There are many good learning management systems (LMSes) that will help you create and deliver online course content and many of these (like this one) will also help you build a full-featured membership Web site.
Either way, building your site is only the first step – and adding content on a regular basis can be a hurdle for many edupreneurs.
How do you know what content will attract new members, and keep existing members happy?
How do you keep your material fresh? What will incentivize members to return month after month?
This post offers a few time-tested ideas to help you answer those questions. What works best for your site will depend on your subject area, your members’ level of expertise, and how you have marketed your site to them. Remember to meet the expectations that you set and look at your material through your members’ eyes. Study member behavior to see what resonates and what is ignored, and don’t be afraid to change your content strategy if it isn’t working.
Sell your content calendar
Many site owners think they have to spend weeks or months filling the site with content to attract users, but that’s a big investment to put into a new project. Instead, when you launch the site use any content you already have (if you have any), and then include a calendar for new content. That way members aren’t joining your site to access content that doesn’t exist, but to be first in line to see content that doesn’t exist yet.
That distinction is important because it switches your membership to an exclusive offering, and exclusive means desirable.
By launching your site with a calendar of upcoming material, your members can see what to expect from the site and have something to look forward to,
Naturally, a delayed timeline gives you time to create content as the site grows, but it also creates anticipation – and that often drives engagement.
To make this process really simple, host live online seminars that are fast and easy to produce, engage your members from the outset, and begin to build your backlog of content. A one hour-long seminar can provide subsequent video and audio content, plus transcripts, blog posts, discussion panels, and more. (Remember, everything is a production event!)
There are few methods that will reliably result in the same quantity and quality of content in such a short time, making this method far superior to spending weeks drafting lengthy posts to fill your membership site.
By beginning with interactive material, you’re also encouraging members to participate actively in your site from the beginning. If you include social areas such as a comments section or forum, your members will also generate their own discussion around your material, which can be invaluable for mining ideas later on.
Reuse your evergreen content
Of course, if you already have some content, you should include it in your membership site.
Be sure not to underestimate (or overlook) what you have already created. If you have blog posts, access to old guest articles, audio and/or video of past classes, seminars, and speaking engagements, these are invaluable assets.
Even if you already have a professional presence elsewhere, such as on an online learning platform or blog, it’s a good idea to consolidate all your content in one place.
Remember: It doesn’t matter that your members could access everything elsewhere for free, because the convenience of having all that information on a central platform is still appealing. (And, chances are high that they haven’t seen or have forgotten about a lot of the content you have shared in other places)
Recycling content whenever you can is a key way of generating ongoing revenue from all your material. You can also cross-promote your different products by re-purposing content on different platforms.
Your blog can generate affiliate revenue, and also refer people to your membership site.
Your Web site can funnel users toward your latest course, and the course can link to monetized videos.
As you create more and more content, this interconnected web of material and revenue streams can become truly substantial, allowing you to earn income from the same content over and over.
An important caveat: search engines dislike repetition, and if they find the same blog post reproduced on several different platforms, all but the largest and/or oldest will be downgraded in search engine results.
Membership sites often circumvent this problem because the majority of content is restricted behind a paywall, meaning search engines won’t index it anyway. If, however, you want to copy posts from your blog into your membership site as a free incentive for people to join, you will need to rewrite them so they’re not identical to existing online content.
Experiment with new formats and ideas
Much of making a living online involves experimenting to see what works. With a membership site, you’ve got a perfect focus group to experiment with new content, ideas, and formats. (It’s one of the most effective ways there is to validate your market.)
Because your content will be hosted behind a login, you’re also freer to experiment because you’re not constrained by the need to create search engine friendly content. Not all the material you create has to be a 1000-word article or hour-long video. Consider doing more live seminars, upload short mobile clips, audio recordings, photos or images, and create infographics.
Find what resonates with your members, and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Poll your members on what they like and dislike, and also look at your user metrics to see what gets the most attention. Site members will be more forgiving if you upload content they’re not interested in, but they might also be worried about hurting your feelings if they say they didn’t like something. Instead, try to upload at least two pieces of content in each experimental format and see what the attrition rate is for views and engagement between them. Members will vote most honestly with their time and ignore anything that doesn’t interest them.
You can also try out new ideas in the same way.
If there’s an area in your of field of expertise you’d like to explore but you’re not sure the market for it exists, offer a Webinar or post to your members and see what the response is. You can also use your membership site to create add-on content for your other courses and materials. Try hosting a live chat after broadcasting a new lesson, publishing supplemental lessons, or hosting limited classes.
Engaging with your members and soliciting their feedback makes them feel special, more informed, and encourages word-of-mouth promotion. If your members have helped you fine-tune your latest course, they’ll feel a sense of ownership over it that will incentivize them to tell others to sign up.
Your members sign up because they’re interested in your subject and teaching, above and beyond following a blog or taking your courses. Make the most of this by hosting masterclasses for the keenest learners. Do a deep dive into your existing lessons, explore areas of your field you’ve only touched on in the past, and branch out into areas that weren’t as relevant to your original course.
One-off masterclasses let your members get “value added” for their membership, as well as allowing you to explore new areas of your field and trial their reception with an eye to producing more in the future. Let your members guide your teaching and they can show you the right avenues to explore to expand your content and inform the direction of your future courses.
Participate in group discussions
Hosting regular chats with your members is a great way of getting feedback and being accessible. Part of the appeal of a membership site is closer access to the source of the information (you!), so frequent communication helps members feel valued and keeps them loyal.
Not all your engagement has to be in a formal setting where you lead the discussion. If you include forums on your site (and I encourage you to do so) you can pop in and comment on posts and interact with your members in a friendlier, more informal way than in a traditional teacher/learner setting.
Your engagement will also keep forums and other user-generated content zones active. This area shouldn’t be overlooked, as user-generated content is just as valuable to your membership site as anything you upload. Thriving membership sites generate a sense of community between individuals and have active discussion areas. The conversations between your members are useful to new members, and you can also mine them for new lesson ideas and feedback.
Go with the flow
Bottom line: there are lots of ways of generating content for your membership site that don’t involve you spending months writing blog posts in advance of launch day. Building a membership site doesn’t have to be an intensive, high-pressure undertaking. Use the content you already have available to expand your revenue streams, and let your members guide your future content as you build it in real time to create a thriving, successful site.
- 10 Key Elements of Successful Membership Sites
- 5 Reasons You Should Build a Membership Site
- How to Market Your Membership Site