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9 reasons I chose Circle for my membership community
(Why) do you need a membership community?
If you don't know why, don't launch. Maybe you DON'T need a membership community. That's totally fine. I personally think no community is better than a bad community. That's a generalization, but I find it to be true unless we're talking about neighbors. Knowing your neighbors, even if they're grouchy, is better than not knowing them at all.
Here's some context on why 👁️ I 👁️ needed to create a membership community.
My startup, Soapbox Project makes social impact easy for busy people. We're building a bite-sized, fun, and scalable social justice funnel starting with weekly climate action plans. Our mission is to make it so that anyone, anywhere in the world can take action on causes they care about. We focus on the 1 billion zillennials (gen z + millennials) interested in making a difference but not knowing how to take the next step. (Also sign up here for free if you're a good person 😜)
Well, here's the thing: content alone is not enough in moving people to action. People need other people, so I needed to launch a community. There was no other way around it. No app in the world is as effective as peer pressure (I know this personally).
Launching our community was the best way to:
- Connect people locally. We believe local action is fundamental to high-impact change. We have members from all over the world, but we needed local hubs to organize events and partnerships with non-profits doing work specific to an area. Scaling global impact locally is a near-impossible task because everywhere is different, and it can only be accomplished through community.
- Measure and amplify our impact. It's really hard to understand how effective our content is, even if we know what people are clicking. With a community, though, people are more likely to self-report their actions.
- Have fun!
Based on those three goals, I chose Circle!
Why Circle was the best membership community option for Soapbox Project
Before this list of hype though, Circle costs $80+ a month! This price point was a HUGE con for me as someone who is currently below the poverty line (#smallbizlife). However, it's so far the only con I have, and I'll tell you why I decided it was worth it.
Why I chose Circle:
- I wanted to optimize for thoughtful, long-form, asynchronous discussions. Since Soapbox addresses climate change and social justice, it's not a place where you can just send memes and go off (although we love a good meme). People post reflections on there that can often exceed 500 words! There is a lot of high-quality, deep, nuanced thought that's not possible in many other social platforms.
- I needed control over the customization of the community. I'm able to whitelabel it with our logo (top left corner), customize the way spaces and space groups look (left section), and even display content in 3 different ways: posts, lists, and cards. The screenshot below is the card view, where I hid my meta info so it looks like a resource library instead of a discussion area. It has just enough customization (including ways to put in custom code) but it's not overwhelming. Also I was able to choose whatever the heck I wanted for my custom domain, so I chose friends dot soapboxproject dot org, instead of something boring 😉
- It's intuitive. Using Circle is fairly easy if you've ever used Facebook or Slack before. It feels like a (better) combo of the two — the buttons are where you expect them to be. The channel/space layouts make sense. They haven't tried to mess around and be "too original" with the user interface. Soapbox members hardly have questions about how to use our community, beyond not being sure where to post stuff or if they're allowed to — and that is up to me to make more clear. The product itself just makes sense.
- It has a really supportive community so I can learn best practices. 🔥✅🏆 Remember my hesitation about the price point? Well, THIS is what quelled all my qualms. The Circle community is included with your subscription to the product, and honestly, it's a steal. You basically get free (well, included) community building workshops, courses, AMAs, and office hours. It. is. WILD.
- Lots of other community builders I respect (like Anne-Laure with Ness Labs) were using it and had good things to say. I don't usually care much for testimonials because they're all the same — "this product is amazing and I can't live without it" — but creators I admire like Anne-Laure would Tweet about the early days of their Circle communities, fascinating new use cases, and a whole lot of positive feedback. Although Circle is a relatively new product, I didn't feel like it was risky because so many folks I follow had good things to say.
- I needed a paywall that wouldn't be too hard to use. I integrated Outseta pretty easily with Circle — it now has its own paywall too! I'm not planning on switching because I want to paywall other stuff in the future for our members, so I'm going to stick with Outseta for now. Circle's native paywall feature seems to be well-received so far, so that's a perk for anyone who doesn't want to do the extra step of integrating. I totally get it.
- Their analytics make sense. Community health is HARD to measure. No analytics are perfect because community is so qualitative, but Circle does a good job for a numbers coward like me. (Ironic because I literally graduated with a degree in Statistics.) Anyway, not only do they have basic stuff like active/inactive members (which I can supplement by tracking event attendance and more) but they also look at how many direct messages get sent in your community. They basically have various ways you can measure and improve on what's going on!
- The team "gets it". I have never ever ever ever seen a team that iterates so quickly and so... correctly? We said we struggle with paywalls. They launched a paywall. We needed help with events. They launched livestreams. We didn't want to keep updating members' info on Airtable. They rolled out a member directory. IT'S FAST AND NOT FURIOUS! Maybe I should ask for a million bucks next and see where that gets me?? (@ Circle team, plz accept my feedback)
- Mathilde. If you're wondering wtf a Mathilde is, Mathilde Leo is Circle's community manager. Not only is she super helpful, she's also a good person who cares about my well-being, which I find pretty stunning for a platform with thousands of customers and community members. She's checked in on me when I broke my leg, and she's vouched for me to speak at a couple community conferences, which gave me the confidence to even be writing stuff like this in the first place.
Like... just look at this. Also I won a giveaway of Carrie Melissa Jones's book during one of my first events. AND I got to speak at one to share my own learnings. Circle is such a worth-it investment.
I've never been so happy with a product decision. I'm always agonizing over if I've made the right choice, but with Circle, I'm chiiiillinnnn.
Start your 14-day free trial here but be warned, it totally suckered me in.
Thanks to the Circle team and especially Mathilde for showing me how building a product isn't just about the tech; it's about real people and their real feelings. 💕💕