Your Membership Marketing Plan: How to Achieve Viral Growth

Your organization has great content, a full event calendar, and a passionate team ready to work hard. However, while these factors can position your community for potential success, your ability to market to and attract new members is what will ultimately determine your organization’s future path

Creating and implementing a membership marketing plan can be resource-intensive, which is why organizations should research multiple strategies to find an approach that best fits their organization’s goals and needs. For organizations with ambitious growth goals, they should consider membership marketing strategies focused on viral growth to make the most of their time and resources. 

Viral growth helps your community bring in a much larger initial audience, who will then be led through each level of your sales funnel, helping fuel continued development and growth at all membership levels. To help your organization build and launch a marketing strategy that will allow you to achieve this type of growth, this guide will cover:

  • Why Membership Marketing Matters
  • Membership Marketing Essentials Before You Get Started
  • 4 Membership Marketing Channels to Know
  • 5 Membership Marketing Best Practices 

At TagFi, our team has experience helping organizations expand their communities with sustainable marketing strategies. Our approach takes each organization’s level of resources into account to ensure they have affordable tools that make powerful return on investment possible. As such, the strategies in this guide are scalable and designed to work with communities of all sizes. Let’s get started.

Ready to grow your audience through your membership marketing? Learn how TagFi can help.
Why Membership Marketing Matters

Why Membership Marketing Matters

Membership marketing is essentially all of the strategies you use to let people know about your organization’s membership program and its offerings. After all, people will only sign up for your membership program if they know it exists, so spreading the word is a necessity for attracting potential members and creating a sustainable audience. 

Today, there are many organizations, online communities, and other programs all vying for potential members. This means developing a membership marketing strategy that differentiates your community from others and clearly explains why your membership program is the best option is a necessity. Of course, there are a few core principles of marketing to potential members you should be familiar with before launching your outreach campaign.

Membership Marketing Essentials Before You Get Started

Membership Marketing Essentials Before You Get Started

Effective marketing strategies begin with a plan based on accurate information about your organization, your offerings, and your audience. Before getting into your marketing campaign’s specifics, let’s review four essential elements to have nailed down first.

Learn four essentials before creating your membership marketing campaign.

Know your audience.

Before creating your marketing materials, choosing outreach channels, or taking any other major steps, you need to ask a simple question: Who is your organization marketing to? 

You can only market effectively to your audience if you know who that audience is, what they want from a membership program, and which communication channels they use. Answering these questions will enable you to craft specific marketing materials that address your audience’s interests and needs and ensure you are posting them on platforms where they will be seen by the right people. 

You can get a better sense of who your audience is by conducting market research and using that information to create personas:

  • Marketing research can include several different tactics, such as surveying your community’s current members, analyzing similar organizations’ membership base and marketing strategy, and researching current trends related to your target audience. For example, an organization looking to bring in a younger audience might look into the demographics and average age ranges of users for different social media platforms to ensure their marketing messages are posted on platforms the target audience uses. 
  • Personas are representations of your target audience created using the data gathered from your market research. Marketing to an undefined crowd of people can be difficult but envisioning that audience as one hypothetical individual simplifies the process and allows your marketing team to focus on a few key characteristics. Organizations often create several personas based on each of their distinct audience segments to effectively market to their entire audience. When creating a persona, establish their general characteristics such as their demographic information, as well as their wants, desires, and pain points for joining a membership program. 

As your community continues to grow, be sure to continue collecting data in order to refine or adjust your marketing strategy as needed. For instance, sometimes launching a new program can bring in a new audience, which you will need to learn about to create a new persona and form a strategy to move them through your membership program’s sales funnel. 

Determine your marketing funnel. 

Ensure you have a marketing funnel to guide members to higher tiers planned out before launching your marketing campaign. This will allow you to create marketing materials targeted to each level of your marketing funnel, leading to more conversions at every stage. 

TagFi’s approach to viral growth marketing centers around creating a marketing funnel that starts by first attracting as large of an audience as possible with free content and access to your exclusive membership platform. These free members will be able to explore a limited range of engaging content. This content showcases what your community has to offer while also leaving free members at a point where the restrictions on what they can access lead to mild frustration, spurring them to move through the marketing funnel and buy a paid membership. 

This process should continue for each of your membership levels. Ensure there is enough content available at each level to intrigue members while also enticing them with content for higher membership tiers only, eventually leading to your highest membership tier where everything is available. 

Define your incentives. 

Why do your members join your association’s membership program? Use data from your market research to answer this question by identifying your target audience’s key incentives. 

The incentives for joining your association will vary based on each audience segment, but in general, they will respond to a need your audience has, like the need to network with a professional community, work with a fitness trainer, connect with other enthusiasts, or to access product and service discounts.

As an example, a skill-based association may realize that their audience has a need for professional development courses, and similar associations only offer in-person instruction, which can be impractical for some of their potential audience. This association would then determine that their audience has a unique incentive to seek out online professional development courses, which they could then work into their membership marketing pitch. 

Once you’ve clarified your audience’s core incentives, be sure to highlight them in your marketing materials. Doing so lets potential members know immediately what they can gain from your membership, while also demonstrating that you understand their unique needs.

Assess your progress. 

Your marketing efforts will be an ongoing process, but your organization should still take steps to monitor your overall success by establishing key metrics, ensuring you have the tools to track them, and setting a timeframe for when you will assess your progress. 

Be sure to set clear, practical goals for yourself. Try using your previous year’s data as a reference point. For example, an organization may look at their overall membership numbers for free and paid memberships from the year prior, then aim to increase their total free memberships by 10% and paid memberships by 5% to increase their total audience. 

Sometimes it can be difficult to know which of your marketing strategies is bringing in new members. Keep track of clickthrough, response, and engagement rates to more accurately assess how your audience is discovering your community. Of course, in some cases it might have been a variety of factors, which is why it’s never a bad idea to survey your members about their overall experience and ask them directly how they first heard about you.

4 Membership Marketing Channels to Know

4 Membership Marketing Channels to Know

As online communication only becomes more integral to our daily lives, digital marketing  has become the norm for many organizations. Of course, some of these channels will provide a greater return on investment than others. 

Let’s review four of the top marketing channels membership-based organizations should be familiar with before launching their membership marketing campaign. 

Email is the top membership marketing platform.

1. Email

Even as digital marketing strategies have evolved, email has remained one of the most straightforward and effective ways for organizations to communicate with their members. However, it goes without saying that not every email marketing campaign is equally effective, and the successful ones pay careful attention to their audience’s interests. 

Here are a few hallmark elements of a strong email marketing campaign:

  • Short, engaging subject lines. Your subject line will often determine whether your email gets opened at all, so don’t be afraid to spend the time workshopping this element until you get it right. Subject lines should aim to be understood at a glance and pique your audience’s interest. For example, you might use it to ask your members a question, share an intriguing fact, or highlight a limited-time opportunity. 
  • Call to action. Everyone who reads your email should come away knowing exactly what they should do next. Ensure your email features a call to action, such as joining a new program you just launched, signing up for an event, or even reading a new article on your website. Stick to one call to action per email to ensure your content is focused and doesn’t end up pulling your members into multiple directions at once. 
  • Mix of content. If every email you send your members asks them to upgrade their memberships, chances are they might soon unsubscribe your emailing list. Instead, in your email series, add emails with a variety of different content. For example, you might start with a welcome email, then follow it up with an informational message highlighting some of your top content, then invite members to an upcoming event, and then promote your members-only content. 

Email marketing can be used to attract new members to your community, but it is often more useful for pushing your new members through your sales funnel. 

Members who have a free account with your organization have already provided their contact information, allowing you to email them directly with a lower risk of being seen as spam when compared to cold outreach campaigns. Send these members alerts about new content, including both free and members-only opportunities. Doing so helps entice them to interact with your community further until becoming a paid member is their only option for more consistent content. 

Social media is a useful membership marketing tool to use strategically.

2. Social Media

Social media has transformed how members-based organizations form their membership marketing strategies, and today, even small organizations usually have at least some social media presence. This is only logical as social media usage has continued to increase in popularity over the past few years, rising to a total of 233 million active users in America, alone. If you want to post your marketing content in spaces your target audience frequents, you should highly consider launching a social media campaign. 

While each social media platform has its own unique rules for success, there are several general principles for digital marketing that will help your messages attract attention on most platforms, such as:

  • Analyzing each platform’s primary users. Not every social media platform will be equally useful for your organization. For example, research shows that Facebook has remained the most used social media platform for users 35 and older. If your target audience is within this demographic, your organization should consider prioritizing posting on Facebook. However, if you’re interested in seeking a younger audience, you may need to investigate alternatives, such as Instagram.
  • Adding attention-grabbing visuals. Social media marketing is competitive. Users scroll through content quickly and are unlikely to interact with a post that doesn’t catch their eye immediately. You can give your marketing materials a better chance of standing out by adding attention-grabbing visuals to each of your posts. 
  • Maintaining a regular posting schedule. You can only cultivate an audience on social media by posting regularly. Doing so will provide more opportunities for engagement, as well as make your organization seem more active as a whole. After all, you’re more likely to assume an organization is continually creating new content if their profile’s most recent posts were made in the last week, not in the last six months. 

Social media can be an effective tool for getting the word out about your organization and attracting new members. However, we do not recommend hosting your organization’s online community on social media. As mentioned, social media requires constantly competing for your members’ attention. Instead, direct them to your website where you can control what content they see and how they move through your membership sales funnel. 

Your website is one of your most useful membership marketing tools.

3. Your Website

Your organization’s website will ultimately be your members’ main source of information about your content, your membership program, and how they can join your community. 

Some smaller organizations may hesitate to launch their own website due to perceived costs and instead rely on social media. However, a website owned by your organization will provide you with a greater degree of customization, control, and user privacy. 

Additionally, there are community management platforms like TagFi that are designed to help even small organizations create cost-effective, user-friendly websites quickly. With TagFi, organizations can launch their own interactive websites in under 24 hours with no developer or IT team needed. TagFi’s platform can operate as a new, standalone site or be plugged directly into your existing one. By using TagFi’s simple, all-in-one website plugin, you will have full control over your advertisers, community monetization, and community engagement.  

Word-of-mouth can help your membership marketing efforts.

4. Word-of-Mouth

Referrals from your current members are one of your most persuasive marketing tools. After all, an endorsement to a particular program from someone you already have a relationship with can go a long way towards establishing trust with an organization, even if you have yet to interact with them personally. 

Of course, word-of-mouth marketing relies on your members to do most of the legwork. You can give them positive things to share about your organization with their friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances by creating a strong, valuable membership program. 

Additionally, you can encourage them to share their experiences with your community and recommend joining by creating a structured referral program. Then, when new members sign up you can add a question to your registration form asking if they were referred and, if so, who referred them. If a member refers a certain number of people, you might reward them with a small bonus such as a limited trial for one of your higher membership tiers or a discount on upgrading.

5 Membership Marketing Best Practices

5 Membership Marketing Best Practices

TagFi’s unique membership marketing approach focuses on viral growth. Our plan centers on continuously attracting a large audience, then moving them through the sales funnel to higher membership tiers after catching their initial interest. 

To follow this method, here are five of our best membership marketing practices:

Offer select free content as part of your membership marketing strategy.

1. Offer select free content. 

Some organizations keep all of their content behind a members-only paywall, meaning that new visitors to their website will have access to an about page, a sign-up form, and little more. This creates an immediate barrier to entry as new members will have to take a chance and spend their money on an organization whose offerings might not align with their interests or personal goals.

By contrast, providing a significant amount of free, engaging content can be highly compelling to a much larger audience. New visitors to these websites will be able to get a better sense of what your organization can provide, and as they make their way through all of your free content, they will become increasingly invested in what else your organization has to offer. 

Free initial content helps draw in a much larger audience to the top of your sales funnel than paid-only organizations would. When more potential members enter the top of the funnel, the higher the chance that a significant percentage of them can eventually be pushed to higher membership levels.

Building a community can create a sustainable membership marketing strategy.

2. Build a community. 

Your organization’s current members can be one of your greatest tools for welcoming new members and encouraging them to join your community. Encourage your members to connect with one another to form an active community around your organization, growing your overall network and showing potential members that your organization has an active, dynamic user base.

You can help build a community and encourage your members to engage with each other by:

  • Creating forums. Give your members easy ways to start conversations in your community and jump in as they desire. Forums, comment sections, live chats, and other public messaging platforms also allow new members to view what’s going on in your community and even envision themselves participating and connecting with your current members. 
  • Hosting a variety of engagement opportunities. Give your members something to talk about with opportunities and events that encourage socialization and community discussion. Often, these opportunities take the form of in-person events, but you can make your community more accessible to a larger range of members by hosting a mix of in-person, hybrid, and virtual events throughout the year. 
  • Encouraging chatting and messaging. Many of your members will be interested in seeking out others in your community with similar interests and experiences. Allow members to display information about themselves on their profiles, such as alma mater, current place of employment, hobbies, professional goals, and more. Then, let members reach out to each other through one-on-one conversations and create private group chats, allowing them to form personal connections with one another. 

Be thoughtful about what communication tools you make available to free members. For instance, you might give them the ability to comment on your forums, allowing them to interact with other members to increase their investment in your community. Then, to persuade them into upgrading their membership, you might make your events members-only. If free members want to participate in the same activities as the friends they’ve made in your community, they may consider moving to the next membership level.

You can partner with local businesses to improve your membership marketing in your community.

3. Partner with local businesses.

Organizations can gain traction in their communities by partnering with local businesses. Based on the partnership, you may be able to leverage these businesses’ connections and resources to further promote your organization . 

This might be something as simple as posting a flier in a business’s window or having their social media account make a post directing their followers to your website. Or, it can be a significant contribution such as sponsoring an event or providing enough revenue to dramatically upgrade your own marketing efforts. 

You can further engage with both sponsors and your members also by creating a community marketplace on your website. Local businesses will then be able to promote and sell their products directly to your members, providing one more way members can engage with your community while also helping you earn revenue from sponsors.

Host sponsored events to attract new members in your local area.

4. Host association sponsored events. 

You can start your audiences’ first experience with your organization off strong by hosting a memorable, engaging public event. Hosting public events sponsored by your organization can help expand your organization’s presence and perceived value in your local community, encouraging more potential members to learn about your organization and its offerings. 

These events can be in-person, hybrid, or virtual, each of which comes with their own pros and cons:

  • In-person events are great for building face-to-face connections, but some of your potential attendees might be hesitant to join in due to health risks or just due to living too far away. 
  • Virtual events are more accessible but might lead to less direct engagement as you’ll need to interact with members through video. 
  • Hybrid events can offer the best of both options but can be a bit tricky to set up and often run the risk of neglecting your online attendees due to a lack of face-to-face interactions. 

No matter which approach you choose, be thoughtful about how you will connect your community’s membership program and brand into your events. It’s not uncommon for an organization to host a fun, memorable event, but attendees end up focusing primarily on specific activities they participated in, rather than what the event was promoting, let alone who sponsored it. 

Ensure your activities are closely intertwined with your organizations’ core offerings to provide attendees a sample of what a membership might look like, while also emphasizing what your organization is and how they can learn more and get involved.

SEO best practices can be used as part of your membership marketing strategy to attract organic traffic to your website.

5. Use SEO best practices. 

Your website is one of your strongest membership marketing assets, and you can generate more traffic to it with search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. Many people interested in joining an online community start their search with search engines like Google. They will enter keywords relevant to their goals and scroll through the websites that appear on the search results page, favoring those that rank higher. 

With SEO, you can improve the odds your website will show up on a search results page and maybe even reach the top. Here are a few easy SEO best practices you can implement on your website immediately:

  • Add location details. Not everyone sees the same search engine results even when searching similar terms. By adding your organization’s location details to your profile on Google, you can increase the chances your website will appear when locals in your area search keywords related to your organization. 
  • Keep your website updated. Google favors websites with new content that post regularly. Regularly updating your website with new content signals that you are an active, up-to-date organization that is likely creating valuable content. Additionally, be sure to remove outdated links to improve your visitors’ experience and make your website easier for search engines to analyze. 
  • Target less competitive keywords. There are some keywords that might be relevant to your organization but incredibly difficult to rank for. For example, if your organization offers online professional development courses, the search results for the keyword “online courses” will be filled with organizations that are difficult to compete with, such as universities like Harvard and Stanford. By contrast, your organization will have an easier time appearing high on the search results page for a more specific, less competitive keyword such as, “online courses for professional development.” 

When implementing SEO strategies, remember that the key is to be patient. Search engines can take several weeks to analyze and index new web pages, and new websites will need to consistently create new content and have other websites build links to it to start ranking. 

This process takes time to see tangible results, but the best first step you can take is to continue making high-quality content for your members that they will want to discuss and share across the internet. 

Wrap Up

Membership marketing can be resource-intensive, requiring a considerable amount of your organization’s time and money to see results. However, effective strategies can lead to viral growth that is essential for your community’s future. 

Before planning your marketing strategy, take a close look at your audience, what you have to offer them, and how your business model will deliver it to them. This can require asking in depth questions about your organization’s current programs, as well as research into your target audience, the current market place, and trends in membership-based programs

To help start your research, we’ve put together multiple resources that dive into how to build and maintain an engaged, dynamic community:

Launch a membership marketing strategy that will help you association grow virally with TagFi. Get started now.