Circle.so (or Circle) is one of the most popular platforms for creating online communities. And if you want to learn how to build a Circle community but aren’t sure where to start or how to do it, we’ve got your back.
We have put together a comprehensive Circle.so tutorial to walk you through every step of the process. We’ll cover everything from creating an account and setting up a structure to adding content and inviting your first members.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
1. Create a Circle Account
You can begin creating a Circle community in four simple steps. Your first step is to go to Circle’s website and sign up for an account.
The platform offers a 14-day free trial for you to explore its features for free. To activate your free trial, enter your email address on Circle’s homepage.
In the next step, add a name and URL to your community. For helping finding the perfect name for a thriving community, try our community name generator!
At this point, you can also decide whether you want to create a public or private community. Don’t spend too much time on this step — you can change these details later.
In the third step, answer questions about your business, including what you want to achieve with your Circle community and how much you know about the platform. You can choose your answers from the dropdown menu.
In the last step, select from one of five templates for your community, depending on what you want to achieve with Circle. Once you select a template, the platform will automatically set up some default spaces in your community.
That’s it! You have created your account, and you can now start customizing your community.
2. Set Up Your Circle Community
In this section, we’ll help you navigate your account settings, set up the available branding options, and show you how you can structure your community.
Configure General Settings
You can access your community settings by clicking on your community’s name in the top left corner of your screen. A drop-down menu will show the Settings tab..
Click on Settings, and you’ll see General Settings by default. Here you can customize your community’s name and URL. Additionally, you can configure these essential settings:
- Visibility settings: You can make your community public or private.
- Community access via mobile apps: You can choose to allow members to access your community using Circle’s mobile apps.
Additionally, you can enable or disable direct and group messaging, customize invitation emails to create a personalized onboarding experience for your community members, and set up Single Sign-On for a custom domain.
Customize Community Branding
Now, we’ll walk you through the available customization options for your community.
To access the theme options, click on your community’s name in the top right corner and click Customize Theme.
Here you’ll find several options for customizing your community’s look and feel:
- You can set colors for different elements in your community, including buttons, the sidebar background, online indicators, etc. You can also choose a preset color theme instead of setting colors individually.
- You can default your community to the dark mode instead of the light mode.
- You can upload a logo and a favicon to visually align your community with your brand. You can have separate logos for light and dark modes.
Besides these options, you can also tweak your community’s layout by adding CSS and JS codes. To make these changes, go to Settings → Code Snippets, and add the codes to the respective boxes.
Create Spaces and Groups
Now that you’ve customized your community’s appearance, we’ll discuss how you can set up your community structure.
Your main tools here are Spaces and Space Groups. A Space is a section where you’ll add your content, while a Space Group is just for grouping different spaces together.
Circle uses Spaces to organize content, and all the magic happens in five types of spaces:
The platform has a great system to help you organize these spaces. So, when you create ten posts, they won’t be scattered around your community. Instead, you use spaces to keep them organized.
We’ve come to the fun part, where we’ll create our first space. Just click Add Space under the Spaces tab to add a space.
You’ll see five space types, but we want to add a Posts space right now, so select that. We’ll cover other Space types in the following chapters.
On the next screen, you can do the following:
- Name your space
- Add it to a space group (use the default Get Started group)
- Set the access to Open, Private, or Secret
- Decide where your members will receive notifications about this Space (email, in-app, or mobile)
You can also create a new space group and add spaces to that.
To do that, click on the Plus sign next to the Get Started group and then Add a Space Group. This will open a new window where you can add a name and a custom URL.
This is how you create a Space and Space Group in your Circle community. You can repeat the process to create more spaces and groups to organize your community as you’d like.
Now we’ll show you how to customize access and privacy settings for your Space and Group.
To customize the settings for a group, click the three dots next to its name to enter the settings.
Here, you can decide if it will be visible to non-members and whether members can create Spaces inside it, and you can also add moderators.
To go to Space settings, select any space, and access it from the top bar of the screen. Once you click on it, you’ll see a drop-down menu and the Customize option.
When it comes to spaces, you can do the following:
- Set access to Open, Private, or Secret
- Select Space layout (feed, card, and list)
- Add a cover image and a space thumbnail
For example, if you have a paid membership site, you’d want to keep your space private. You’ll also need to put it behind a paywall, which we’ll discuss later.
Now, let’s start adding content to your community!
3. Add Content to Your Community
In this section, we’ll show you how to create different content types, including discussion posts, events, and group chats.
Add a New Discussion Post
To add a post, click on the Posts space you’ve previously created, and then click Create Your First Post. You can also create a post by clicking the New Post button in the header.
Once you do that, add a title, and start writing your post.
Apart from adding plain ol’ text, you can also add bulleted lists and headings, upload videos, images, and PDFs, and use embedded links to add polls, forms, maps, tables, and songs.
To see all options, click on the lightning bolt icon in the bottom left corner of the post editor.
Next to the gear icon, you’ll notice five more icons that allow you to add videos, images, GIFs, emoticons, and attachments. You can also access these options by clicking on the lightning bolt icon, so think of them as shortcuts.
Before you hit the Publish button, customize the post settings by clicking on the gear icon in the top-left corner of the post editor. Some of the things you can do from here:
- Disable and hide comments
- Add custom HTML
- Move your post to another space
- Change the post author
Once you adjust these settings, hit Publish to add your first post to your community. You can also schedule it for publishing at a later date or even save it as a draft.
Create an Event/Live Stream
Now, let’s see how you can create an event and start a live stream.
Your first step is to create a space dedicated to this type of content. So, click the Plus sign next to the group where you want to add an event and select Events as the Space type.
Again, you can set the space access to Open, Private, or Secret.
Now, to create an event, go to the Events space, and in the upper right part of the screen, click New Event.
On the next screen, you can edit the details of your event, including the event name, time, and date, and set it to repeat (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). For the event location, you can choose between in-person and online events.
When it comes to online events, you’ll have the following options:
- Host the event on Zoom or YouTube Live and add a URL to your event
- Use Circle’s Live Stream for creating a webinar-like experience
- Use Circle’s Live Rooms for up to 30 member meetups
Because this is your first event, we suggest you save it as a draft and edit it to fine-tune the event details.
To do that, click the three dots next to the event name. This will open a new window where you’ll see different tabs that will allow you to do a few things:
- Modify the event post and tell attendees what your event is about
- Add attendees and co-hosts
- Set confirmation and reminder notifications
- Disable comments and likes
We mentioned Circle’s live rooms and live streams, which let you go live from your account anytime. You’ll see the Go Live button in the bottom left part of your screen. Once you click on it, you can start a live room or a live stream.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll have pretty much the same options, which include setting the room/stream visibility, sharing your webcam and screen, and conducting member chats.
Once your live session is over, you’ll get an email with the session recording and a link to your session page from where you can download the recording, delete it, or post it to a space.
Start a Group Chat
Circle also supports group chats, allowing your members to engage in lively conversations.
To start a group chat, you should first create a Chat space. The steps are the same as for creating Posts and Events spaces.
Group chats support conversations with up to 50 members. You can add chat members and admins and enable chat history.
4. Create an Online Course
We’ve come to the part where we’ll show you how you can create online courses in Circle.
As we’ve learned so far, each content type must have a space, so the first thing you should do is create one for your course.
In the navigation menu on the left side of your screen, hover over the space group where you want to add a course and click the Plus sign → Add Space. Then, in the pop-up screen, select Course.
Enter a name for your course and create the space in the next step.
Now, click on the course space from the sidebar, and then from the page top, open the drop-down menu and select Lessons.
Once you do that, you’ll be redirected to Circle’s curriculum builder, where you can create Sections and Lessons, your main building units. Sections are like folders, and Lessons are the actual course material.
You can also easily reorder your lesson and sections with the builder’s drag-and-drop functionality.
Before you can add a lesson, you should first create a section. To do that, click the Add Section button and name your section.
Clicking on the Add Lesson button will create a blank lesson for you. To add content, enter the Lesson editor by clicking the three dots to the right of the lesson’s name, and then Edit Lesson.
Now that you’re inside the lesson editor, you can start adding content to your lessons.
As far as content types go, Circle is quite flexible, allowing you to add anything from audio and video files to PDFs, as well as embedding other types of content. The text editor also has many formatting options, which you can access by typing a forward slash.
Finally, you can customize your course settings by opening the course space and then, at the top of the page, opening the drop-down menu and selecting Customize.
From here, you can do the following:
- Set the access to Open, Private, or Secret
- Set up a paywall and lock screen
- Manage course members
Overall, the course-building experience is straightforward, and you shouldn’t have trouble setting up your course.
5. Set Up a Paywall
Whether you want to sell or build a community membership, sell courses, or lock any exclusive content behind a paywall, you can do that with Circle.
The feature is called Paywall, and in this section, we’ll discuss how you can set one up.
Create a Pricing Plan
First, go to Settings → Paywalls, where you’ll see the option to connect your community with Stripe.
Click Connect with Stripe and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the setup. If you have an existing Stripe account, you can use that. Otherwise, you’ll be able to create a new one during the process.
After enabling the Stripe integration, you can create your first paywall. To do that, go back to Paywalls, and in the upper right corner, click New Paywall.
In the Paywall settings, you can choose a pricing model for your community: subscriptions or one-time payments.
For subscriptions, you can set the subscription price and a billing cycle (weekly, monthly, yearly), choose a currency, and enable a free trial.
In the same tab, you’ll have the option to make the pricing plan (Subscription Group) upgradeable. This will allow you to add multiple pricing plans and group them so that your members can easily switch between them.
To do that, create subscription paywalls with different pricing and then make a subscription group where you’ll add these paywalls.
Set Up a Lock Screen
Circle has a handy feature called Lock Screen, which is basically a landing page for any type of content that you don’t want to be visible to non-members.
Using Lock Screens, you can redirect your community visitors to fill out a form or complete payment on the checkout page.
To modify the lock screen, click on any space, click on its name at the top of the screen, and select Lock Screen from the drop-down menu.
Once you’re in, you’ll see the available page blocks, which you can add to your landing page.
You can add a banner, description, and a call to action, and if you’re creating a Lock Screen for an online course, you can also add your course curriculum to the landing page.
Now, next to each page block, you’ll see a Pencil icon and an Eye icon. Clicking on the Pencil icon will let you customize the text and colors of each block, while the Eye icon allows you to hide a section or make it visible.
Finally, you can add your checkout page URL to the button, allowing your users to make a payment and unlock access to the spaces that are included in the package.
6. Final Settings and Invite Members
You’re just a few steps away from launching your community and sharing it with the world.
Before that, we’ll discuss the platform’s integration options, and then we’ll show you how to invite and manage members in your community.
Circle gives you a few integration options, and you’ll need them depending on your requirements.
- Circle lets you integrate with Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel.
- You can use the Zapier integration to connect to third-party apps (e.g., email software) and pass data to and from Circle.
- You can set up a single sign-on integration between Circle and your existing membership platform (e.g., from Circle to Teachable), allowing your members to log in with their existing credentials. FYI, SSO integrations are supported on Circle’s Professional plan and above.
Additionally, Circle has a few options for integrating with your main website.
The first one is Circle’s embed widgets, which allow you to embed on another website your entire community, a particular space, or even a specific post.
And if you look a little closer, you’ll see the Links section at the bottom of the sidebar and just below the header inside spaces.
You can use this to add links to your main website, your YouTube channel, and any other useful resources you want to share with members.
Invite Your Members
Now, it’s time to start inviting members to your community.
To do that, go to your community’s name, and click the drop-down menu next to it, then Members → Invite. From here, you can create and customize your email invitation.
You can send the email to a list of people by going to Bulk Import and then uploading a CSV file with their names and email addresses.
Another option is to generate an invitation link by going to Members → Invitation Links → Create an Invitation Link, and voila! You can now share your link.
Before we conclude this Circle tutorial, let’s quickly talk about managing your community.
To manage your members, go to the Members tab on the left side of the screen and then click the Manage button in the header.
On the following screen, you’ll see a list of all members in your community, and you can use Circle’s filters to sort your members by the Spaces they’ve joined as well as their email, name, etc.
You can manage your members by clicking the three dots on the right.
Click on Edit, and you’ll see the following options for the selected member:
- Assign them an admin role
- Give them access to specific spaces
- Delete their account
- Add member tags
- Manage their subscriptions
Apart from these member-management settings, you can also use Circle Workflows for automating administrative tasks in your community.
They work on the trigger-action principle, meaning that when someone in your community does something (e.g., purchases a subscription), you can select a specific action to automatically follow that event (e.g., send a thank you email).
It also supports one-time bulk actions, such as sending a message to a group of members or duplicating members from one space to another.
We have a separate guide on using Circle Workflows, where you can learn more about the feature and its use cases.
That’s it! You now have your own community, and it’s time to work on getting new members and engaging them.
We covered all the essential aspects of building an online community in this Circle.so how-to guide. We walked you through the sign-up process and showed you how to set up Spaces and Groups, create posts, events and courses, set up a paywall, and start inviting members.
If you aren’t using Circle already, now’s a good time to start a free trial and build your online community.
We hope you found our tutorial useful and that you now know how to build your own Circle community. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.