Questions from Membership 101
Membership Guide Managing Editor Ariel Zirulnick is leading a “Membership 101” course from November to December 2020, supported by RevLab and the Lenfest Institute. The class is based on five live sessions walking organizations through the fundamentals of organizational readiness for membership.
With almost 200 registrants, we won’t have time to get to all the questions asked during the live sessions. Here, Ariel will answer some of the most pertinent questions that we don’t get to address, and we invite you to ask follow-up questions, share your own experiences, and ask questions of others. Non-course participants are also welcome to join the discussion!
Q: Any advice for hard paywall vs. metered (i.e. leaky) paywalls?
A from Ariel: Membership Puzzle Project’s research into the motivations of members found that most don’t want a gate around the journalism they support. They want to celebrate your work, and the harder the paywall, the harder it is for your members to show your work to others and to cheerlead your organization.
Some organizations, such as De Correspondent and Tortoise, have a pretty firm paywall to the casual passerby online, but allow their members to share as many articles as they want. We explore this more in depth in the Membership Guide here: https://membershipguide.org/handbook/developing-and-launching-membership/designing-our-membership-program/are-benefits-too-exclusive-for-our-mission
Q: How can you balance a situation like ours where we are a Spanish language US based non profit news outlet that is by and for the Latinx immigrant community but has Anglo allies who have more disposable funds to become members without losing our sense of serving our community? How can we continue to involve our community if they are not the ones that would most likely be financially supporting us?
A: You clearly have two different audiences, who likely have two different motivations for engaging with your work and two different needs. This is why audience segmentation is so useful. Trying to design a series of benefits that are all equally useful for these two different audiences is almost impossible. But if you divide them into segments and then start to think about what you can offer each segment, it quickly gets a lot easier.
Your “Anglo allies” want to financially support your journalism because they are concerned about the welfare of Latino immigrants and your work makes the lives of Latino immigrants easier. Latino immigrants are reading you and sharing your work because you’re helping them navigate the immigrant experience. Conexion Migrante, which has a mission very similar to yours, has two types of members for exactly this reason. See more on them here: https://conexionmigrante.com/amigos/
Q from Jacqué: Is a loyalty program for current subscriptions considered a membership? Or its own blended thing?
A from Ariel: When I hear the words “loyalty program,” I think of credit card rewards programs that give me discounts and special offers as a thank you – and as a consumer I appreciate these discounts! But it’s still a transactional relationship, an exchange of two things with monetary value.
A membership program exists to add value to your loyal audience members’ experience with your organization. It likely will include some tangible benefits for the member (such as swag or discounts to events), but it should also include intangible benefits such as feeling like a part of a community, opportunities to participate in the journalism, and a request to contribute their knowledge.
With that distinction established, I see a loyalty program as something a bit different than a membership program. If you’re open to offering participation opportunities to your subscribers, it is possible to have a membership program in a subscription setting.
This is more than a label. These are not simple buckets we’re talking about, but directions and tendencies. The more a program offers opportunities to participate, the more it makes sense to call it “membership” rather than a loyalty program.
I believe this also answers this Q: Should subscription businesses strongly consider building a membership program?
Q: Could you give an example or two of a successful membership appeal routine that a small, one-person org has implemented?
A: Great question. The “growth” section of the Membership Guide has three different membership marketing strategies based on organizational capacity. Find that here: https://membershipguide.org/handbook/growing-a-membership-program/growing-our-membership
Q: I will be doing a crowdfunding campaign later this month. Are you able to furnish a few critically important dos and don’ts? Thanks.
A: This course is focused on membership programs, defined by ongoing, recurring support, rather than one-time support, so we won’t get into crowdfunding campaigns. But you can find a Membership Guide case study on how The Tyee runs its crowdfunding campaigns here:
Q. What is the delta between “clear patterns” and statistical significance?
I understand the question, but there isn’t really a clear answer – these are a bit apples and oranges because one is about sheer numbers and the other is about insights.
With questions such as “Would you be willing to financially support our work on a recurring basis?” that have a yes/no answer, what you are looking for is statistical significance, not patterns (if you get a relatively even split on a question, this is a good moment for some follow-up interviews). SurveyMonkey has a good tool for calculating statistical significance: https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/sample-size-calculator/
Be sure to use the audience size of the place where you’ll be placing the survey – i.e. the number of people on your newsletter list if you’re sending it out over your newsletter.
When you’re asking open-ended questions, you’ll be looking for what research Erika Hall calls “the satisfying click” – when a clear insight begins to emerge from your data. MPP has seen that begin to emerge as early as the seventh interview, but again, this is going to vary a lot based on what types of questions you’re asking and who you’re interviewing. If you’re conducting research with your most loyal readers, the patterns might emerge a lot sooner than if you’re conducting research among audiences you’re not already reaching. Erika Hall’s book “Just Enough Research” has great advice for conducting audience research on a lean team. https://abookapart.com/products/just-enough-research
Q. Which are most effective, focus groups or interviews with individuals?
Both can be effective. It depends on your goal, and the types of questions you’re asking. First, consider whether the questions you’re asking are ones people will be comfortable answering in front of others. If they’re potentially sensitive, interviews are best.
Focus groups can be particularly helpful when you’re asking questions to inform the design of a community experience, like a membership program. Seeing how people build on each other’s answers and experiences can introduce ideas you hadn’t considered and also give you a snapshot of the community you’re designing for, not just the individual members of that community.
Q: How can you do audience research before you even launch a new local news site?
A: Work with trusted organizations with like-minded audiences to get the word out. We have more advice on this in the Membership Guide here: https://membershipguide.org/handbook/getting-started-with-membership/conducting-audience-research/how-can-audience-research-tell-us-if-membership-is-viable
I also recommend reading this case study about how the Compass Experiment did that: https://membershipguide.org/case-study/how-the-compass-experiment-conducted-audience-research-without-an-existing-audience/
Shay Totten of the Compass Experiment also shared this post about how they did this for the Longmont Leader: https://medium.com/the-compass-experiment/listen-learn-and-launch-d212eb98e3e0