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My business alternative to Facebook groups: Circle Communities

‘m so tired of Facebook groups, and that’s why I found an alternative: Circle Communities. And I’m obsessed. But let me tell you first why it matters:

The downside of Facebook Groups

Being an online entrepreneur means networking digitally. And since Facebook groups are free & easy to set up, anybody can create one to give you updates, build community, and share offers with you.

About 3 years ago, I started running SEO-related Facebook groups. I started a free Facebook group (Sustainable SEO) and a group for the paid members of my membership, Attract & Activate. I also had mini-groups for cohorts of students going through my A&A program. The notifications started adding up.

Not to mention notifications from the other 300+ groups that I’m in. No, seriously, I started to count and it’s so high that Facebook won’t even let me see them all. It feels like everyone & their mother has a Facebook group. (Legit, even my mom had a Facebook group for a while for her work on the local school board.)

Sometimes I’d see the notifications & be able to reply rapidly … but sometimes I’d miss them, and the questions from members of my community — the ones paying me to help them with their SEO — would get lost in the shuffle because Facebook instead wanted to tell me about updates in 10 other groups.

And since I can’t control the algorithm, I felt like I needed to be on Facebook all the time, to make sure I didn’t miss anything time-sensitive.

This feeling of needing to be consistently logged in and checking for notifications is exactly what Facebook wants — they want all of us tapped in 24/7, scrolling mindlessly, so that they get their ad revenues. Which is why Facebook groups are free, to get you there.

I could feel the impact on my mental health: the constant, nonstop need to check was exhausting (even with Chrome plug-ins to drown out all the political noise).

For years I’ve been looking for an alternative … should my members move to Slack? What about Mighty Networks? Every few months, we’d talk about moving … but everybody was already hanging out on Facebook, so the idea of moving (and logging into a new place, and remembering to check it) felt like too big of an ask. I’ve seen many communities move off of Facebook & instantly die … and my discomfort with Facebook wasn’t bad enough to risk my community.

Until I heard about Circle communities. And it felt like my prayers had been answered.

Circle: An amazing alternative to Facebook Groups

Last week I moved my Attract & Activate membership from Facebook into Circle. Here’s what it looks like:

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It’s a really customizable, easy-to-navigate community space, with plenty of white space to keep it feeling clean and not overwhelming.

Also: So many of my community members have expressed gratitude for getting them off Facebook for their business needs, and creating an intentional, distraction free environment for conversations & support.

Here are the features that I love about Circle:

Circle white label communities are easy to customize

I’m telling you that this community is on Circle, but nowhere in the client experience does it tell you that that’s who’s hosting it. I could easily change to a custom domain like “community.loveatfirstsearch” or “” to make it feel like a totally white label experience.

And everything that’s visible — the topics we discuss, the tags next to our member names, the colors we use — those are all fully customizable. There are no “default” settings, you can set every piece of up exactly the way you want to. (There are, of course, best practices that are shared in the Circle Community forums, so you’re not left alone to figure everything out.)

I even asked for the option to include custom code, so I can change the CSS and embed long forms & custom buttons.

And if you have questions about how to get Circle set up, they have a community for Circle creators … totally built on Circle, of course, so you can see some of the best practices in action:

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It’s easy to assign different access levels within the same community

There have been times when I’ve simultaneously been running 4 Facebook groups — my free group, my new member group, my long-term member group, and my deeper mastermind — and when people graduated or upgraded, I’d have to ask them to move from group-to-group, and inevitably lose people in the process. It’s a pain in the ass.

With Circle, everyone can live in one group, but have different levels of access. People who just joined Attract & Activate will be guided through a short training; when they’re done, they’ll “unlock” the bonuses automatically (thanks to easy Zapier integrations) so they don’t get overwhelmed all at once. Members who want to upgrade to a mastermind experience have access to different spaces than the regular members, but they can still all chat within the community conversations together.

So these are all my space groups:

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Everyone gets access to “Community/SEO Q&A,” only long-time students see the alumni area, new members have their own space for introductory questions, and then when they finish the core training, they automatically get access to the bonuses & live workshops.

We can also assign “Member Tags” to help different groups of people stand out, and easily identify different roles & interests. Right now our only tags are by the year members joined, but eventually I’d like to give special tags as awards for people who go above & beyond, or include tags for common industries.

How to get community members to stay engaged off Facebook

The benefit of building a Facebook group community (aside from the $0 price tag) is that people are already there hanging out … so my biggest concern with moving is, “Will people actually log in & participate outside of Facebook?”

Thankfully the team at Circle already thought of this, and they send automated weekly digests every Thursday to let people know what’s going on in their communities. In addition, I send a “events this week” newsletter to members every Monday, and include links to active Circle threads … so people are getting reminders to log-in twice a week. You can see how this impacts engagement (the spikes are all Mondays & Thursdays):

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So you might need to remind people to log-in, but if you’re creating engaging conversations and giving people a place to express themselves, they’ll have a reason to come back.

Community members can make it their own

There are certain sections of our community that are top-down — the announcements, lesson prompts, etc — but it’s also easy for community members to add their own areas to communicate outside of the official Attract & Activate curriculum. We created a space for peer-led collaboration pods, where members can chat among themselves about what’s working in their industry or audiences.

The downsides of Circle Communities

As I write this (Q4 2020), Circle doesn’t yet have a mobile app, but it’s on the horizon for a beta release soon. In the meantime, the website is mobile-friendly, but sometimes navigation around the space on a small screen isn’t optimal.

Circle communities pricing

Circle isn’t free, and that’s why they can provide an ad-free, distraction-free customizable space. (Remember the old saying, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”)

The base price is $39/mo for 100 members and 10 spaces (ie individual form areas); I’ve upgraded to the middle tier for $79/mo for 10K members & 100 spaces.

Get your free 14-day trial of Circle and give it a whirl for your community!
(Affiliate disclaimer: If you use this link, it won’t impact your cost but I’ll get a small commission if you choose to become a paying client. I signed up, paid for and started sharing about my love for Circle before they even had an affiliate program, and would continue to promote even without the affiliate program.)

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