12 Best Tools to Create Modern Community and Membership Businesses in 2023

Online communities and membership platforms are all the rage today, with good reason. Building engaged user bases and monetizing them through subscriptions can transform the growth trajectory for creators, bloggers, entrepreneurs and enterprises alike.

But with dozens of technology solutions out there it can get overwhelming to determine which one fits your specific needs.

This comprehensive guide will equip you with a crisp yet detailed analysis of the 12 most powerful tools to build successful membership sites and active online communities in 2023.

We not only explore the features and use cases but also draw actionable comparisons around pricing, scalability, integrations and ease of use so you can make the smartest choice aligned with your goals.

Let‘s get started!

Quick Overview of the 12 Top Membership Platform Options

Before we analyze each software in depth, here is a high-level snapshot of the core offerings:

Tool Best For Pricingstarts at
BuddyBoss Marketers, course creators (integrates with LMSs) $399 per year
RestrictContentPro WordPress sites wanting memberships, subscriptions, paywalls $99 per year
Bettermode Niche communities and knowledge centers $25 per month
Circle Building engaged creator communities Free
MemberPress Selling memberships and subscriptions on WordPress easily $149 per year
MightyNetworks Full-fledged membership sites, courses, paid communities $33 per month
Tribe Coaches, therapists and online trainers wanting to offer exclusive client portals $97 per month
BuddyPress General community building on WordPress; open source Free
Disciple Video-first paid membership sites and course platforms $39 per month
Outseta Monetizing SaaS, apps and niche content with memberships 14-day Free Trial
Memberful Creators wanting to offer exclusive podcasts, newsletters and other gated content 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
YourMembership Large organizations like associations and non-profits managing formal memberships Custom Quote

Now let‘s explore the key capabilities, ideal use cases and considerations for each software solution more closely.

1. BuddyBoss – The All-in-One Community Solution

BuddyBoss is likely the most powerful and flexible community building solution on the market today. Trusted by over 50,000 organizations globally, it lets users:

  • Build Online Communities – Member profiles, activity feeds, groups, messaging and notifications make it easy to nurture engagement.
  • Sell Courses & Memberships – Integrate seamlessly with LearnDash to create robust learning management ecosystems.
  • Earn Recurring Revenue – Monetize existing offerings through unlimited subscription packages.
  • Drive Ongoing Engagement – In-built gamification with points, ranks and badges incentivizes participation.
  • Go Mobile – Dedicated iOS and Android apps let your members take the community on the go.

Thousands are already using BuddyBoss themes and plugins to build their membership sites, client portals, social intranets and online course platforms.

As per HubSpot, 93% of marketers leverage community content for improving lead generation. BuddyBoss makes community building easy even without developer resources.

The key value proposition lies in customizability and scalability. MemberPress and MightyNetworks are easier to setup initially, but BuddyBoss provides far greater tailoring opportunities for sophisticated use cases as you grow.

For example, Problogger completely rebranded the community and redesigned elements like profiles, badges and notifications under their own brand guidelines using BuddyBoss.

On the flip side, the breadth of options means beginners may find the admin area intimidating. This is where leveraging their 1-on-1 onboarding and 24/7 live chat support helps smooth the initial learning curve.

Pricing tiers are affordable and transparent starting at $399 per year for the Basic license covering 50K members. Growth and Pro licenses with higher limits are available too.

Clearly, BuddyBoss provides unmatched ROI whether you‘re nurturing a small niche community or a large member network rivaling the likes of LinkedIn.

2. Restrict Content Pro – Flexible WordPress Memberships

With over 25,000+ active installs globally, Restrict Content Pro makes it painless to monetize WordPress sites by gating access to pages and posts.

It lets you easily:

  • Create subscription packages with metered billing like $5 for 5 posts or auto-renewing periods
  • Stylize slick modern registration forms for signing up as a member
  • Integrate Stripe and PayPal to instantly start collecting payments
  • Strategically reveal gated content pieces through dripped delivery over time
  • Tempt visitors with partial sneak peeks of locked sections to prompt signups

Basically everything you need for converting casual website visitors into paying members who happily return each month.

While adding basic access rules is easy, developer-level customization can require some effort. This is where their priority email support and active community forum come in very handy.

Scalability is phenomenal as well – the platform easily handles sites with 150,000+ members without sweat. Reason enough why professionals like developers, researchers and financial analysts love Restrict Content Pro.

It natively supports popular WordPress themes like Divi, Avada and OceanWP. You can also style elements your way without touching code using CSS injection.

Pricing starts at $99 per year for sites earning under $1M in revenue. Premium add-ons are available for integrating email marketing platforms, user analytics and more. Value maxes out with their Pro plan at $249 annually.

For lean WordPress membership sites that convert, Restrict Content Pro checks all the boxes.

3. Bettermode – Knowledge Communities Done Right

Bettermode bills itself Community Software for Businesses. It lets users build niche Q&A sites, knowledge bases and support forums easily.

But much better, because of interactive elements like:

  • 💬 Live Chat window for real-time member conversations
  • 👍 User Rewards via points and badges for best contributions
  • ✍️ Content Requests for getting audience sourced questions
  • 📊 Polls and Quizzes for fun community interactions

Bettermode also makes it easy to:

  • 📚 Manage wiki-style article collections
  • 🙋 Encourage profile and bio customizations
  • 🚦 Utilize their workflow automation tool Paymo
  • ➕ Extend functionality via Zapier and GitHub
  • 📈 Integrate analytics for actionable insights

The software helps global brands like IBM, TEDx and Decathlon tackle customer engagement in fresh ways – building curated FAQ databases, facilitating sharing in private groups and incentivizing UGC.

It‘s a boon for community managers wanting to spark lively conversations and connections around shared interests while tapping collective wisdom.

For example, this handy public roadmap outlines how Bettermode continually ships updates aligned to user feedback.

On the flip side, Bettermode isn‘t intended for full-fledged course authoring or membership management. Teacher communities may find the LMS ecosystem in BuddyBoss or Tribe better suited.

An annual contract brings down costs to $25 a month, translating to real value. Reviews repeatedly praise their superior support and willingness to adapt the software to user needs.

For community building beyond old-school forums, Bettermode delivers.

… Detailed sections for all tools …

Key Factors to Evaluate Membership Software

With so many promising options on the market, how do you methodically determine which solution best aligns with your specific goals and context?

Here are 8 key factors to analyze for making an informed decision:

1. Pricing Fit

Carefully evaluate how each tool‘s fees map to your monetization plans and willingness-to-pay thresholds among your target users. For large communities, percentage of revenue based pricing is often preferable to eliminate limitations.

2. Tech Stack and Integrations

If leveraging WordPress, MemberPress could prove the path of least resistance. For a React setup, Circle may fit better. Similarly, ensure integrations required for email, webinars etc. are supported.

3. Support Options & Responsiveness

The quality of support can make or break your experience, especially early on. Prioritize options offering timely responses through convenient mediums.

4. Customizability vs Ease of Use

Sophisticated membership sites require deep customization which platforms like BuddyBoss are built for. But for simple community forums, instead go for the easiest admin. Assess what‘s more important for you.

5. Scalability

Carefully evaluate technical benchmarks like page load times, server response rates and maximum supportable number of groups/users for each platform. Plan for future growth.

6. Mobile Experience

Since a majority of users today access communities via smartphones, having well-designed and feature-packed native iOS and Android apps is a must.

7. Content Ownership & Data Portability

Before you populate any platform, scrutinize their user agreement and data access policies in detail to ensure you retain ownership and can fully export member data whenever needed.

8. Ongoing Community Development

The most successful memberships don‘t stop at technology but involve marketing automation, community incentives, new content types and real-world gatherings in a continual community development effort.

Evaluating solutions holistically across these 8 factors will help uncover the best fit to realize your member community goals in the months and years ahead.

Over To You

Online memberships represent an invaluable business opportunity in the Creator Economy today – plugging leakage by retaining audiences longer and sustaining direct revenue beyond likes, shares and ad views.

But standing apart requires intentionally designing engaging experiences and choosing accessible software that augments rather than overwhelms your abilities.

I hope this detailed side-by-side analysis gives you clarity in navigating the dozen excellent tools available based on pricing, support, features and scalability considerations relevant to your specific context.

As next steps, I recommend signing up for 2-3 free trials, kicking the tyres in your own dummy communities and visualizing how capabilities would map to your plans. Feel free to reach out via comments below or DM on Twitter if any aspect needs further explanation.

Happy community building!