Many membership organisations make their membership offering more compelling by providing a member area full of member-only resources. This post explains how to build a member area using member area software and how to use it to increase sign-ups and improve member retention.
Member area functions
A member area on your website can be used for many different functions. This section contains ideas about functions you can combine to create a great member experience.
Allowing members to manage their own details saves staff time chasing up contact details and gives members transparency about the data you hold about them.
Members should be able to manage:
- Communication preferences
- Preferred contact details
- Job title & organisation
- Members directory listing (if applicable)
Manage payments and renewals
Allowing members to manage payments and renewals in the member area reduces churn (the number of members that don’t renew) and means staff don’t have to waste time chasing people and dealing with ad-hoc manual payments.
Exclusive discounts are a great membership perk. It is particularly common practice to offer membership discounts on event bookings. By managing discounted event booking within a password-protected member area you ensure only active members take advantage of these discounts.
If you produce valuable resources, consider restricting these to members. In some cases, you may want an entire section of your website to be accessible only to members. In other cases, it is advantageous to allow the public to view a teaser of the content to help promote the benefits of membership.
Professional membership organisations and associations often play a role helping their members keep up-to-date with continuing professional development (CPD) to keep their qualifications fresh and valid. In these circumstances, the member area may hold e-learning functionality that allows members to take courses and verify their learning.
Forums can add huge value to a community of members but they don’t always work well. Check out our post explaining when to use a forum and how to determine if it is likely to work with your audience.
One valuable benefit that membership organisations can provide is a directory for members to promote their profile, services or credentials. This could be publicly accessible or restricted only to members depending on it's purpose.
How to build a member area on your website
One of the main challenges in hosting a successful member area online is enabling your members to log in. Ideally, the member area and login validation are directly connected with your membership CRM so that you don’t need to duplicate data about people and manually update user accounts when membership changes or lapses.
Here are three common approaches to building a member area.
1. Extend your current website
A good place to start is to explore the capabilities of your current website. Popular open source website software like Wordpress and Drupal makes it pretty easy to install extensions (like WishList) that will allow you to restrict certain pages. It can be harder to integrate functions like payment and renewal but if you have a decent development budget it may be possible. Also check out complementary platforms like Memberful that work alongside an existing website and manage payments.
The main drawback of extending your current website in this way is that you are working with lots of different software and plugins. This is usually time-consuming for staff to set up, rarely provides the best experience for members and can end up duplicating member data in different systems.
2. Build a separate member area
To avoid complex development of your public-facing website you can keep your member area separate from your public-facing website. This could be on a subdomain such as members.yourwebsite.org or on a completely different domain. Your public-facing website will simply point members to the separate member area for any membership interactions like joining, renewing, accessing restricted content, etc.
The main drawback of a separate member area is that member-only content has to be 100% siloed. It’s not very easy to present teasers or snippets of member-only content to entice the public to join. This approach can also be frustrating when it comes to things like events where you have one ticket price for the public and one for members - where do you publicise your event?
3. Membership software with built-in website tools
The last option is to adopt a software platform that can manage your membership interactions, provide a member area AND run your public website. These solutions have a number of benefits:
- Save staff time by managing everything in one place
- Smoother experience for members
- Create content that is both public and member-facing
Once you have moved most of the more complex transactional elements of your website to a CRM-based membership software, (such as form submissions, membership joining and event booking) the remaining public-facing pages are often very easy to migrate as well. There are a few membership software platforms that can offer this full end-to-end experience for your members including White Fuse, Wild Apricot and NeonCRM.