Circle Review: How I Built & Setup My Online Membership Community Platform

Circle online community platform

I do a lot of different things in my business–from client work to education to running an online community–so I’m always looking for tools to make my life easier and help me scale my business. Circle has done just that! It’s an all-in-one online community platform where I can host events, facilitate discussions, and get to know my students better. And the best part? It’s fun and easy to use for both me and my community members. Here’s my in-depth Circle review and some of my favorite features.

If you want to try it for yourself…

  1. Sign up for your free trial of Circle using my affiliate link
    (no strings attached and no payment info required)
  2. Email support [AT] localcreative.co letting me know you used my link.
  3. Receive a bonus video training on how I use Circle for my business.

Special thanks to Circle for sponsoring this post! Please note that I only work with partners/businesses that I have personally used and tested on my own. I would never recommend a tool that I haven’t thoroughly tested. Also, partnerships like this help to keep these weekly videos free for you to enjoy.

TRANSCRIPTION: Circle Review: My Favorite Online Community Platform

Have you ever thought what it would look like to build a community of people around your business? Hi, I’m Galen. I’m a web designer, but I’m actually a lot more than that too. Along with offering design work to my clients. I also run an online business where I sell courses, memberships, and digital products, but it wasn’t always that way.

Back in the early days of creating my digital offerings, I was using Facebook groups as a way to provide additional value to my students.

I wanted to have real time conversations. I wanted to share additional content and I wanted to connect with my audience over live video. If you’re anything like me, you are over Facebook groups. I know I’m personally trying to spend less time on social media and not more.

I also really disliked how separate my community felt from the educational content that I was creating.

What I really wanted was the forum style community that Facebook groups offered without the infuriating algorithm and the distracting ads.

This is where Circle comes in. And I remember the first day I found out that Circle existed and I was so excited that there was a company out there to fill this gap.

Circle is an insanely powerful community building platform that I use to power my own community, the Creator Club and my group program, Simplified Designer.

You might be thinking, how do you have two different programs inside of one community? And that’s one of my favorite things about Circle. I love that I can give some members access to certain spaces and other members access to others.

For example, the web designers inside of my program, Simplified Designer have access to the Simplified Designer curriculum as well as the support channels associated with it. And they also have access to my membership, the Creator Club. But if you’re only a Creator Club member, you see just the Creator Club content and not the Simplified Designer, lessons, discussions, and bonus content.

Let’s take a look behind the scenes of my Circle account so you can see how I have everything set up and how easy it is to organize your content.

But first, thank you so much to Circle for sponsoring this video. I love when I get to partner with brands that I already use every single day in my business. At the time I’m recording this video, I’ve been a paying member of Circle for about two years now. And during that time, they’ve come out with some amazing new features that I can’t wait to show you.

This is what it looks like inside of my Circle account. And I’m gonna go through this left sidebar here and sort of how I have my community organized, because it might help you if you’re just getting started, putting yours together and figuring out how you wanna lay everything out. So, over here on the top left, we have your home feed.

This is a personalized activity feed, sort of like your homepage on Facebook that shows you your latest posts. So this again is gonna be specific for every member that I have. They’re all going to see their own unique feed based on the spaces that they have access to. Then, here I have organized all my spaces into different space group.

So, I have a Welcome space group, which is sort of like my on onboarding space or my space to check in about events that are coming up or to introduce yourself to other members. Then, I have my Creator Club space group, and this is specific to my Creator Club members.

I’m actually gonna be adding a few more spaces here over the coming weeks and months as I add more content, but I always recommend starting out with fewer spaces in the beginning, less is really more here because you want your community to feel as active as possible.

And having fewer spaces will really help to concentrate those conversations and make your spaces feel a little more lively. Then, I have my Simplified Designer space here. This has a general discussion section. It has a space for feedback requests. So, my students can request feedback on things that they’re working on related to the lessons in the course.

I have an Update section, which I post to, to kind of let them know about anything new that’s been added to the course. Then, I have a Lessons section where I actually add all of my video lessons broken down into posts. So, you can kind of use Circle as a learning management system. You’re able to put content in it and almost use it like a course platform with a built in community, but it really is a community first platform.

Right now, as you can see, we are on my Start Here page, and this is the first thing that new members will see once they sign up, it welcomes them to the club. And then I’ve added a video here that walks them through next steps and kind of how to navigate their way around the community. I really love having this and having a video with my face on it.

So, that way people in the community can feel like they’re getting to know me and I’m able to kind of introduce myself and show them around.

I also really love having all of my new members introduce themselves because this is a great way for members to welcome in new members and for all of us to get to know each other a little bit better.

One of the most important things to me when it came to choosing the right community platform for my business was the ability to host events and go live directly from within the platform.

As I mentioned earlier, I was really trying to simplify my business and I didn’t wanna keep sending my members and students to different platforms to access all the content that I had for them. Thankfully Circle has this built directly into the platform.

From the top of the screen, I can click on, Go Live. I can add in a stream title. I can add in a URL so that my members can access the stream. And then I can add in a description, which is optional.

And then I also have the option to record the stream, which means after the live stream ends Circle will email me a video file that I’m able to download,

and re-upload later if I want my users to have the ability to watch the replay in the future.

I can even set stream access, meaning I can decide, do I want my entire community to watch this live stream or do I just want my Simplified Designer members, for example? So, I love how specific you can get with this.

Here, I’m going to choose whether I want my stream view to be highlighting the main speaker or do I want it to be a gallery with a group of speakers? And like I mentioned, I can choose whether it’s open to my entire community or private to specific spaces and I can choose to add co-host. If I’d like to host this live with somebody else from my community.

Once your settings look good. You can click on Test Your Video. And this will show your webcam here. So, I’m able to go to device settings and select the webcam that I’d like to show up here. I can select my microphone and audio output. So, if I have headphones or something like that, I could choose my headphones and then I can see my stream.

I can test my stream and make sure it looks the way I want it to, before I go live.

The last step before you go live is entering the backstage area. This is where you would greet any co-hosts if you have them. But in my case, everything looks good to go and I would just hit Go Live and it would pop up as a notification directly inside my community and give all of my members the opportunity to join.

As you can see here, my video stream is pretty high quality and that’s because I’m shooting with a mirrorless camera and not the built in camera on my computer. And then I also have a somewhat professional microphone that I use just to get that really nice audio quality.

If you want all the details on my camera and mic set up and how I create a live stream with this video feed, sign up for a free trial of Circle with my affiliate link. I’ll include the link here and in the description around this video, and then email me support @localcreative.co. And I will send you a link to a behind the scenes training of how it all works.

I also wanna mention that you don’t necessarily need a high quality video set up like this to stream successfully into your community. The most important thing is the quality of the content that you’re delivering. So, don’t let your camera set up stop you.

One other thing I wanna mention related to live video is the ability to create events inside of Circle, where your audience can RSVP to let you know they’re coming.

Here’s an example of an event that I ran recently and I actually live streamed this event with my co-host directly into Circle. So, that way our members wouldn’t have to join via Zoom or leave the platform to access the live video. I created the event using the events tab, which then sends out a notification to everybody in my audience and allows them to RSVP, if they can make it, and then they’ll get reminders before the event starts.

To create a new event, you’ll go to the event space. And if you don’t have an event space, yet you can go to Create a Space and then choose Events here. So, rather than a post space, you want to have an events space. And then once you’ve got that created, you can click on New Event.

You’re able to add all the event details here and then choose the time and date and schedule it into your community.

All of the features that Circle has added over the last few years, since I’ve been a customer have been really intuitive and easy to pick up, but they have an extra special bonus.

If you want to learn more about these features or just get general support when using their platform. And that is their very own Circle community, you guessed it built right into Circle.

With their community switcher functionality, they make it really easy to jump back and forth between the communities that you are a part of within Circle. So, anytime I need help, or I have a question about a new feature, I head over to the Circle community and check out any updates that they have there.

Now, let’s dive back into my community so I can show you how I have everything set up.

At the top of every space, there is a new post button. And if you click this, you’re able to create a post. You can choose what space that post goes in. You can add a title. You can add text here. And what’s really cool is you can format your posts in a ton of different ways. I’m able to add code blocks.

I’m able to add headings and bulleted lists and even embed content as well. So, down here you can see, I can upload a video. I can add photos, gifs. I can add emojis. I can attach things to this post. So, the posts are really flexible and it really allows you to share so many different types of content with your community.

Every post has advanced settings that you can use to customize it to your needs. So for example, if you wanted to hide meta info on a post that’s more evergreen, you could remove the date and the author. If you wanted to disable likes, if you wanted to pin the post to the top of a space, add some custom HTML.

There is so flexibility here and I love how easy it is to change things on a new post or an existing post to make sure you have your settings exactly how you want them.

If you look over at the top right of my screen here, you can see this analytics icon, which is available to me since I am an admin of this community.

And this will show me things like active daily members, any new members I’ve had over the last 30 days, inactive members, my top members, popular posts and spaces as well as popular dates and times that people are active in my community so I know the best times to post content.

Next, to that we have the members icon, which shows me an overview of all of my members. I then have the settings, which will go over in just a second, because I wanna go in depth on some of my favorite Circle settings. So, you can customize your account. We’ve got notifications, which is just like any social media apps that you’ve used.

It’s great to be able to see what’s happened since you last logged on or last checked your notifications. And then one of my favorite features is the messaging. I love that you can direct message with members and I use this as a way to stay connected with what’s happening with my members, to answer any questions that they might have, and maybe have some more private conversations that we wouldn’t necessarily have in open community spaces.

If I click my face in the top right here, I’m able to go to edit profile. And this is where I can add a profile photo. I can update my bio and social media links and all of my members are able to do this, too. And it’s really fun to read your member bios and check out their social media links to get a better idea of who they are as people and connect with them there as well, right from within my Circle community.

If I head over to my Circle community settings, I am able to completely customize the look and feel of my community. I want my community to feel as branded as possible so the entire experience matches what they might experience on my website. So, I wanted to have my brand colors. I wanted to have a custom URL, a custom fav icon up in the browser.

I really want to make everything feel consistent across all of my branded properties. And I consider my community to be part of that.

Here. I’m able to add my own community logo, add my brand color. I can add my icon. That’s gonna go in the browser bar and I’m even able to add my own custom domain.

So, you can see here, I have updated my Circle community domain to be Local Creative. Community. And that way it’s a lot easier for my students to remember and really easy for them to access again and again.

Circle also gives me the option to update my weekly digest email. I love that Circle sends emails for you. That’s one thing I was really missing with my Facebook group. I felt like if the algorithm wasn’t favoring my content, my members weren’t ever seeing the post that I was sharing.

Where now they get a second reminder via email that pulls them back to the community and encourages them to log in again and engage with the content. Speaking of engaging with content, not only is my community within Circle mobile responsive, meaning that it works on my phone. They also have a built in mobile app.

I can access everything from my community, right from my phone.

I can log in on either the mobile app or using a web browser on my phone. I can scroll down to say my Simplified Designer space group, tap on Lessons. Tap over to the video hit play. And here I am recording a video of myself while watching a video of myself. Pretty cool.

One of the questions I had when I was first getting started with Circle was how do I actually get my members into Circle? And while you can connect your Circle account to Stripe and collect payments that way. They also have a ton of options for third party integrations.

I personally use ThriveCart as my shopping cart, because I love how customizable it is when it comes to up sales and down sales. And I’m able to add the members who purchase through ThriveCart to my Circle community, with their invitation links feature. So, while you can use something like their Zapier integration to add members directly to your community, you can also create a custom invitation link and then include it in something like a follow up email after somebody signs up for your membership. And that way they can create their own account from that link.

And you don’t need any fancy integrations to make it happen.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a long time user of Circle and it has made such a big difference in my business because I feel like I’m able to get so much closer to the students and members inside my courses and programs.

If Circle sounds like something interesting to you that you think might be a good fit for your business, I’ve got something you wanna check out.

If you sign up for a no obligation free trial of Circle using the link here, or the link in the description below, I am going to send you a video about how I create content for my community and how I actually enroll new members and what that looks like behind the scenes. All you have to do is use that link.

It’s my affiliate link, sign up for a free trial and then email support @localcreative.co. And I will send that extra bonus training straight to you.

Thanks so much for watching as always, if you enjoyed this video, make sure to like, and subscribe and also leave a comment below with any of your Circle related questions. And I’ll answer you there. See you next time.

Why I Switched to Circle

Ever since I started selling educational resources and courses, I knew I wanted a community aspect to my business. At first, I used Facebook Groups. But as the algorithm changed and ads took over, I started looking for a more customizable tool to host my online community. I wanted full control of my community, but I didn’t want to create a program from scratch.

That’s when I found Circle! For the past two years, I’ve hosted every aspect of my online community through the platform: events, video trainings, discussions, you name it! Circle has allowed me to grow and manage a thriving online community of creative business owners, and I’m still so glad I made the switch!

Click here to check out Circle for yourself.

My Circle Review & Favorite Features

You can do so much with your Circle community! Here are a few of my favorite features.

Controlling Member Access

I love how easy it is to control member access to spaces within Circle. Because I offer different courses and products, each member in my community has access to different features. My Simplified Designer students get access to their own groups and content plus the general Creator Club group, and I can customize what each member gets to see. That makes it easy for me to manage different groups of students and upsell exclusive content.

The custom invitation links feature makes it easy for me to add people to my community without any fancy integrations. But if you want a direct integration, they have a pretty robust list, including Zapier, which gives you endless options. You can even embed your community right on your website. It’s truly designed with online business owners in mind!

My ‘Start Here’ Page

When a new member enters my Circle community, they automatically see my ‘Start Here’ page. I’ve set it up to include a welcome message, a video tutorial by me, and instructions for introducing yourself. While you don’t have to set up a ‘Start Here’ page, I love that Circle allows me to provide this resource to new members and get the conversation going!

In addition to the ‘Start Here’ page, I also have a section entirely devoted to introductions by new members. This keeps the main discussion channels from getting clogged up with intro posts while still giving new members the opportunity to share their stories and start engaging with the group.

Circle review screenshot

Live Events & Streams

I host a lot of virtual events for my community, and I love that I can schedule and host them directly in Circle! You can create an event ahead of time or go live whenever you want, and you can even include cohosts or facilitate group discussions. For me, this is so much easier than sending my community members a Zoom link or going live in a Facebook Group. And with the Circle mobile app, my members get a notification every time I go live so they can tune in in real time.

Plus, there’s an option to save your recordings. You can record your event, and Circle will save the recording for you so you can re-publish after for anyone who couldn’t make it live. My community members have told me they love having a library of old live streams and video lessons to rewatch.

Circle review screenshot

The Circle Support Community

Like I said, I’ve been a devoted Circle user for two years now. In that time, they’ve added tons of new features and tools. Through their Circle support community, I get to hear about these new tools, learn how to use them, and ask questions to fellow users and Circle staff when I need help. Whether I want to experiment with a new feature or need immediate help with an issue, I know I have a robust, responsive support community to turn to.

Post Customization

Unlike Facebook, Circle offers a ton of options for customizing your individual posts. You can embed content, upload videos, attach documents, create code blocks, and even use custom HTML. If you wanted to, you could really treat your Circle community like an educational platform and host all your content here. But if you use a designated online course platform, Circle makes it easy to integrate the two.

Circle review screenshot

Analytics & Admin Tools

I’m always looking for ways to keep my Circle community active, and their analytics and admin tools make it easy to do! You can see when your users are most active, what kinds of content they engage with the most, and even which users are the most vocal. That way, you can post when your community is most likely to engage and schedule your events around their usage patterns.

Direct Messaging

One of my absolute favorite Circle features is their direct messaging tool, which is available to both admins and regular users. Users can send direct messages to one another, which is great for one-on-one discussions (and just making friends!). As an admin, this tool is great for answering specific questions and getting to your community even better.

Customizing Your Profile & Community

It’s important to me that my branding stays consistent across platforms. (That’s one the reasons Facebook was a no go for me.) Luckily, Circle has tons of options for customizing your colors, logo, favicon, and even domain. It truly feels like an extension of my website, even though it’s its own platform.

There’s also the option to customize your onboarding experience. You can customize your welcome email, signup link, and even a pop-up message that appears when a new user creates their account.

In addition to customizing the space, you can update your individual profile. Change your photo, write a bio, and link your social platforms. You can also create “tags” for different users to help certain members or admin stand out. I love reading my students’ bios and checking out their social links. It makes it that much easier to get to know them on a personal level.

Circle review screenshot

The Weekly Digest Email Tool

Not every user checks the platform every day. That’s why the Weekly Digest email tool is so handy. It’s an automatic email my community members get every week that highlights the top posts and anything I’ve shared in the past week. I see a ton of increased engagement after that email goes out, and I’ve heard from several community members who are grateful for the weekly reminder to check the discussion boards.

Of course, you can also integrate Circle with your own email marketing software using Zapier. I do a combination of the two simply because I love the automatic Weekly Digest. I can manually send emails to my members using my outside email marketing program, but I can also trust Circle’s automatic tools to send my weekly emails.

The Circle Mobile App

The Circle platform is super mobile-friendly, but they took it up a notch and created an app! It has all the same admin tools as the desktop version, and it’s easy to navigate for regular users. It keeps my community engaged, and it makes it even easier for me to post and interact as well. Users can also customize their app notifications to hear about new posts, live videos, and upcoming events.

Integrations

Circle is designed to facilitate paid or free memberships. While there are tons of possible integrations, I prefer selling memberships through Thrivecart and then emailing new users a custom invitation link. This keeps everything running smoothly and makes it easy for new members to join.

The custom invitation links feature makes it easy for me to add people to my community without any fancy integrations. But if you want a direct integration, they have a pretty robust list, including Zapier, which gives you endless options. You can even embed your community right on your website. It’s truly designed with online business owners in mind!

Room for Improvement

Okay, okay, we get it. Circle is awesome. But this wouldn’t be a proper review article without some real honest opinions about where Circle is lacking.

While I love Circle, there is always room for improvement, and I wanted to go over a few things you should know before signing up.

First, features like live streaming directly into communities are still pretty new. There may be some bugginess from time to time as they release and test new features if you’ve signed up as a beta tester to try out these updates before they are released to all Circle accounts.

Keep in mind events and live streams have yet to be integrated as of the date this post is published (I’ll try to come back here and update as new features are released).

So, you can have an event, and you can have a live stream, but the two are not connected directly. I would love the ability to create an event for my live stream in one step instead of two (I hope this feature is coming soon! 🤞).

Also, if you are a course creator, know that Circle is a community-first platform (at least for now). They don’t have a lot of features that a traditional LMS (learning management system) would. If you need features like student progress tracking, quizzes, etc. you may want to consider using a different platform.

Right now, I have my program organized under a space group. Inside that I have a space for lessons, and I have each lesson created as a post within the lesson space. I would love the ability to have modules within each lesson, but that doesn’t exist yet.

My last pet peeve about Circle is the search functionality. While it’s super powerful, there’s no way to filter your results by date to see the most recent results.

For example, when I’m searching the Circle community for the latest on live stream functionality, I keep seeing old results that are no longer relevant since things are changing so quickly on the platform.

Circle is changing faster than I can keep up and I’m always checking the “what’s new” space in their community to stay up to date on the latest features. I’ll try to come back here and update as new things launch so you can stay up to date too!

What are you waiting for? Grow your community with Circle!

Try Circle for yourself and create a community around your business!

  1. Sign up for your free trial of Circle using my affiliate link (Did I mention you don’t need to enter any payment info? Take it for a spin for 14 days!)
  2. Email support [AT] localcreative.co letting me know you used my link.
  3. Receive a bonus video training on how I use Circle for my business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.