But it’s important that you not overlook the distinction between the two, both in how you describe what you’re building and in the mindset with which you approach your role as a community builder and leader.
So let’s discuss the distinction between a membership site and online community, and why it’s essential if you want to increase retention, grow revenue, and build something that matters.
As always, people are the difference
Let’s start with a definition of what I mean by “membership site.” It’s pretty basic, so I’ll just use the first Google result:
A membership site is simply a website where access to specific content is protected and placed behind a member login page.— Member Mouse
- Can be free or paid.
- Provide access to archived content, ongoing new content, or both.
- May or may not have interactive elements like a forum, discussion feed, or private messaging capabilities.
So when does a membership site become an online community?
There are some general definitions of online community that I’ve always felt are too generic or incomplete. They certainly don’t define what my objective is when I’m building an online community.
I always go back to Charles’ Vogl’s definition of community, and how he contrasts it with groups that have the characteristics of a community but really aren’t:
For the purposes of my work, I define a community as “a group of people who share mutual concern for one another’s welfare.” To put it more simply, community members believe other members care about them.
A group may call itself a community, but if members are really only looking out for themselves, they’re just a group. Maybe they are a network, but that’s a distinction for another place.— Charles Vogl
Ultimately, the difference between a membership site and an online community comes down to one key element: the people.
Specifically, does a significant segment of the people who comprise your membership show up and display a genuine interest in interacting, connecting, and helping?
Whether you believe you are building a basic membership site or an online community, your members’ actions will dictate what you are actually building.
Your members may be logging in regularly, accessing your content, applying what they are learning to their own situations, and even interacting with you in Q&As … but unless some of their effort and attention is turned toward other members, what you have is not a community.
And that might be okay — if all you’re trying to build is a membership site. But I don’t think you’d be reading this if that was all you aspired to create.
If your goal is something grander, like creating a movement or helping people you care about create a lasting change in their lives, and you want to build a reliable base of recurring revenue to help you sustain it, then your goal should be to build a membership site that features a strong online community.
But don’t think you can just add basic online community features to a membership site and expect a community to naturally build itself.
You have to guide, inspire, and lead a community. Emphasis on the YOU.
And in next week’s newsletter, I’m going to write about your most important ongoing role as a community leader, and why it has a cascading impact on your community’s development (or lack thereof).
You should aspire to build a membership site that you feel immense pride in — because of how it looks, how it functions, and all of the great content and features it has.
But a membership site can only become an online community when you lead with a spirit of humility. Content may bring people to a membership site, but the people are what make it a community.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
Communities help make membership sites successful
While there are a few exceptions, most membership sites will benefit from a thriving community. Just be sure to build community features that are tailored to your particular audience.
Why you should add a community to your membership site | The Membership Guys
Don’t confuse your community for just another sales channel
The post includes six tips for building a successful online community, and half of them involve relationships. That seems about right. I also love this tip: “People aren’t investing their time to be pitched relentlessly, so be careful to avoid selling too hard.” You have to build the community because you actually care about helping the people in it, not just squeezing them for every dime they’re worth.
How to Create an Online Community That People Will Pay For | Harvard Business Review
Let’s be clear about what we mean by “community”
I wanted to stand and applaud after reading this article. This guy gets it! “Community” shouldn’t be a buzzword. And for the word to describe anything meaningful, it has to include fellowship among members as part of the definition.
What does “community” even mean? A definition attempt & conversation starter | Fabian Pfortmüller
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
Please consider forwarding it to a friend who wants to be a better servant leader and build a strong online community.
Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash