Sanka Academy

A Beginner’s Guide to Community Membership Management

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Last Update: Aug. 26, 2022

Hello, community builders 👋

You might be wondering what the secret of community success is. (Who wouldn’t?)

The boring answer is, of course, "there’s no secret - you gotta just work hard."

And it’s true. Community management is hard. There’s no doubt about it.

However, there are indeed a few "secrets" to thriving communities.

Seeing thousands of communities - both successful ones and complete disasters - we believe community membership is one of those secrets.

What is community membership? Why is it important? And how do you build one?

That’s what we’re going to talk about in this guide.

What is community membership management?

Community membership management is a process of creating and maintaining membership within a community to manage its members effectively.

Membership management includes (but is not limited to) designing community profiles, creating and managing membership roles, offering membership benefits, and implementing membership requirements for your community.

A membership management tool like Sanka will help you to keep your community membership organized and effective.

Community membership is different from typical membership, such as ones offered by credit cards, subscription services, and airline miles.

While the former focuses on membership within a community, the latter on membership of a service.

Now let’s take a look at why membership is so critical for communities.

Why is membership critical for your community?

Membership can play a number of critical roles for your community.

First, it sets clear expectations for you (community manager) and community members on roles, benefits, and requirements within your community.

It helps your community identify who to look for when they have a problem or question.

Second, a well-designed membership boosts community engagement. For example, your community members would post content more often and interact with others if there is an incentive to gain a specific membership level.

Third, membership creates a sense of ownership and responsibility among your members, which can lead to greater commitment and longer retention in your community.

Lastly, membership helps you to analyze your community by its cohorts, giving you a more granular understanding of what’s going on.

It goes without saying that membership isn’t the silver bullet. However, if implemented right, it impacts your community massively.

Next, let’s take a look at how to build awesome community membership.

How to build awesome community membership

The process of building community membership isn’t always straightforward.

However, the fundamentals of membership apply to every community; roles, benefits, requirements, and implementation.

Profiles

Before even starting to work on membership for your community, you need to make sure you have a system to record and track your member profiles.

Member profiles usually include information such as names, contact information, membership roles, social media accounts, and so on.

Without clean data, it’s hard to manage membership effectively; profile duplications, misinformation, and old data that’s not being updated - are all potential risks of a terrible membership experience for your community.

You may also want to customize the profile to collect additional information from members depending on your community's needs.

Roles

Once you have profiles set up, you need to design membership roles for your community.

This means creating a clear and concise description of membership roles and responsibilities for your community.

There are a few different ways to approach membership roles.

One way is to simply give a role to a group of members who completed a certain task. You can do so by monitoring member activities and segmenting your members into several groups (for example, giving a "contributor" role to everyone who volunteered to be an event organizer).

Another way is to assign roles based on your needs. For example, if you need to review community content before it gets published, you can assign a reviewer role to a group of experienced writers and give them the ability to moderate content, while others may only be able to write articles.

Benefits

After creating roles, it’s necessary to set up benefits for members in each role.

Understanding the incentives of your members is very critical here, whether it’s financial, emotional, or totally different motivations.

Only by deeply capturing their motivations, can you create tailored benefits for them: content, events, giveaways, and more.

We’ll cover examples of membership benefits in the following section.

Requirements

You also need to strategically approach the requirements for each membership role.

The requirements are often based on activities (how many events and discussions members need to participate in, content to publish, software code to write, etc.), investments (how many tickets and swags to buy, how much they need to support a community, etc.) or nominations (other privileged members assign roles, voting from the community, etc.).

The first two can be managed automatically, while the last one is managed manually in most cases.

The requirements that are too loose will assign roles to too many people but the ones that are too challenging will attract no one. Knowing the right balance is key to successful membership design.

Implementation

Lastly, you need to implement these decisions in your community.

Make sure members know about all the roles, benefits, and requirements they can take advantage of so that they feel fair and transparent.

If benefits include gated content, discounts, special swags, or early access to new features, you need to keep the promise and deliver them to your members (it’s so obvious, but many communities fall short on this).

Offering incentives to members with special roles for referring other new members would be a bonus point.

Also, celebrate together when members get a new role (because they deserve it) and show your appreciation for them. They have helped make your community what it is today.

Managing community membership is a continuous process rather than a one-off project.

Iterate how your membership works every 3-6 months.

Now let’s take a look at examples of membership roles.

5 examples of community membership roles

Although there are as many community membership roles as there are communities, here is a list of often-used roles:

  • New: This role is for individuals who have recently joined a community. The community would give them access to introductory content, welcome messages, etc. Their permission and privileges are usually limited at this stage. It’s important to nudge them to complete onboarding tasks to move up to the upper membership roles.
  • Standard, Paid, and Active: These are the most common types of membership roles. After completing initial onboarding tasks, including paying fees, these members gain permission to explore further community benefits (content, interactions, experiences, for example).
  • Contributors, Moderators, and Advocates: Members in this category are required to make higher commitments (community moderation, contribution, etc.) to a community. In return, they get higher privileges such as access to exclusive content, profile badges, discounts, or invitations to premier events.
  • Leaders, Reviewers, and Approvers: Individuals with these roles typically have voting rights on important decisions and may be eligible for leadership positions in their communities. They’re typically the ones who review and approve community activities.
  • Backers and Supporters: These are for a group of people who support a community financially (investments, pre-purchase, donations, for example). In return, Backers often get the same exclusive privileges as the members at a higher level of membership role.

Again, these are just examples of membership roles. You need to find the best balance for your community by trial and error.

Examples of membership benefits

A member of a community is typically entitled to certain benefits. Naturally, many people expect you to offer some benefits of being your member too.

Membership benefits can vary from community to community, but some common examples include the following:

  • Exclusive content and discussions: This could be in the form of a members-only blog post, form, chat group, video, book, or newsletter. It’s one of the easiest things you can implement.
  • Exclusive access to community activities: This could give members with a specific role the privilege to vote on important decisions or give feedback that shapes the direction of the community.
  • Premier events: whether virtual or physical, you might want to host events from time to time by just inviting members with certain roles. Also, it can be a great networking opportunity for your members to interact with each other (so make sure it’s conversational rather than just you speaking)
  • Discounts on products and services: Many communities offer discounts to their members on everything from online courses to software products to event tickets. You can leverage partnership networks too to deliver additional offerings.
  • Early access to new features and products: You can give members early access to new features and products you’re working on before the general public. This could be anything from a new software update to an upcoming event.
  • Profile badge, level, alike: You can give members the ability to show off their contributions to the public. This could help their career development and boost their commitment to your community; it's a win-win. Giving away unique and original t-shirts, caps, hoodies, notes, etc - only for members with a specific role is a great way to engage and thank them for their contributions.

Now let’s take a look at examples of membership requirements.

Examples of membership requirements

In many cases, thriving communities are built on well-designed membership requirements. They incentivize and encourage community members to make commitments and be great citizens.

Also, great membership requirements manage expectations and remove the chance of misunderstanding.

Here are a few examples of membership requirements:

  • Engagement within a community: This could include posting content, commenting on other posts, and participating in discussion forums.
  • Leaderboards: This requirement includes becoming the top x% of a community and giving them a role based on their status. It’s similar to the engagement requirement, but generates more competition and, as a result, more engagement.
  • Agreement to community guidelines: Agreeing with community guidelines could be one of the requirements to get your members aligned on general rules and manners.
  • Community promotion and advocacy: This is a requirement for members to grow a community by inviting others to join, posting blog posts, and creating videos through sharing positive experiences with potential members.
  • Membership fees and donations: This requirement is simple - members pay any preset fees for communities on time. However, charging fees for your community raises expectations from members to a very high level. In many cases, communities take a hybrid approach of offering both free and paid tiers.
  • Nominations and voting: Communities can run voting or ask leadership members to nominate other members for specific roles. It’s like a democracy but for the communities.

Wrap-up and next action

Assuming you have followed all of the steps in this guide, your community now has the right structure for membership.

However, again, membership needs to be iterated, adjusted, tested and improved for your community's needs and growth.

The next action we’d suggest is to monitor and listen to your community and think through the experience of being a part of it. Only then, implement membership roles, benefits, and requirements to your community. (Also remember to keep your community members informed of any changes that are made.)

As we saw in this guide, community membership management is an essential part of a community manager’s job.

Hope you find it useful and execute the tips you learned here.

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