Here's how you can create a community of like-minded people who pay for content creation and consumption.
A membership community is a collective of people who share a common interest and pay to access content which is relevant to the subject. It is a pool of information created by the members and shared with others on a subscription basis. Here, we discuss in detail what paid membership communities are and how you can create one.
What is a membership community?
Why would someone pay to be a part of the community?
What are the key aspects of a membership community?
How to start?
How much to charge?
How to grow your community?
How to retain members?
A membership community is formed by people who share a common interest. A photographer, for example, who has extensive knowledge on the subject can create a website where others can join in as members and discuss various photography related topics. The website can enable members to contribute as well where they can share their own views and perspectives on the subject. It creates a pool of content which is authoritative and belongs to everyone in the community.
People often join communities for two reasons: access to expert knowledge and the sense of belonging.
a) Access to expert knowledge - Community members would pay if they gain access to information which is specific, well-defined, well-researched, and adds value to the subject. If the content is authoritative and provides deep insights into a subject then members would gladly invest in the community for the information.
c) Active community - Members gladly pay for communities which are active and thriving. A community which regularly engages its members; provides for interaction between members, and takes into account the growing demands of its members would find its subscribers willing to pay for the experience.
d) Cutting out the noise - A community helps the members cut out the noise and spam by receiving the most important resources on a single platform. It helps the members save time and effort in browsing through multiple spaces for the information which they can find within the community itself. The members pay for the convenience which comes with the community.
b) Sense of belonging - The content shared within a community provides a sense of ownership to the members. They become a part of a group which is exclusive and they pay to keep enjoying the privileges of information they find in the community.
There are two main aspects of a membership community: content and access.
a) Content - A member would pay for content which they get exclusively. It could be specific courses, in-depth analysis, informative tools, downloadable materials, live training, and so on. The selection of your content, therefore, should be based on your expertise, skills, knowledge, and the problem which you are solving for your members. With communities, it is not about the quantity of content but the absolute quality which keeps the members engaged.
b) Access - 'Who gets access to what' is another important aspect of developing a community. Are there different kinds of content which you price differently? Is there any exclusive content which only a few members can view? Are there downloadable materials or live interactions which are charged differently? Define the accesses for your members in a way that members get good value for their money.
Once you have decided on the content based on your knowledge, interest, and expertise, start a website. Begin with a small test-group of friends, family, or colleagues who share a similar interest to validate your idea. Explain to them exactly what you are offering and how it would benefit them.
You can start with a lower membership fee for the initial members and increase it with time. Start creating and sharing your content and ask for feedback. Tweak your content based on their inputs and improve the quality before you launch to a bigger audience.
There are multiple factors involved in deciding the membership fee and you may need to do some research on it. Find out how much your competitors are charging for similar content. Try to establish the monetary value of the content for your members. See if they are paying for membership on an individual basis or is the subscription paid for by a company. Decide the level of access you are providing like personal interactions, live coaching, or just the content.
Once you have an understanding of the fee from the subscriber's side, try to understand how much you wish to earn yourself and how many members would you need for that. If you are planning to spend on marketing and ads, how much would your net profits be? A brief overview of these considerations would help you come up with a subscription fee which would benefit both you and your members.
Attracting new members to your community would be the next challenge. Here's what you can do to increase the numbers:
a) Word of mouth advertisement - You can ask your current members to spread the word among people they know who might be interested in your content. Personal references to your community would be the most effective way of getting new long-term members.
b) Use social media - Social media platforms like Facebook already support community building. Leverage the platform to start discussions on relevant topics and towards building a community online which is free. This will help you generate leads which you can later convert into members through your offerings.
c) Offering free trials - Numerous membership-based websites and products offer free trials to first time users. It is a great strategy to bring a new audience on board and to offer them experience first. This helps new members decide if they want to invest in your content or not. But, quite often, those who invest after a trial remain invested for long too.
d) Share testimonials - Your current members would be more than happy to share their own experiences with you. If they appreciate your work, they would gladly speak well and offer their personal examples as proof for the quality of your content. Share these testimonials with your new leads and on your website to show that you deliver what you promise.
Retaining your members once they have signed up is all about keeping them engaged. You can keep them invested by doing the following:
a) Deliver value consistently - If the members are paying for your content consistently then you need to deliver regularly. Keep adding new content, plan for the content which may be needed in the future, create a forward road-map which helps your member understand what they would receive ahead. As a creator, you would need to anticipate the demand before your audience does.
b) Do what communities do - A community cannot be simply about you creating and members consuming the content. Invite other members to contribute if they want to. Initiate conversation threads on your website to prompt discussions. Send regular newsletters updating them on your plans.
c) Show appreciation - Show your appreciation to your members. As they interact with you, share the essence of important conversations with others. If they give valuable inputs, do not hesitate to thank them through a public post. Appreciate your members if they step up and contribute to your website. And show your gratitude when they get you leads.
Let us take the example of a fitness enthusiast (say Tony) and how he can build a membership community.
Tony is a fitness enthusiast who loves working out and discussing fitness tips with friends. He also has a few friends who are interested in his fitness regime and would like to learn from him. What can he do?
He can create a fitness website and start by sharing a few videos. He can get a few interested friends to become paid members. He can start creating content about various diet habits, exercise routines, new workouts, and share it. The members get an insight into his practice and learn from him.
He can create special courses and interact personally with members if they are willing to pay a bit more. The current members can refer his website to their friends who are interested and bring more subscribers to Tony.
Tony can create posts where he asks his members about their feedback and their experiences. This allows members to share their own stories and practices. Tony helps them out if they are doing something wrong or appreciate a member who brings something new to the table.
Initially, all the content would be developed by Tony but as the community grows, he can start collaborating with other members who are knowledgable as well. He can share interviews with them, create videos with them, or even invite them to become active contributors on the website. On a long-term, if Tony gains sufficient members, he can also start paying contributors to develop even more content.
A consistent effort by Tony towards this end would enable him to create a vibrant community of fitness enthusiasts who engage with him regularly, who appreciate his work, and who pay for the expertise that Tony brings for them.