What if we made a technical mistake?

Some of you may be facing technical challenges you inherited. These “messes” could pose a challenge to your membership program. 

What do we mean by a “mess”? A couple examples: 

  • A past executive signed a lengthy, binding contract with a system that doesn’t work well.
  • You’re stuck in a corporate contract with other sibling entities/organizations.
  • Someone made a mistake in a previous implementation. Dots are no longer connected and your data can’t talk between components of your tech stack. 
  • A key employee left without leaving behind “the keys” to a tool or piece of codebase.
  • You’re stuck in an outdated CMS that doesn’t allow you to include CTAs that would encourage readers to become members. 

These technical building blocks are essential to creating vibrant membership programs, and these scenarios could make it more difficult to execute on these strategies.

It’s also possible that you have no idea that you’ve got a mess on your hands. Here are some simple checks you can run to make sure your stack is running effectively: 

  • Sign up for your own mailing list. Did you get the correct email? Are you added to the correct lists?
  • Become a member: Do you get properly tagged in the CRM? What about the ESP? 
  • Test everything important: Test your signup forms, your membership checkout pages, etc. on different mobile devices and in different browsers. An email service such as Litmus can help you make sure your emails display properly in all major email clients

You may also have made a decision that has had consequences as your organization’s needs have evolved:

  • Your audience could have grown, which would require a new email service provider that can accommodate bigger lists.
  • Your organization could be moving into a new market, which will require you to support additional currencies. 
  • A vendor could go out of business, which could require you to transition to a new service

It is particularly important that small and growing newsrooms document and keep a separate record of their Key Performance Indicators. In 2019, the Philadelphia news site Billy Penn was acquired by WHYY, the city’s public media outlet. As a result of that merger, it had to integrate two separate membership systems. 

When Billy Penn left its previous owner, Spirited Media, it set up new instances of its core membership stack — the News Revenue Hub’s Salesforce-Mailchimp-Stripe connector. While Billy Penn was able to transfer over its data, it lost all the historic information about its members — for example, their history of engagement with Billy Penn’s newsletters. “It was frustrating in the beginning,” Billy Penn editor Danya Henninger said, noting that not having that information made it more difficult to target readers with membership asks. 

Henninger said she wished she had regularly been downloading key data points and tracking metrics outside of the platforms so Billy Penn would not have lost the information it would have liked to have kept when it transferred systems. “No matter what your tech stack is, keep your own records,” she said. “…Keep your KPIs and identify those for yourself even if you’re not reporting them out.” 

Upgrading technical systems can introduce new technical messes that you have to clean up later, so weigh the costs and benefits. This is particularly true when an upgrade involves migrating large amounts of content and data into a new system. The risk of data getting lost in migration needs to worth the payoff in more powerful functions. Be sure to budget for plenty of time and resources for the upgrade.

While Billy Penn staff appreciates the flexibility and ease of use of its News Revenue Hub stack, they are looking forward to their eventual integration to WHYY’s system so that it can tap into WHYY’s massive email database. Billy Penn has about 25,000 email subscribers — WHYY has more than 250,000 contacts. 

“That’s what sold me to the fact that Billy Penn should switch over to their platform: to do all sorts of targeting and smart logic,” Henninger said.

WTF Just Happened Today’s Matt Kiser has had to migrate his data twice – a time consuming process, but one that was ultimately worthwhile both times. This case study offers advice on getting members to transfer systems with you. 


What WTFJHT learned from a bad membership tech choice

WTFJHT founder Matt Kiser is on his fourth payment processor since launching in 2017.