Sebastian, Krautreporter was one of the earliest adopters of membership in Europe. You didn’t have many people to take inspiration from when you launched Krautreporter. What was the initial member experience, and how did you decide what to offer?

Thank you, Ariel, for having me and for putting together this fantastic manual. It all makes sense now!

To your question: In 2014 not a lot of people had experiences with engaged journalism and membership models. Krautreporter grew out of the crowdfunding culture (hence the name – get it?), where the enthusiasm of the community is the most important thing. In the desire to keep our journalism as open as possible and accessible and affordable to all, we decided against a paywall in front of our content in the beginning. Instead, the discussions, surveys and other forms of participation were exclusive to members. It turned out that after our initial crowdfunding, the majority of new users were not as interested in the engagement experience as we thought at the time. They saw no good reason to start paying when others didn’t, it seemed unfair. So we changed course in the second year.

What you can learn from this today: That it is very important to talk to potential members before you make them an offer. Basically to find out if you are solving a problem they actually have or if you are getting tangled up in your own ideas. This is probably called market research, but above all it’s about talking to as many of the right people as possible and really listening.

I have no regrets because Krautreporter was created in a very short time out of a moment of self-empowerment, not as a result of a professional product development process. If you’re early, you have to put up with a bit of rock’n’roll, I guess. But today there is a lot of experience to build on when you start a membership program. Just look at this manual.

“Put up with a bit of rock ‘n’ roll” is a good way of putting it! So, if one of the goals of a membership program is to solve a problem for members, what problem would you say Krautreporter is solving for members today?

Our slogan is “Verstehe die Zusammenhänge”, which could roughly be translated as “Understand the Context”. From our member discussions, we know that this promise resonates a lot with them and is the single most important reason to become a member. Reporters and members work closely together in a spirit of trust, we try to cut through the noise of the daily news and provide a bigger context that allows you to get a sense of orientation, and to take action. Only when we understand how small things are connected can we change big things. There is a lot more we try to do differently than traditional media organizations, but at the end of the day it comes down to that trade-mark: Understand the connections, so you can change the world for the better. That’s why “Verstehe die Zusammenhänge” is written in the header above each of our articles.

We also have Tav here, from Zetland. Tav can you share a little bit about what the membership value proposition is for Zetland, and what the member experience is as a result?

Sure Ariel,
So happy to participate here, and congrats on this handbook!
It’s a biiig question, but let me just share a few points to begin:
Our value proposition has moved from being “two longform quality articles per day” back when we started four years ago, to now being 1) understand the most important stories of the day/week and 2) get inspired, motivated, and wow-ed a few times per week or maybe even per month.
It also marks a deep orientation that we’re working quite consciously with: always focus on the receiver and not the sender. What I mean is that for us, the product is a platform with a lot of articles, and three-five news ones every day. But for the member, the product is very different, but they will focus on the weekly or even monthly value they get.

We have learned that when it comes to selling memberships, its not really “the news” people are paying for, but rather that feeling of a friend talking to you and guiding you through the world.
The most obvious way this manifests itself is though our use of audio: our content can be consumed equally well through audio or text, and it turns out that around 75% of our members choose audio. Audio has also turned out to be a very meaningful way to create stronger and more intimate “relationships” to the members, because we’re hardwired to perceive voice communication as more personal. The sonic bubble is a very good place to convey information and inspiration in a friendly manner.
Lastly, its worth stating the obvious: a membership is involving, rather than just consuming. And even if the 90-10-1 rule is still valid, those 90% still get value out of the 1% because the feeling of togetherness in a confusing world is quite powerful.

I learned from reading your case study that in Denmark that loyal 1 percent is called the “hot onion!”

This is a question for both of you – what are some ways that the 1 percent of highly engaged members improve the experience for the other 99 percent of your members?

I can think of a few answers, but let me address the special tone of voice in membership communities. As we all know, many users have had bad experiences with people screaming on the internet. Social media has become a place that many people consciously avoid. Respectful and constructive discussions are rather rare, or they retreat into closed chat communities.

This makes our members all the more grateful when they experience how intelligent, benevolent, and constructive public conversations can be when it is led by members of a community with similar values and interests. To illustrate this: in the six years of our existence we have only had to block one single member.

So even if someone does not want to actively participate, a pleasant ambiance among competent people from the “hot onion” (love it) creates trust. It makes you feel like you’re among friends, you’re more likely to keep an open mind and to be curious.

I believe we should credit the great membership people from Republik in Switzerland for the term The Hot Onion. We heard it first from them in Zürich, and have taken it to our hearts 🔥🧅
Within that term lies perhaps the most important answer to your question: If you have an inner core that is super hot and engaged, they will ooze engegement outwards to the outer rings, where more “I just want to consume the product” people are.
As Sebastian said there really are a lot of ways in which that happens. Contributions to articles might be the most glaring way, but also active feature requests, participation in focus groups, the endless wonderful emails describing their needs, ideas for names for our products, meeting rooms, sources, marketing stunts, adn list just goes on and on.
Even if 90% do not actively participate, they clearly feel the community and the understand, that if they wanted to, they would have an easy way in. Plus, the journalism is simply better when created with the help and knowledge of 20.000 people instead of 30.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve shut down our “marketing” team and instead built an “engagement” team. We simply realized that the effort of heating up the onion (and it does take serious and focused action!), was well worth it, when we started asking our members to refer us in campaigns.
The latest campaign ended on Monday this week, and we had 2.000 people putting up posters across the country, handing out flyers, SoMe posting like there was no tommorow, and telling colleagues, family, yoga teachers, party guests, fire fighters, and whoever else they met in their day. We gained an extra 2650 paying members in three weeks (big numbers here in tiny Denmark ;-)). I believe very few would make that effort if they merely considered themselves consumers of a product.