The Community Membership Model

membersWe’ve talked about ongoing monthly and fixed term membership structures. Another type of membership can focus primarily on a community of its members. While this can be a secondary benefit of some memberships – and when it is, it tends to not be successful long-term – it can be setup to be an important part of a membership. There are some free memberships where a community is the only component of the membership.

While it’s rarely the only component of a paid membership, the community of members can be a significant portion of a membership if it’s set up to be easy to access and participate, and if it’s nurtured properly and consistently.

This is a tricky thing to pull off well. I’ve seen many memberships where the community aspect is rather anemic without much participation at all. I think there are several reasons why a community doesn’t form.

First, it’s important to have a private area for a membership that’s easy for members to access. One of the most popular ways to implement this these days is with a private Facebook group. Here, you’re piggybacking on a very popular social media site that your members may well be visiting on a regular basis already.

When your community is created in a forum or another specialized membership site, you’re asking your members to make a point of going to this site or forum and logging in to participate. In other words, you’re asking them to create a new habit of visiting your site regularly. Unless they perceive the value of developing this new habit as quite high, this is a tough thing for you to accomplish with the majority of your members. And if not enough members participate, the community never gets off the ground.

And that leads to the second reason communities can fail: not enough critical mass for the group to get going. It’s important for you to initiate conversations within your community and encourage others to share as well. You may want to personally invite a dozen or so early members to participate in the community to kick it off and attract others to also participate. And you as the creator of the membership will need to continue to participate. Otherwise, members will see that’s it’s not important to you and decide it’s not important to them, either.

Next, the conversations in this community must provide value to the members who participate. Depending on the nature of your membership, this could be ongoing marketing direction, technical support, emotional support, suggestions for how to accomplish something, etc. But if your members don’t find value in the conversations, they’ll stop engaging in them.

I have a client with a membership that includes several components, and a major piece is the private Facebook group. Her members are women and the community does offer practical help to each other, whether it’s about aging parents or a tough work situation, but the primary function of the group is to provide emotional support to each other. Sometimes it’s “good job” and sometimes it’s “hang in there”, but it’s a safe, positive place for these women to go where they know others will understand and support them.

It’s very well-managed and my client is on the site everyday posting, commenting, and liking. It’s no mistake that this warm, nurturing women has created such a mutually supportive community. And her participation doesn’t feel like it’s something she “has to do” to maintain the membership. It feels sincere and authentic. That’s what you want to strive for if you start your own community. (Can you tell she’s one of my favorite clients?! But it’s true that she’s doing the community thing very well.)

Pro: some of the membership value is provided by members themselves
Con: it can fail miserably if you don’t achieve critical mass and nurture it

If you’re a “people” person and enjoy building a thriving group of like-minded people, a membership where community is a significant benefit may be just right for you!