Hosting a paid membership site has become a very popular model for creators and experts who want to monetize their expertise – especially as membership site platforms have improved. But knowing how to create a membership site and how to promote a membership site are two different things.
As with most products, marketing takes work and planning – you definitely cannot build it and assume they will come. So, in this article, we’ll take a look at marketing strategies to show you how to promote a membership site. Put even a few of them into action, and you are bound to get better results.
Let’s dive in.
First Things First: Strategy
Promotion, of course, is one of the 4Ps of marketing (along with product, price, and place), and never forget that marketing should flow naturally from your overall business strategy: you need to be very clear about the value you provide, to whom, and what differentiates you from the other options your potential customers may have.
In other words, you can’t really have a clear, effective membership marketing strategy if you don’t have a clear underlying business strategy.
If you haven’t done that, no amount of clever promotion is going to result in a thriving, sustainable business of any type. The good news is that, if you have done that, then promoting your membership website can actually be a pleasure – even for self-proclaimed haters of marketing.
Why? Because promoting will amount to letting people know about an offering that truly has value and can really help them. You’ll find yourself talking about something you love and believe in rather than something you are trying to “pitch.”
So, I’ll assume you’ve got your overall strategy in place. Now let’s look at specific ideas you can put into your marketing plan to attract new members and drive membership sales.
15 Ways to Promote a Membership Site
The following ideas will demonstrate how to promote a membership site and get you started on the path to membership marketing success. But never stop innovating. Aim to try a new method of attracting members each month and experiment to discover what works best for your site.
1. Launch into critical mass
While attracting a lot of members does not guarantee the success of a membership site, too few members will kill one quickly. There is no magic number to aim for, but in general, it’s in your best interest to get as many of the right types of people into your membership site from day one.
And that means orchestrating a strong launch for your membership program.
If you already have a significant following – especially through an e-mail list – a strong launch may seem relatively easy. You just need to effectively communicate the benefits of membership and provide a sign-up process with as little friction as possible.
But whether or not you have a following, don’t underestimate how hard the sell can actually be. Most people already have a lot of options for connecting with other people online, so what makes your membership website so special? It’s going to be a combination of the content, the contacts, and the coordination you can offer. In other words:
- Content: what content can you provide that members can’t get anywhere else? (Remember, you are a big part of what is unique about your content.)
- Contacts: who else will be in the community that they might otherwise have a hard time connecting with? (This comes down to really understanding your audience.)
- Coordination: how will you ensure that members will get maximum value from the content, from you, and – ideally – from each other? (This creates the overall context – the least tangible, but most valuable aspect of any membership site.)
Building interest in a new membership site is all about communicating the points above in a compelling way. Use your existing platforms – your blog, your social media accounts, your e-mail list – to market your membership site and build interest in it well before it officially launches.
And don’t just talk about the site: get your prospects to actually register interest by signing up for an e-mail list (or segment of your current list) created specifically promoting the site. When launch day comes, you want to be able to get to your highest potential prospects easily.
In my experience, one of the most effective ways to build interest and identify strong prospects is to run one or more online events in advance of launching the membership site. This may simply mean a Webinar or two or it may mean a full-blown virtual conference (a fantastic catalyst for a membership site, in my opinion). Either can work well to attract potential members into your email marketing funnel.
However you go about it, the point is to offer content on one or more topics that will be central to your membership program and – critically – to give potential members a good feel for you and your expertise.
The importance of prospective members getting the chance to know you – and trust you – can’t be overstated. Initially, their view of you – much more than the content you offer or the prospect of connecting with other members – is the factor most likely to drive traffic and conversion.
With that in mind, be clear on the message you want to convey and make as much use of video and audio as you comfortably can. These types of media tend to be much “warmer” than text and can help you form a connection much more rapidly.
Finally, launching a new membership site involves most of the same practices as launching any other kind of learning experience successfully. Be sure to review:
- The 4 Critical Components of a Successful Product Launch Formula
- Build An Audience – What I Did (and You Can, Too)
And of course, you will need to choose the best membership site platform to use for your launch. There are lots of options so make sure to check out my top picks which include Kajabi, Podia, MemberPress, and Kartra, to name a few.
2. Reward your early converts
How you treat the earliest members of your membership site will set both the tone and the pace of its ongoing development. Helping early members feel special can go a long way toward making the site itself feel special over time.
This process begins, of course, during launch, often in the form of special, limited-time pricing for people who are willing to sign on early. Be cautious with discounting, though – you want to be sure never to devalue the membership in any way or make it feel purely transactional.
To the extent that you offer discounts early, be clear that they are time-limited, and use them as a way to encourage member participation. For example, set the expectation that early members provide you with feedback about the site in exchange for receiving discounted pricing. Sell early membership as a privileged opportunity to see behind the scenes and help shape the site along with you. Ideally, you want members to develop a sense of ownership of the site.
And consider providing early members with additional value that later members won’t get. This might include additional access to you (e.g., through periodic Web conferences), which has the double benefit of helping you build relationships with your members. It might also mean access to exclusive content or to sessions with special guests. Spend some time brainstorming and you can come up with many ways to reward early members that don’t involve discounting.
Be sure to be highly responsive to early members. Respond to any discussion board posts quickly. Acknowledge contributions. Possibly even consider awarding digital badges (a feature of many membership platforms) or other prizes for participation or for helping to spread the word about the site.
For example, LearnStash, who built their community on the Circle.so platform, uses rewards to award members for their participation.
In general, your main goal with early members is to shape a sense of belonging and group identity. However great your content is, eventually people will work their way through it. Once that happens, a strong sense of community is the main thing that will keep them around. And, I emphasize this as part of marketing, because it is also one of the main things that will pull new people in and keep the community growing.
Learn more about some of the best online community platforms to help you get started, including Circle.so.
3. Turn free content into content marketing
Once your site is live, use it as an engine for content marketing by publishing blog posts or other free content related to the site on a regular (weekly, monthly) basis in order to attract new visitors who can be converted into paying members.
Many membership sites hide the majority of their content behind a paywall, which means it isn’t indexed by search engines. If all of your content is hidden in this way, you’re shutting out a valuable source of organic free traffic.
The truth is, you’ll need to give away some of your best content to attract prospective members and convince them your membership site is worth it.
So, be sure to follow good search engine optimization (SEO) practices. The same SEO practices you need to use for selling online courses apply to driving traffic for your membership site.
You can (and should), of course, also deliver free content directly to subscribers by e-mail. People who are still on the fence about joining your site can often be persuaded to join a newsletter instead. Sending out a regular email with useful content that leads to the paid content the site offers can incentivize uncertain followers to join the site.
And, you’ll want to publish regular social media posts on your social media platform (or platforms) of choice, both to stay connected with current members (who should be following you on social media) and to attract new members.
Keep in mind that, as your site grows, it can become the source for some of your best content. By surveying and/or interviewing your members or even just pulling selectively from comments posted in the community, you can generate original research that will be broadly valuable to your target audience. This research can be used as a sign-up incentive for your e-mail list and/or the basis for hosting a Webinar or other live online event, as already suggested above.
Also note that this type of research is very often attractive to reporters, bloggers, and podcasters looking for interesting stories. Consider issuing a press release on a service like PRWeb and/or being active on HARO, a site that links subject matter experts to journalists and reporters, to attract opportunities to spread the word about your site.
And, reach out to bloggers and podcasters in your niche to offer a guest post or book an interview.
4. Leverage lead magnets
I’ve already hinted at this above, but lead magnets are so valuable that it is worth calling them out separately as a method for building the audience for your membership website. Everybody loves a freebie and offering a very specific product as a lead magnet is a great way of getting someone to sign up for your site.
Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the benefit of subscribing to a site — a lead magnet provides a single, distinct benefit that makes it easy to say yes to signing up. And once they’ve joined your site, you can show them everything else that’s available if they remain a member.
Here’s an example of how Entrepreneurship Coach, Bri Seeley funnels prospects from signing up for a free lead magnet to seamlessly also joining her free community in order to access the resource.
Once you’re in the free section of Bri’s community, you then see options for paid membership to The Unapologetic Posse.
Here’s a much deeper dive into lead magnets >>
5. Publish member reviews and testimonials
Feedback from real people about the benefits of joining your site is a powerful form of social proof and they are essential for a successful sales page.
Check out this powerful testimonial on the sales page of Bri Seeley from the example above.
Make sure that you continually ask for and collect member reviews and testimonials to publish on your site and use in promotional materials. These will be useful for all parts of your marketing, but they are particularly valuable once you start attracting significant numbers of potential customers who don’t know you to your site.
6. Ask members for referrals
We already know that word-of-mouth referrals are highly effective. Don’t be shy about asking for them. Remind your members to tell their friends about your site and the benefits they’ll get from joining.
We all tend to stick to like-minded people, so chances are all your members each know several other people who would be interested in joining your site. Still, don’t take that for granted. Be clear with your members (and yourself!) about who you feel your best potential customers are.
7. Encourage members to go public
Come up with a few places it would be appropriate for your members to add your site to their social media and other public online profiles. Depending on your industry, that could be a private (but not hidden) Facebook group, a LinkedIn course, a badge on their personal website or blog, or even a line in their bio.
8. Offer perks to recruiting members
As well as building an affiliate network, you can also create your own perks for members who share your content or recruit others. That could be as simple as an internal point system based on open metrics from your newsletter, and members could spend their reward points in your online store, or compete to win merchandise.
9. Feature your members
Creating stories about your members not only raises your social proof, it also gives you a range of promotional features that your members will be happy to share. Demonstrate how becoming a member of your site has given them new skills, improved their career prospects, or otherwise changed their life for the better.
10. Network with other businesses
Approach colleagues in your field or related industries and ask for referrals. Think about mutually beneficial arrangements you can strike — you might be surprised at the possibilities available to you.
For example, if you teach a photography course, you could approach an independent camera supply store and agree to recommend each other’s services. When networking, always consider how your involvement with another individual or business will impact your reputation, and only propose deals you can stand behind.
11. Offer group membership
Signing up a group of people at once is great for giving your membership website (and its community) a big boost. Consider how the knowledge you’re sharing could positively impact college students, specific industry employees, local interest groups, or any other organizations or businesses you can think of, and approach them with a group membership deal.
12. Set and share membership goals
Goal setting is a great motivator and there’s no reason not to involve your members with your goals, especially when first establishing your site. Share your goals, and encourage members to make referrals and invite their friends to help you smash them.
13. Make members apply to join
This might seem counterintuitive, but people generally love to feel like they’re part of something exclusive. The sense of community you create with your membership site can be heightened by having members apply to join. You can use any prerequisites you like, and if you include an application questionnaire you can also get valuable insight into the mindset of your new members.
14. Offer members-only discounts on other products
If you don’t already include all your products in your membership site, consider offering a members-only discount. This is a great way of encouraging people who are already interested in your products to sign up for more and keeps your members engaged with your content even if they’ve already consumed everything on your site.
15. Pay to the Peak with Advertising
Everything above will help you to grow but if you want to go further and higher, you will eventually benefit from running paid advertising to market your membership site.
I say eventually because in most cases you will be wasting your money if you decide to spend money and start running paid ads before your membership site has any real traction. Remember that ads are mostly about reaching people who don’t already know, like, and trust you. Converting these people into buyers for a membership site will be tough unless it is clear that you have an ongoing concern that is producing significant value – which everything above helps to do.
You can advertise on almost any platform, from search engines to social media, and these ads can be highly tailored to match the interests and demographics of the people most likely to become members. Before starting an advertising campaign, look at your existing members and past learners to discover as much about them as possible. Are they mostly male or female, old or middle-aged or young? Knowing who your likely learners are will help you determine the best platforms on which to reach them, making your paid marketing efforts more effective.
Also, don’t neglect offline advertising opportunities, such as industry publications or college newspapers. Because so much of the focus has turned to digital these days, these often offer opportunities for exposure that stand out from all the noise – and that your potential competitors are probably ignoring.
How to Promote a Membership Site: An Important Final Point
One very important final point when it comes to promoting a membership site: don’t let what I have covered here be an afterthought.
All good marketing strategies begin with your initial product idea. From the moment you home in on offering membership programs as part of your product portfolio, you should be thinking about the promotional opportunities that make the most sense for driving initial membership and longer-term membership growth.
Doing this will put you in a position to build organically as you go along and ensure that as you start to think about specific elements of your promotion strategy – say, an ad campaign or your sales pages – everything will align and flow naturally.
Marketing a membership site – like marketing anything – can feel daunting, but as the fifteen points above suggest, you’ve got plenty of options to build awareness, connect with your audiences, and grow your membership base. So, take a few of these ideas and start promoting your membership site today.
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