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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.