1. The foundations of a good strategy
A good strategy document should be about one page in length and something that you review reasonably often to keep it up to date. It will help you to stay focussed on the marketing activities that are working while saying ‘no’ to others that could be an unhelpful distraction.
Understand your audience
Before you work out how to attract and engage members, you need to know who your current and prospective members are. This is often referred to as user profiling. The detail that you include in a user profile will be different depending on the type of membership organisation you are.
The persona of someone interested in joining a local tennis club would be different to that of someone joining a national professional association for medical practitioners.
Local Tennis Association
- Age: 30-50
- Location: Within 3 miles
- Other interests: Running, swimming
- Other communities: Local school, surgery
- Potential channels: Local shops, gym, pool
Association for Medical Practitioners
- Specialism: Paediatrics
- Qualifications: Degree, Masters
- Location: London and major cities
- Other interests: Economist, New Scientist
- Potential channels: LinkedIn, universities
See if you can create one or two Member personas. Here are some practical tips to help you get specific information about your audience.
- Analyse themes based on information you already have about your members
- Ask a short Poll on Facebook or Twitter about people's interests
- Ask what people read when they sign up for membership
- Survey your members annually with an incentive like a prize draw
- Carry out a few phone interviews with engaged members
Evaluate your marketing activities
It is important that you have a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing activities. You need to be able to measure the results of your efforts in order to improve.
A prospective member will interact with you several times before they join. Your aim is to 'convert' the prospect into a member. This conversion process is sometimes described as a ‘pipeline’.
Here is an example of a membership pipeline with a small number of stages.
|Website browser||Visited website
|Non-member||On email list
Attended an event
|Member event discounts
|Active member||Logged in user||Directory listing
Metrics for evaluating effectiveness
The key to evaluating effectiveness is finding metrics that are simple to gather, relate to your pipeline stages and provide information you can act on to make improvements.
Here are some suggestied metrics that relate to the example pipeline above.
Pipeline stage 1: Website browser
- Use Google Analytics to track the source of your website traffic.
- Isolate visitors who view relevant content or carry out a valuable action.
- Determine where they came from, e.g. a social media channel or a third-party referring website.
This information helps you work out which marketing channels to invest time in.
Pipeline stage 2: Engaged non-member
- Track if people click on links in your emails that point back to your website.
- Identify non-members who open and click on event or membership offers within emails.
This information helps you understand how many non-members are interested in joining.
Pipeline stage 3: Active member
- Segment your member-base on attributes like demographic, interests or geo-location.
- Build a picture of the attributes that seem to correlate with happy, active members.
This information helps you know how to prioritise your marketing efforts.
Set simple goals
Goal setting can be a valuable part of a good marketing strategy. A small and focused set of goals provides continuity allowing you to carefully make changes and assess their impact numerically.
Net monthly new members
Net new members is calculated as new members - cancelled members for the period.
Focusing on net new monthly members helps you remember the importance of retaining existing members. The rest of this article will explore tactics to attract new members and retain existing ones.
2. Attracting prospective members
In this section we list various tactics for attractive prospective members that fall into two broad categories.
- High quality content
- Outreach activities
Produce high quality content
If you build a reputation for publishing useful, free and high-quality resources people will trust you and be more likely to join as a member. This approach takes time to establish but avoids direct advertising spend and will have lasting value.
Curated sector news
As a membership body you may have a broader view of sector news than most of your individual members. You may also have more time to review and curate it.
|Big stories||Write a post on your news feed and include your own opinion|
|Smaller stories||Tweet about interesting or relevant news without your own commentary|
|Round-up||Write a post on LinkedIn with a summary of a number of other articles|
Create your own resources
Producing your own unique resources can help to build your reputation as a thought-leader in your sector and increase brand recognition and trust. You may also be able to publish your resources on larger more established websites to further increase your reach and generate valuable backlinks to your own membership website.
- Ask members what problems they face in their day to day work
- Include likely keywords in your titles and headings to improve SEO
- Plan a 6-12 month posting schedule so you don't run out of steam
- Avoid tracking purely numerical stats as goals (like page views)
- Define action-based goals to take after reading a post (like subscribing)
Having a job board can make your website a destination for individuals in the sector who may be interested in your membership. This doubles up as a perk to corporate members, who can advertise their jobs on your board.
Free events and webinars
Free events and webinars give you an opportunity to output your content in a different format and achieve a much higher engagement rate from your audience. Whether in-person or online these activities typically give you a lot more exposure and can be a great membership promotion idea.
You may also benefit from existing members advocating for you to prospective members if you host events where both are welcome.
Email and newsletters
Your content can also be compiled into a regular newsletter. Assuming you have permission (a legal requirement), emails generally get much higher engagement when compared to other marketing efforts such as social media.
Most modern membership software will manage communication consent and also allow you to easily segment your paying members from your subscribers and send them different email communications while complying with data protection legislation.
Running a podcast can expand on a successful events or webinar strategy. If you find there is continuing demand and you have lots of ideas for content then you could consider committing to a regular podcast. One advantage of podcasts is that there is more flexibility in format than an event or webinar. They are also less formal (people often listen while doing other things).
Consider what content is going to be best suited to the audio only format.
- Interviewing your members or other influential people in the sector
- Record short thought pieces and share your opinion
- Discuss topics with a co-host and let the conversation be organic
- Read, paraphrase or expand on your best written blog posts
- Promote your membership offering on your podcast
Podcasting is an increasingly competitive space with thousands of channels so make sure you have a plan for how your audience will discover you. If you already have an effective channel such as a Twitter account with lots of followers you can first advertise your podcast to your existing followers.
Explore a variety of channels, then focus
Each marketing channel brings with it a certain overhead. You need to learn how to produce, format, market and deliver your content for that channel and it takes time to get good at this.
Consider how you will develop a multi-channel strategy.
- Focus on channels you enjoy as you will naturally work harder at these
- Try repurposing proven content in different channels
- Commit to a 6-12 month plan focusing on one new channel at a time
- Try to change one variable at a time so you can attribute success more accurately
Conduct outreach activities
Unlike a content-led strategy, outreach activities involve proactively targeting specific people/organisations that you know may be interested in your membership proposition.
If you have already established that your target audience is present and active on a particular social network then engaging with that network can be a good strategy. Building a community on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook can foster connections that provide a foundation for specific ‘asks’. This might be promoting an event or even an outright membership drive.
Online paid advertising
- Be specific about the content or search results you want your advert to appear against.
- Avoid just tracking numerical stats like number of clicks
- Define action-based goals such as attaining newsletter subscribers from ad traffic
- Assign a monetary value to your goal (eg. subscribing) so you can measure return on investment
3. Converting new members
Once you have attracted the attention of a potential member, what do you do next? How do you guide them from first contact through to signing up to be a member?
Many organisations acquire new members around big events. A well calibrated member-only discount can focus the mind of attendees and be just the push they need to subscribe.
Streamline the joining process
A cumbersome joining process will be off-putting. You want people to be able to sign up and pay quickly and easily.
Review your joining process and ask the following questions.
- Is the process mobile optimised?
- Do the payment method options that suit your audience?
- Are you asking for more information than you really need? Perhaps you can collect it later.
- Does the process contain any unnecessary steps?
Testimonials and reviews
Social proof is powerful. If a prospective member sees that other people like them are already members and already benefiting they are more likely to want to join.
If this is a new area for you, focus on gaining a small handful of quality reviews from your most engaged members.
- Ask engaged members to write testimonials or reviews for you
- Prompt them to answer specific questions according to what you want them to say
- Don't be afraid to suggest revisions to the wording to perfect the quotes
- Include these snippets on key pages on your website
- If possible, include a photo of the person who left the review
4. Retaining existing members
It’s usually easier and cheaper to keep an existing member than to recruit a new one. So it's important to include member retention in your membership marketing strategy.
Deliver an indispensable membership offering
You're more likely to keep hold of members if you deliver the membership benefits you promised or even exceeding people’s expectations. The more you understand what your members want, the easier this will be. Here are some specific membership marketing ideas to consider.
A directory can provide members with a public platform to attract business, make useful connections with other academics or professionals, or find a recommended supplier with whom they can build a successful relationship.
An online member-only forum can provide a space for your members to talk peer-to-peer on niche topics and areas of interest. Managing access permissions and subscription credentials can become time consuming so it's worth making sure you understand how this will work before jumping in.
Trial the idea of hosting an online community via Facebook, Slack or any other forum/messaging software that’s easy and cheap to get started with.
If the idea proves successful you may feel the need to integrate this functionality with your membership database software so that membership credentials can be checked automatically and access granted accordingly. Otherwise it can become quite a job to manage.
Nurturing a successful online community is resource intensive and does not work for all membership organisations. Read our post on The best forum software for membership organisations if this is something you are considering.
Where you have longstanding and committed members, they are often happy to give a little time to mentor newer members and this can be a great way to help new members understand the organisation and get more out of their membership without needing a large investment of time from the central staff team.
Restricted content for members
If you create a large amount of quality content then consider restricting the best items to members. However, since free online resources can be a good way to attract potential members, there is a careful balance to be struck here. Depending on your website platform you may be able to tease non-members with introductory member-only content without letting them read the full article.
A member newsletter can be a good retention tool because it can remind people of your presence and the membership benefits you offer. You have an opportunity to send exclusive member-only information and help your members feel valued.
If your email software allows, create a segment that just includes your active members.
- Repurpose and promote content that is most relevant to members.
- Don't be afraid to resend the same content a few months apart.
- Try to keep to a regular and sustainable schedule.
- Ask questions about what members want to read and take note of the replies.
Exceptional customer service
The speed and quality of your communication with your members in an important part of your offering. Members will feel valued if they can find answers to their questions and get responses from a real person when they need them.
Take time to create a customer service portal so that you don't become overwhelmed with questions or support requests.
- Use helpdesk software like Help Scout or Groove to help you manage incoming emails.
- Set response time expectations according to your capacity.
- Consider automated responses for questions you can't get to right away.
- Create a library of saved replies for commonly asked questions.
- Take every opportunity to gain feedback to improve your offering.
- Remember that happy members will advocate for and promote you.
Optimise the renewal process
Many organisations lose members each year (often referred to as ‘churn’) just because they have a poor renewal process in place.
Consider using membership software that allows members to pay by Direct Debit or recurring card payment. This can almost completely eliminate the challenges around coaxing people to renew their subscription. Read our post on Membership management software for UK charities and associations for help with this.
Monitor membership engagement
Members that do not engage with at least some of your benefits are more likely to churn. Use the data you gather about people to segment and identify those with lower membership engagement rates. Consider directly contacting them directly or as part of a focussed email campaign to remind them of the benefits you offer.
Reiterate benefits in renewal correspondence
Sometimes even engaged members can start to take your offering for granted. Even if subscriptions auto renew you have an obligation to notify people about their renewal payment. Use this as an opportunity to remind your members of the key benefits of your offering to minimise the likelihood of them cancelling.
If you’re looking to create your own membership marketing strategy document these are the key areas you should consider including.
Lastly, remember to review your strategy regularly. See if you’re achieving your goals and make small incremental changes that you can measure again next time.