatsapp. As such, it is best suited to smaller communities that don’t require any of the organizational elements of traditional forums.
Telegram does have several benefits over WhatsApp, including fewer file-sharing restrictions, larger group capacity (up to 200,000 members), and pinned messages.
If you’re thinking about using either WhatsApp or Telegram to host your community, trial both apps to see which one best suits your needs.
- Telegram is free to use.
- Communities can be set to private.
- More features than other messaging apps.
- Limited community features.
- Not really suitable for large groups.
If you want to own your data, give your users a safe place to communicate, explore new ways to grow and build your community, and avoid privacy issues, then a fully managed SaaS platform is likely the best option.
PeerBoard’s community platform has proven to be an excellent alternative to Facebook Groups for many of our clients. If you’re tired of limited features, privacy incursions, and a lack of monetization options – oh, and don’t get us started on the constant barrage of fake news – it might be time to move to a different platform.
And if you’re gearing up to launch your first online community, opting for a feature-rich platform that gives you full control will save time and resources further down the line.
Sign up for our “forever free” version today. You’ll have unlimited usage for as long as you continue to use the platform.
Parties other than PeerBoard may provide products, services, recommendations, or views on PeerBoard’s site (“Third Party Materials”). PeerBoard is not responsible for examining or evaluating such Third Party Materials, and does not provide any warranties relating to the Third Party Materials. Links to such Third Party Materials are for your convenience and does not constitute an endorsement of such Third Party Materials.