Most B2B media brands are now talking about “membership” rather than “subscriptions” – but what does this actually mean? And more importantly, how can you create a meaningful membership proposition for your community?
The strategic intention is clear: if we can build greater affinity with our community then they are more likely to be loyal, and keep buying our content and attending our events, thus securing steady revenues in this uncertain world of advertising volatility. And it does fit with the subtle shift for media businesses from being mostly about “products” to becoming more of a service to their community.
Inviting members in to shape the business
Many commercial B2B media owners are looking to associations and membership organisations for inspiration and ideas of extra services.
But the essential distinction, I would argue, is that members feel they have a right to influence and shape what goes on at “their” organisation – they want to comment and participate, and receive the service they want in return for their commitment. This is completely different to simply being passive consumers of whatever the organisation wants to produce.
And adjusting to this democratisation can be uncomfortable for many publishers used to producing what they think their audience should want.
Involving community in developing live events
Live events have traditionally been the way that business publishers have encountered their audience, and this is still the most popular membership add-on. Small scale, exclusive briefings, round tables, networking drinks all allow members to meet each other, exchange ideas and also feel they can influence future events. This has certainly been the thinking behind the “Business of Fashion” creation of a pro membership with exclusive networking events for fashion professionals.
Successful events businesses frequently run advisory boards to ensure that their topics and speakers provide the insights that their audience seek, and the event develops to be as valuable as possible to attendees. Rory Brown, co Founder of Briefing Media has applied this approach in multiple sectors to good effect.
Customers as build partners for new digital products
And many new digital products have adopted the practice of inviting prospective customers into the process at an early stage as “build partners” to provide regular feedback on content and user experience. This was a significant part of the development process for premium business service HSJ Intelligence and other data products.
But maybe if publishers plan to take the idea of membership seriously they need to start inviting their community in to feedback on and enhance all their products, not just the new stuff.
Creating a network of expert contributors
In most specialist business sectors, the readers are at the least practitioners and often experts, so creating opportunities for them to contribute content, whether through live events, guest blogs or structured commenting will add to the richness of the content as well as growing the sense of engagement.
The more expert and articulate members of any business community are usually very keen to share their thoughts, raise their personal profile, build their network and influence the media brand itself.
So creating opportunities for active members to create online profiles and publish content under the umbrella of the media brand could be a smart strategy, keeping the content authentic and key influencers engaged.
Nature has created an online community, Biopharmadealmakers, using the Zapnito platform, which allows members to pay extra for the rights to publish content and have it featured onsite and in newsletters. Procurement Leaders offers an online collaboration platform for its members as well as live networking events.
Providing training and professional development
Membership organisations are often closely involved in CPD and training opportunities, so B2B media businesses keen to develop a membership model would do well to establish in person and online courses. The publisher of Nursing Times is effectively competing with the Royal College of Nursing with its online Learning product for subscribers.
Establishing a membership mindset
So maybe in order to develop the engagement and loyalty of your community through a membership proposition, B2B media owners need to do more than just add a few bells and whistles to a subscription package. It’s more about having a membership state of mind, where members are fully involved in the organisation, contributing to content, events, discussion and product development.
Embracing this membership mindset means that products and services, online and offline content and events, can evolve to meet the needs of their community.
If you have developed a membership proposition and have experiences to share, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.
If you are considering creating membership packages for your community, I’d be happy to share my ideas over the phone or over a coffee.
About the author:
Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.