While the term “paid membership community” may technically be used to describe a traditional association, nowadays, it’s more commonly used to refer to an online business model that facilitates member connections around a common mission or interest. Professionals, especially Gen Z, seem hungry to be a part of groups like Chief, Hampton, Swipe Files, Tech Ladies, etc. But what makes members shell out (sometimes) big bucks to join these communities? And what should event and association marketers take from this trend?
The screen-filtered world we live and work in has made us crave social connection and belonging. Many in the workforce are looking for communities of like-minded individuals to build relationships with and get help with professional growth. While this is a mainstay of associations, these online communities provide a smorgasbord of ways to connect immediately. Offerings include large, medium and small groups, and subsets by industry, role, identity and more. We all belong to more than one “group” in our lives and these communities give members a chance to find multiple ways to engage in genuine interactions.
Personalization and control
Giving the member control over their experience is key to keeping them engaged in the community. The most exciting feature of even the biggest membership communities is what can be called a “core group,” a small cohort of vetted individuals who meet regularly (online or in person), often with a professional coach. Thus, the member can have interactions that help them with their specific challenges. As with any relationship, members aren’t only receivers, they also give advice and can act as a mentor within the group.
In addition, the work-focused communities often offer curated professional development and other resources on demand, so members can grow at their own pace. They can also choose to attend online and in-person events.
Speaking of in-person events: For a lot of folks, especially those who’ve had most of their professional conversations over Zoom, networking in person can be difficult and anxiety-ridden. Finding a supportive community that starts online and then moves into the “real world” can help make in-person events more productive because conversations will start more naturally and easily.
Not only is the humanity of each member acknowledged with personalization, belonging and authentic networking, but the communities themselves are marketed on their own humanity. Many of these communities are started by one person or a small group of founders. Whether it’s a Peloton instructor or a successful startup entrepreneur, the personality behind a community plays a big role in attracting members. The websites tend to feature the photos, names and bios of the creators, certain workshop or masterclass presenters, and highlighted members.
There are many ways we can use these values to attract audiences to our events, including …
- Facilitate connections that extend beyond the event — before and after.
- Include names and pictures of event hosts or executive committee members on your website and in your marketing materials.
- Ensure networking isn’t confined to traditional spaces or just the days of the event.
- Offer on-demand content for registrants after the conference.
- Speak their language!
- Consider identifying and reaching out to existing communities that align with your target audience to collaborate on content and opportunities.
A version of this article originally appeared in PCMA Convene.