Are you wondering how an online community benefits a membership business? If so, you’re in the right place.
Life is all about connections – right? After all, we are social beings and love connecting with folks of like mind. You’re probably part of an online community (or several) yourself.
That said, it is absurd to ignore this fact, especially if you run a membership business.
But you’re probably asking yourself:
“Why do I need an online community when I already have a membership site? Are the two, not the same thing?”
Nope, they aren’t.
Similarly, you can have a buzzing online community that is not a membership site. A good example is Facebook groups. Or an on-brand online community for your business.
Here’s what I mean. You can have a membership site where members never interact. For instance, a member pays for your course, and off they go without interacting with other students.
An online community, on the other hand, focuses on fostering discussion and interaction among the members. Members don’t even need to buy anything.
See the difference? Good, I’m glad we are on the same page.
Creating an online community benefits your membership business in many ways. It’s one of the most powerful ways of marketing your membership site without breaking the bank.
And in today’s post, we unravel nine top benefits of online communities for membership businesses. We also share a few disadvantages of online communities so you can decide if it’s the right fit for your business.
Top 10 Online Community Benefits for Your Membership Business
- 88% of entrepreneurs say that the community is an integral part of their business;
- 59% of companies use online communities to offer customer support;
- 85% of business owners agree that creating a branded online community fosters greater trust among the audience;
- 57% of organizations with branded online communities say the community contributed to brand SEO;
- 90% of brand owners said they use member contributions and suggestions to improve products and services;
- The global market for online communities is growing at 13.9% CAGR.
As you can see, online communities are still viable and carry many benefits for all types of businesses — not just memberships.
Note: The benefits you eventually see may vary depending on your business goals, market trends, and the type of online community you create.
That out of the way, these are the top benefits of an online community to your business.
#1 – Increased Customer Engagement & Retention
Any membership business owner will tell you it’s herculean a task to keep customers engaged after the first few transactions.
It’s a common issue for subscription-based businesses, with many brands grappling with churn rates that impact recurring revenue significantly.
Here’s a quick example. If you have $1M in revenue, a churn rate of just 7.1% translates to 71k in lost revenue. We can all agree that’s quite a lumpsum to lose.
So, how do online communities help?
An online community provides a dynamic and interactive environment where members can communicate with one another and your business.
Thanks to forums, groups, and messages, members (read customers) engage in real-time discussions, seek advice, and share experiences.
Interacting with other customers fosters camaraderie and a sense of belonging. The members feel they are part of an exclusive online tribe, which shapes engagement.
This connection boosts loyalty, which motivates customers to join the conversation — and remain members of your membership business.
McDonald’s portal is a sensational example of this strategy at work. The platform features competitions, discussion boards, live chats, reward programs, surveys, and more. The community awards members points for interacting.
Psst — you can redeem your reward points for free meals. Look at that, you get a quick free meal for participating. It doesn’t get better than that.
#2 – Improved Customer Support
Customer support is an integral part of every business, big or small. Poor support will affect the customer experience negatively.
You will lose customers left, right, and center if you have a subpar support system. This is especially true if you run a membership business.
One key advantage of an online community is the level of interaction it offers. Users can share their problems, and other members can provide solutions in real time.
In other words, an online community can serve as a self-service portal for your membership business.
By engaging in discussions within the community, you can ensure your customers feel heard, which boosts trust.
It also shows your business is involved and transparent. That is; you’re not in it just for the money — you actually care about your customers.
Members help others solve problems, which lightens the load on your customer support team. Additionally, your business can offer faster and round-the-clock support since online communities are available 24/7.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have found quick answers on the Microsoft Support Community. Answers didn’t come from Microsoft’s in-house support team but from other users who have had a similar issue.
Was the support fast? Yes, it was probably faster than contacting Microsoft support directly. Did that reflect well on Microsoft? You bet. Another exceptional example is Apple support forums.
Now imagine if Microsoft or Apple relied on their support teams to answer the thousands of questions posted on their respective communities daily. They would burn out and probably go crazy.
You can add FAQs and knowledge bases to your online community to answer common questions. Users provide most of the questions and answers, so it’s a win-win situation if you ask me.
#3 – Valued Feedback and Market Insights
First, ignoring customer feedback is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Second, failing to keep up with market trends (since you didn’t collect feedback) will only stall your progress.
Earlier, we mentioned that over 90% of brand owners agreed they use member contributions and suggestions to improve their offerings.
Are you one of these brand owners or is your membership business living in a cocoon?
Online communities offer your membership business a golden opportunity to identify your customer’s pain points, interests, and preferences.
That’s not all.
An active and well-maintained online community is fertile ground to discover challenges, emerging market trends, and untapped opportunities.
So, how does that help?
You can improve your products or create new offerings with the right feedback and insights. You can also predict future trends and stay ahead of the competition.
Walmart Customer Spark is a brilliant example of how businesses can use an online community to gather valued feedback and market insights.
This invite-only platform employs surveys, interviews, and other activities to collect feedback. Members earn points that are redeemable for Walmart gift cards.
As a side note: Interview industry thought leaders to show your online community you’re up-to-date with the latest market trends and increase traffic. Authority Hacker does this all time on their Facebook group.
#4 – Content Creation & User-Generated Content
Content is king and I will never get tired of saying that 🙂 That aside, it is a well-known fact that you need tons of engaging content to run a successful membership site.
You’re already doing a lot of work creating content to keep your membership moving forward. So, why don’t you let members of your online community lend a helping hand?
I’m talking about user-generated content (UGC). Online communities offer you a never-ending stream of content, such as videos, images, testimonials, reviews, posts, comments, and more.
UGC is fresh and engaging, meaning Google loves it. In other words, UGC can help you to boost brand SEO, which earns you more organic traffic.
The content in an online community will also spread since these platforms usually come with social sharing features. This enriches your membership business as it increases diversity and global reach.
At the same time, UGC offers you a lot of content ideas. If users ask a particular question repeatedly, you can use that as inspiration for your next blog post, course, or product.
Every online community is a fantastic resource for the content ideas that your customers care about.
#5 – Upselling and Cross-Selling
I think you’ll agree when I say: selling memberships is a tough nut to crack. Acquiring and retaining customers can drive almost any business owner up the wall.
Enter online communities, and you save the day. An online community presents you with plenty of opportunities to upsell and cross-sell.
After all, customers are already invested in your branded community and products, which makes it easier to sell complementary or new products.
I have seen many course memberships use this strategy successfully. Many brands use their online communities for product announcements and soft launches.
Product announcements are impactful since members can engage in more useful ways than, say, email or landing pages.
Rolla Skate Club uses its online community to upsell and cross-sell skating courses, in-person classes, and merch. Beauty retailer Sephora ensures its Beauty Insider community can find products in a few clicks.
There are so many examples of this strategy in action your head will spin.
So, are you using your online community to upsell and cross-sell memberships? And if you don’t have an online community for your membership business, what are you waiting for?
#6 – Brand Advocacy & Referrals
With the rising cost of living, marketing departments are doing their best to make do with tighter advertising budgets.
That means you could use all the help you can get to acquire new customers, which — as we hinted earlier — is an uphill task for many membership businesses.
But guess what? Brand advocacy is one of many online community benefits for your membership business.
Satisfied customers and engaged community members usually become brand advocates who sing praise for your products.
Engaging your customers on an intimate level in online communities is a brilliant way to cultivate brand evangelists who indirectly do advocacy marketing for your business.
On top of word-of-mouth referrals, an online community offers your customers a chance to voice their opinions.
Like Latrina Walden above, let your community members market your memberships for you. Besides, it’s undeniable social proof that your membership program works.
Also, you have the pleasurable opportunity to further engage with existing and potential customers.
When you look at it, advocacy marketing and referrals lower your overall cost of customer acquisition. Again, another win for online communities.
#7 – Increased Brand Awareness & Visibility
Before talking about customer engagement, brand advocacy, upselling, and such, people need to know your business exists.
If someone mentioned running shoes or sneakers, you will probably think of Nike, Adidas, or a similar brand.
And do you know why? These brands invest millions of dollars in brand awareness and visibility campaigns.
Do you know what else? They invest heavily in building vibrant online communities to increase brand awareness and reputation.
A bustling online community increases your brand visibility significantly. As more people engage and interact in your online community, word will get out, which attracts more people.
As happy members and satisfied customers leave reviews and share content with others, it will create a ripple effect that puts your brand in front of more people.
Keep in mind that an active online community also attracts lots of social and organic traffic, which in turn brings more people to your membership business.
No matter how you look at it, an online community offers you lots of opportunities to boost brand awareness and visibility without high advertisement costs.
#8 – Increased Networking opportunities
No business can thrive in a vacuum, and that’s a fact. What I’m trying to say is you must actively invest in networking activities if your membership business is to grow.
The good thing is a digital community offers your membership business expanded networking opportunities regardless of your topic or industry.
First, virtual communities are easy and convenient to join. In most cases, prospective members need an email address only.
What that means is you can quickly onboard members and grow your professional network since there are almost no barriers to joining an online community.
Second, people throng online communities looking to network with like-minded people. As such, you can give your members more opportunities to network with other professionals within the industry.
A stellar example is HR for HR community group by Lumity. The virtual community aims to connect HR professionals across the US.
Did you learn anything from the above video? Can you offer more tips? Mind sharing in the comment section?
From the video, I learned it’s important to create an easy-to-use platform. Great UX favors user engagement.
Pro Tip: While there are many platforms, WordPress is still one of the best CMS. Plus, you have Paid Member Subscriptions to help you hit the ground running.
Members can create new groups to generate new networking opportunities. Anybody can join an online community to reach more people in their niche.
#Bonus – Data-Driven Decision Making
Virtual communities are rich sources of data. Businesses can build strong emotional relationships that offer a bird’s eye view of each member.
Through various tools, such as live chats, webinars, and virtual conferences, you can learn more about your users on a personal level
Armed with the data, you can offer members personalized experiences in line with your business goals.
Throw a few data analytics tools into the mix, and you have logical data for your overall marketing strategy. From there, create products that sell themselves.
When you understand your user’s needs, you can easily increase the customer lifetime value of your memberships.
In a single line; gather data and put it into good use. Then rinse and repeat.
Disadvantages of Online Communities
Now that we’ve seen the benefits of online communities, what are some of the disadvantages? We will keep the next sections short as the article is becoming too long already.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction – Since interaction in virtual communities happens over the internet, it’s often hard to interpret physical cues, intent, or tone, which often breeds misunderstanding among members. Try incorporating elements that cultivate trust and a sense of community;
- Cyberbullying & fraud – Internet communities offer a degree of anonymity, which is attractive to cyberbullies and scammers. Ensure your community has guidelines and systems to stop trolls and fraudsters;
- Risk of addiction – Online communities are created to keep users engaged as long as possible. This can easily lead to addiction, which isn’t what you’re angling for;
- Spam – Communities are an easy target for spam. This poses a security risk and lowers the quality of information, which leads to poor user experiences. Find moderators to manage your community and keep things in check.
Effective Strategies for Creating an Online Community with Benefits
Now that you know how online community benefits membership businesses, and the drawbacks, how do you create a thriving online community?
- Define community guidelines – It’s vital to create rules and moderation policies that keep your virtual community free from abuse, spam, and trolls;
- Align your community with business goals – What are you looking to achieve with your community? Is it: simplifying user onboarding and product adoption? Improving customer support? Boost customer retention? Do your research beforehand and align your community with your goals;
- Make participation easy – Engagement is the lifeblood of any successful online community. Create a buzz by asking questions that spark discussions. Actively encourage users to participate and connect. Don’t be a ghost; participate in the discussions and respond to comments;
- Be patient and expect the unexpected – For instance, some members won’t participate no matter how hard you prod them. Others won’t stick around, so go easy on yourself knowing that growth takes time;
- Facilitate connections & networking opportunities – Connect members with other users, businesses, and industry thought leaders. For instance, you can connect learners and graduates to potential employers within your industry;
- Improve user experience (UX) – First, your online community should be responsive and easy to use on multiple devices. Second, add rewards, badges, and gamification to improve UX and boost engagement. Enable notifications, too;
- Measure success metrics regularly – Identify and track key performance indicators (KPIs) to put a finger on what’s working. Make data-led decisions and improve your membership business accordingly;
- Choose the right platform – Running an online community takes work, so start with a platform that makes your work easy, which leads us to our next part.
A Case for Paid Member Subscriptions
First, Paid Member Subscriptions is fully compatible with popular online community plugins, such as BuddyPress and bbPress.
Second, this WordPress membership plugin offers you lots of features to run and manage your community like a boss.
Pair Paid Member Subscriptions with one of the community plugins we mentioned, and you have a foundation to build an online community that serves your goals for years to come.
Online Community Benefits: Final Words
Online communities are a fantastic way for businesses to connect and interact with customers on an ongoing basis. The personal environment allows for meaningful conversations that lead to strong relationships.
The bonds you create in your online community can significantly benefit your membership business in many ways. Also, don’t forget about the disadvantages of virtual communities, and implement measures to steer clear of the pitfalls and stay ahead of the competition.
What are your thoughts? Please let us know in the comment section below.
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