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Strategies for Engagement Beyond the Paywall - 10/22/2014 -


Strategies for Engagement Beyond the Paywall

You may be giving non-members access to content and communities in the name of engagement, but case studies show that this does not result in an increase in memberships. Measuring comments and clicks is great, but if they arenít moving the needle on your organizationís success, what is the point? The goal is to measure engagement by how it improves your membership rates.

By Michael Spinosa

Today, "engagement" is quite possibly the most commonly used buzzword in the association web marketing space. What is it worth, though, without a focus on mission? No one is really asking this question.

Engagement means different things to the many different marketing and membership professionals in the association space. At its root, owners of association web properties want to say that their membership is leveraging their websites and community for information to the fullest extent and that they are attracting and retaining new members.

In the name of engagement, associations have been quick to offer many of their most valuable content and assets for free to the general public ó including allowing these non-members to comment without as much as an account made with the associationís website. This does not result in new membership, even if it does help to promote your association as a thought leader.

As an example, a large military association was experiencing a steady decline in membership year after year. The association provided content from the magazine online and many pieces of content went viral, which greatly increased exposure to potential members. After review, the website was rebuilt featuring a paywall for the associationís premium content and reserved commenting capabilities for those who were members. The results were telling. While engagement as measured through commenting and page views per visit decreased, the association saw a huge upswing in new memberships and the highest level of renewal in years. By limiting the free aspect of engagement, the association has become more empowered to fulfill its mission through supporting membership.

It's not a question of if engagement is important ó we know that it is. It's more a question of whether your associationís engagement strategy is effective in achieving your goals. Measuring comments and clicks is great, but if they aren't moving the needle on your organizationís success, what is the point?

The goal is to measure engagement by how it improves your membership rates. When taking this approach long-term, your engagement metrics for downloads, multiple page views, and comments will not only return to your previous metrics, but also have the potential to exceed your expectations.

When you make membership engagement one of your primary metrics for success (whether itís a brand new strategy or a revisit to an existing one), keeping the following points in mind will help shape your future direction and get results faster:

  1. Define your key performance indicators (KPIs). You'll need analytics, whether itís Google Analytics, Web Trends, or something that has accessible data. KPIs are not about the raw data that comes out of your analytics solution. They are about applying a second layer of calculations to that data to help track your objectives correctly, comparing them to similar time frames in previous years while associating those metrics with your monthly, quarterly, and annual goals.

  2. Assess existing content. Take a real assessment of your existing content and organize it by topic, division, or any other logical separation that exists for your association. By analyzing and understanding that data, it will be clear what services your members really care about.

  3. Determine your model for success. Itís important to understand the expectations of the membership and find the appropriate solution that will balance protecting your content to drive value for members and providing ample opportunities for non-members to learn about your organization and the benefits it provides.

Taking these initial steps will help you build a hybrid model for engagement that protects your associationís most important assets for your members while engaging potential new members by conveying the value that your association provides. As a point of clarification, blindly throwing all content behind the paywall is not the recommendation here. There needs to be the right recipe of gated and open content, the correct combination of which is unique to the individual association.

Make no mistake, moving toward a hybrid or complete member model will take a real effort from not only your internal team but also the partners that will ultimately support you in this endeavor. As you make the shift, continually monitoring the metrics provided by your KPIs will help shape your strategy to optimize the value you deliver to membership and to achieve deeper engagement.

Michael Spinosa is CEO of Unleashed Technologies and works with nonprofits and publication organizations to bring higher returns on investment for their online endeavors.


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