Why You Should Create Online Communities and Memberships

(Episode 1 of 2 with Gordon Glenister)

Why You Should Create Online Communities and Memberships
Gordon Glenister is the author of Influencer Marketing Strategy, the host of the Influence the Global podcast on influencer marketing, and the Chair and Founder of the Influence Division of the Branded Content Marketing Association. He is also the co-founder of the top 100 most influential people index.

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss the benefits of online communities and memberships in-depth, and then touch on the benefits of interviews and influencer marketing. 

The Benefits of Online Communities and Memberships 

Traditionally, associations and trade organizations had to host in-person events for their members; however, now they are becoming more digital. Many associations and trade organizations have started to launch membership sites and online communities. 

Gordon used to run a trade association for 11 years as the chief executive and he said, “Many trade associations have found that their value proposition has been waning because people have been able to search for content online and [join] online communities like Facebook and LinkedIn groups. There’s so much free content out there so these organizations have really needed to up their game and provide constant value to their members.”

This same principle applies to our businesses. Customers are becoming more and more digital. They can consume all the content they need online, whether it is informational or entertaining. I think there are great opportunities for entrepreneurs to go out, find a niche, and create a membership site under the name of their brand or association. Not only does it help us stay connected with our customers, but it is also one of the best ways to provide a recurring revenue stream. 

One of the major business tectonic shifts we’ve seen caused by the pandemic is that all businesses have the opportunity to become global. Instead of being limited to geographic regions or the number of seats we have at an event, we can now connect with customers all around the world through online communities and memberships. 

Online memberships have become extremely popular. While they were already popular before the pandemic, lockdown helped them grow exponentially. Just look at streaming channels. By the second quarter of 2020, Netflix had 192.95 million paid subscribers worldwide (Source: Statista). 

Becoming Part of a Community

“One of the things that’s really fascinating about this growth is people want to feel part of a community,” Gordon said. “If you buy something from a website, it seems very transactional, whereas when you create a membership, you create a community.” 

In a community or membership program, we can provide a place where our customers feel like they belong. We can create an opportunity for other members to meet each other, interact, and share their knowledge and advice. We could also provide membership access to a new product line, additional content, or early access to software. 

Lego has an online community with more than one million registered members and the vast majority of them are not 10 to 11 year old children; they are 40 to 50 year old men who love making amazing Lego structures. Customers want to join communities like this because it allows them to connect with people with similar interests and values as them. It becomes a safe place of belonging. 

“Big growth in membership is all to do with this opportunity to package up different products or services in such a way that you create a membership,” Gordon said. “People come for content but they stay for community.”

People come_Blog

Receiving Online Education 

The Chartered Institute of Marketing, a huge organization in the UK, has a lot of their revenue come from learning programs. In England, they have a training center but due to the pandemic, they couldn’t run any in-person events. They’d always talked about providing online learning, but this pandemic finally forced them to take action. They started a membership and online learning program for their customers. 

One benefit of the pandemic is that it has forced the acceleration of the movement to these digital strategies that we knew we needed to do and it just kind of made us do it. If you haven’t yet developed an online community or started to create online content, I would strongly recommend it. 

Online education has really grown over the last few years, especially amongst trade associations. Gordon spoke with a leader of an association who is now able to have some of the best speakers in the world attend their conferences because they were virtual. The cost of their conferences was significantly lower even though they had more people attending and better speakers. He said to Gordon, “We doubled the number of delegates, even though the delegate price has dropped.” 

Connecting Globally 

In today’s marketplace, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to reach people from anywhere. We can reach them in their living rooms from the other side of the world. “If you’ve got a really great niche, why could you not translate that into different divisions around the world?” Gordon said.

We can find something that does really well in one geographic area, and then we replicate it in another niche. Or, we could simply expand our events and offer tickets to people from countries around the world. For example, I’ve done a lot of that in Brazil. I’ve helped start four different businesses in Brazil. I took something that’s been wildly successful in the US, and did the same thing in Brazil with a completely different market. It’s a very successful business model. 

One key thing to note when creating new memberships, online communities, and businesses, is to really focus on what we do best. With such unlimited opportunities, many entrepreneurs often make the mistake of focusing on too many things at once. 

Gordon’s biggest mistake or greatest weakness is his “shiny new toy syndrome.” He likes to work on multiple things at the same time. He has a sustainable clothing brand, he is helping launch a new rum brand, he is the founder of numerous trade associations, and he has run strategic workshops. However, from this he has learned that it is often better to focus on what we do best. 

“Do what you do best; i.e. be a master of one, rather than a jack of all trades,” Gordon said. “I use a lot of outsourced support, particularly since I’ve started on my own journey a few years ago and that’s been phenomenal. . . . Rather than learning about [everything], I want to be really good at what I do best and outsource the rest.”

Do what you_Blog

The Benefits of Interviews 

When I asked Gordon to share his best monetization secret, he told me it is to write research papers or produce guides, because it gives us an excuse to interview and build relationships with our ideal customers. 

Gordon has done two more papers recently; one was a COVID-19 Impact Report and the more recent one was The Social CEO. For the Social CEO paper, he interviewed 40 CEOs within his own community and target audience. He said the amount of people who were willing to give him their time was phenomenal. 

In the one hour meetings with the CEOs, they told him about their challenges and the problems they were facing, something which is extremely good for the report, but also highly valuable as a lead generation tool for Gordon. After the interviews, he’d follow-up with the CEOs and say, “Thanks again for your amazing insight. I remember you were telling me about X, Y, Z, and I was wondering if we could follow up on that in a meeting and talk about how we can help solve that problem?” 

This interviewing process helps him with thought leadership while also gaining leads. The reports then add additional value by giving him credibility. Gordon has had many people reach out to him about his reports and ask him to speak or talk with them. He built a relationship with his ideal audience, provided value to them, and then established credibility for himself.

This same strategy also can work really well with our books or podcasts. We may interview CEOs for our books or invite all CEOs, influencers, or whoever we want to build relationships with, onto our podcast. This helps us gain a relationship with them, give them reach and exposure, and then it’s a lot easier to do work with them going forward. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest benefits of doing a podcast: it’s the relationships you get with amazing people.

The Benefits of Influencer Marketing 

Gordon explained that the way we market has changed. Influencer marketing has become one of the biggest tectonic shifts we see today. 

In the past, the main advertising channels were TV, radio billboards, newspaper ads, magazine ads, etc. Now, all of those revenues have been significantly dropping, even before the pandemic. The pandemic only accelerated it. Influencer marketing on the other hand has grown phenomenally. Gordon said that in 2016, it was an industry worth around $1.6 billion and now it’s close to $50 billion. 

This is because we trust the opinions of friends, colleagues, and other customers more than anything else. For example, we often go to online reviews on places such as TripAdvisor before booking a hotel or buying something on Amazon. 

“[The influencers] that are really successful are just authentic storytellers,” Gordon said. ‘They help bring brands and products to life that actual brands don’t do enough of a good job of.”

Influencers and content creators can help us bring our brand to life in a way that one dimensional advertising never really did. This is why we are seeing such a big shift towards content marketing and influencer marketing. Our customers want a story they can relate to coming from someone they trust. 

“Now with the internet, it’s all about the attention economy isn’t it?” Gordon said. “We’ve got so many brand messages coming to us every minute of the day that you’ve really got to stand out.”

In the next episode with Gordon, we are going to dive deeper into influencer marketing and the steps we should take to implement it effectively. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Gordon for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. Membership sites and communities can help us stay connected with our customers while also providing an additional recurring revenue stream. 
  2. People come for content but they stay for community.
  3. Membership sites and communities can help our businesses become global. 
  4. We should focus on what we do best and be a master of one, rather than a jack of all trades.
  5. Interviewing our ideal customers for a book, research report, or a podcast, can help us gain leads, build relationships, and build credibility. 
  6. Influencers and content creators can help us bring our brand to life in a way that one dimensional advertising never really did.

Connect with Gordon

To learn more about or connect with Gordon:

Next Steps

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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