More than ever, brands are defined by their communities. Gatherings of passionate fans are far more effective marketing than any form of paid advertising. But while fans often form their own communities as well, many niche brands also create their own membership platforms to build and nurture their communities and increase sales.
Why do you need a membership platform?
Membership platforms come in many different forms from free online communities, which are open to everyone, to private fan clubs, which are invite-only. Some may only have a few dozen members, while big brands might have communities numbering in the millions. No matter your reach and industry, there’s a membership platform which can work for you.
Reason #1. Deliver value
A membership platform normally exists to help people in some way. Whether it’s to create a sense of belonging, enhance customer success, create a hotbed of ideation, or a combination of several goals, membership platforms can deliver value that other solutions can’t.
Reason #2. Nurture relationships
Product and pricing are no longer the most important factors in building a successful brand. The most important thing in 2020 is customer experience. People come for the content which, in the case of a membership platform, is the product, but stay for the social network.
Reason #3. Empower advocates
Brand advocates are the most important people to your brand, since they’re the people with the reach and influence to help you grow your business. Giving them a membership platform can make them feel appreciated while also giving them an influential voice.
Reason #4. Provide support
Although you should provide dependable support to all your customers, building a membership platform is a great way to enable your customers to help each other. You can also keep the questions and answers public so people who prefer not to sign up can still view the content.
Reason #5. Establish authority
A strong membership platform is a birthplace of innovation where people come together to share their ideas, and brand representatives can share their expertise. Together, these factors can help brand solidify their reputations as authorities in their niches.
What are the best examples of a membership platform?
Building your own membership platform from scratch can be extremely time-consuming and costly, so you’ll probably want to choose a membership website builder.
Here are five of the most popular membership platforms:
Example #1. MemberPress
One of the most popular solutions for WordPress users, MemberPress is a plugin which lets you turn all or part of your WordPress site into a membership site. You’re also free to create unlimited product pages and membership tiers both paid and free.
Example #2. SubHub
Designed for those who want to sell online courses, SubHub lets you add a premium section to your website. There’s also a pay-per-view feature for those who might not want to pay for a full subscription.
Example #3. Memberful
Memberful is another solution for WordPress users. It’s especially popular for writers, bloggers and other content creators who want to charge for premium content on their sites. It also offers a platform for selling digital downloads and physical items.
Example #4. MemberGate
MemberGate is a standalone solution which also serves as an all-in-one content management system (CMS). It provides everything you need to build a membership website, complete with ecommerce features and many sleek templates to choose from.
Example #5. Wild Apricot
Wild Apricot is another standalone solution, which also features a mobile version. It’s tailored to small businesses, nonprofits and other clubs. It features a drag-and-drop website builder and options for providing both free and paid memberships.
Membership platform vs. membership communities
Before you start looking for a membership platform, it’s important to understand the difference between membership platform and membership communities. Membership websites are far broader in scope, since they can refer to any website with a gated, member-only section.
Membership communities are a lot more specific, but they can also have many of the same functions of other membership websites. However, the focus is different, since it’s about community and engagement rather than just products and shopping.
Chances are, to make a lasting impact in an increasingly competitive market, you’ll want to build a community-focused membership site that inspires and nurtures relationships. That’s not going to happen with your average membership platform.
How to choose the right membership platform: 10 things to look out for
Choosing the right membership platform isn’t something to take lightly, since it’s not something you’ll want to be changing too often.
Here are 10 steps to help you make the right choice:
#1. Supported content
The most basic membership platforms, such as some online forums, only support text content. But more sophisticated solutions support uploads of images and other file formats, while the best ones even support live-streaming – often essential if you want to hold online courses!
#2. Technical expertise
Developing your own platform from the ground up requires a highly specialised set of skills, but some prebuilt solutions aren’t too easy to install either. Depending on the degree of support you need, be sure to choose something your technical expertise can accommodate.
#3. Customer support
Chances are your membership platform will become one of your most important brand assets, so the last thing you need is to have it crippled by technical and reliability issues. Always make sure you have the support you need if something goes wrong.
#4. Membership platform scalability
While it’s often impossible to predict the future, you’ll want to plan for future growth. You won’t want your community to outgrow the capabilities of your membership platform, otherwise it will fall apart very quickly.
#5. App integrations
You’re no doubt using several other tools to run your business. To maximise productivity and simplify management, you’ll want to choose a platform which works well with the other apps you use to run your business. It’s a good idea to choose one with a public API for integrating your other software.
#6. Online payments for members
If you want to sell online courses, digital downloads or physical products to your community, you’ll need a platform which supports online payments. It will be a lot easier than trying to add your own payment buttons to multiple pages!
#7. Mobile functionality
Most people now access the internet through their mobile devices, and online communities and membership sites are no exceptions. It’s imperative that you choose a platform with a mobile app or, at the very least, a responsive small-screen user experience.
#8. User analytics
Not only will you need a convenient hub for publishing content to your community – you’ll also want a place to track its growth and performance. Your platform should provide detailed data analytics to help you understand your community.
#9. Privacy by design
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means that information privacy can no longer be something you tack on later. Instead, your membership platform must enable privacy by design and default. It must be GDPR-compliant.
#10. User moderation
If your membership platform has a community where people can share updates and ideas, it will need moderation. With peer-to-peer moderation features, such as the ability to upvote or ‘like’ content, you can greatly reduce the burden on your moderation team.