How to build a successful online paid membership community

What are paid membership communities?

Online paid membership communities are basically those where community members pay an annual fee to come together and interact online. It’s a platform for your members to form relationships where they’ll build connections and make friends.

How to build/maximize benefits for members of your paid community?

The potential to attract enough participants to create a dynamic community and the more challenging goal of creating a high-quality user experience that keeps participants hooked and willing to keep paying overtime requires skill and persistence.

  • Launch with an adequate user-base: No one would be tempted to visit a site with no activity, they won’t be inclined to join or remain a member. A critical mass of at least 50 participants before you go live is a no-brainer. Create a waiting list, and launch your site when you’ve hit the right critical number.
  • Streamline messaging around site’s content: What consistently drives participants to join a community in the first place is the promise of interesting educational content, so emphasize that in your messaging, and let them discover the value of community interactions on their own accord, over a period of time by experiencing it first-hand.
  • Invest quality time upfront: Active participation by the site creator is essential in the initial days firstly because the community members have a connection to you but not among themselves and secondly an active moderator sets the tone for group discussions in a civil and creative manner. Hence, it is crucial to foster relationships in the early days.
  • Don’t let your site become a dull playground: Community cohesion can turn cliquish if not tackled properly. For example, longtime members might be dismissive towards fresh members with “rookie” questions, or those who are acquaintances “in real life” might respond warmly to their friends’ posts and ignore the others’. Hiring a paid community membership advocate for a certain number of members can help this issue and promote better community cohesion.
  • Help relationships bloom offline: Online communities are great but fundamentally limited beyond a point. If you’d really like to encourage group cohesion, encouraging in-person meetups and conversations is a more powerful way to build group cohesion and reduce feelings of animosity within a community. For example, community members might like to attend a marketing workshop that you host but would be more inclined to attend it if their friends are also attending the event.
  • Get an optimal sales balance: An active online community lands you the ability to survey your customers on a daily basis. You can receive feedback by asking them directly about the struggles they’re facing or let’s say  the products or services they feel would be most beneficial. Getting the right fit sales call is key to building a robust paid community.

What are the value additions from paid membership communities?

  • Ideas generated can save or earn you thousands: If a conference is worth X amount of dollars to attend, an ongoing community should easily match that. Who knows if you get a great idea from a community that eventually  increases retention rates or conversion rates by 20% and boosts ROI for your business
  • Feeling that you are one of the best in the sector is an intangible benefit that you receive from a successful paid membership community.
  • Acquiring deals with partners/vendors to get discounts: Be it products or services, it can help you get discounts by cracking deals with vendors.
  • Receiving immediate assistance with a problem or query from subject matter experts: Experts in the field can render quick assistance in case of product or service queries.

7 Tested Methods to kickstart a successful Membership Community

  • Using an on-site forum platform: While a Facebook group may be the most convenient and more attractive option, there are several reasons why having an online forum is preferable. Members having immediate access to the community,and the flexibility of integrating forum solutions should be factored in while getting your community started.
  • Using a ‘seed group’: Running a “beta test” by enrolling a small group of members at either a reduced rate or for free, before the final launch to extensively test out everything is a great idea. The seed group can comprise of people on the waitlist or  existing clients 
  • Be a leader to drive the community: “Showing up” is one of the most basic and impactful things a membership site owner can do, and that the same goes for your community.This doesn’t imply you need to live in your forum 24/7, but making it part of your daily routine to visit at least twice a day, start fresh topics, reply to posts and queries goes a long way in drive community engagement.
  • Enable community building features: Private messaging, member tagging, member profiles, status updates are features that make your community more interactive and thereby driving community participation.
  • Get all of your team involved: If you are running your paid membership community in partnership with someone else – then having all team members take part in your forum goes without saying. It works towards boosting your community’s presence and visibility as well as increasing the chances that members will have their questions answered within a timeframe.
  • Share blog content regularly: If you’re publishing regular blogs or other nuggets of infomedia like podcasts, videos or other content as part of your marketing for your membership site; it’s worth sharing that within your paid membership community. This is something that adds great value to your community and makes it easy for people to participate.
  • Curate a list of questions and inspiration for discussions: Doing this will quickly help you build up a list of fresh, relevant topics that you can initiate within your community when you find yourself at a dearth of ideas. As a founder, you are expected to set pace particularly in the early days of the community.

Why are paid communities difficult to execute over the long term?

  1. Content churn is a painful process as not only does a member churning reduce your MRR/ARR, but it also can have a large impact on the culture of your communities. We stay with communities for the people and relationships we build and create. When they leave, our equation with the community changes.
  1. The value of the “product” is largely out of your control.Following on the first point, the value of a community often stems from the ideas, attitudes and behaviors of other members and it is difficult to control attitudes and behaviours.
  1. When I join a community, its value is attached to human effort. That can be volatile and hence cannot be easily predicted.
  1. We need subscriptions to prove their value month over month. Membership communities need to continually prove their worth every month.

With membership communities, you have to be perseverant, consistent, and tactical in handling paid sign-ups, be it products or services. If you do it right, the rewards are yours to be seen.

Check out LikeMinds for more.