The 4 Stages of Building a Successful Membership Community
Reuben O'Connell
6 minutes
March 28, 2023

Whether you’re just getting started building a membership community from scratch, or trying to grow an existing community – we’re here to help!

Bringing a community together is not only hugely rewarding, but has tangible benefits for all involved. From networking to learning and growth, the best membership communities are ones that provide their members with real value. 

In this article, we break down the 4 stages of building a membership community with top tips on how to maximise each stage. Building a thriving community takes work, but with a little guidance, you can grow a successful membership community in no time! 

What is a membership community? 

Membership communities bring a group of people together around a shared interest. This can be professional or social but aims to unite people for support, learning and growth. In the workplace, membership communities are typically grouped by job function or by industry. 

They can also form an essential part of supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives. Communities can be made to bring people together around shared characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender or religion. These communities are often called Employee Resource Groups or ERGs

It’s important to note that membership communities can be paid for or free. This will depend on the goals of the organisers and what they intend to offer members. Paid communities often come with more benefits that simply cannot be offered free. 

Either way, the main focus is adding value to members through shared connection and growth. 

🏆 Find out how Guider is powering membership communities around the globe 🏆

The different types of membership community 

Next, it’s important to recognise that there are several different types of membership communities. They will all follow a similar structure, with a group of people coming together with a shared purpose or uniting interest. 

The different types of membership community are: 

Alumni networks

For schools, universities or other training programs, an alumni network connects people after they leave an educational institution. 

Alumni networks not only form a valuable way to connect former students for learning and career growth but have the added value of keeping students in contact with their institution. This forms an essential communication tool that means successful alumni networks can have a real impact on fundraising. 

Student network 

Similar to an alumni network, student networks connect people while they are still students. They can be set up to feed into your alumni network so it’s worth considering both if you’re an educational institution. 

With uses for supporting diversity and inclusion and onboarding, student networks are a valuable resource for providing targeted holistic support across your student body. Another benefit is that you can connect students and faculty for learning too. 

📖 Find out how mentoring can transform your university experience in our guide 📖

Professional network 

A professional network is the term used for membership communities in the workplace that connect people either by job function, as in a network for marketers, or by industry. They can be run internally or across multiple organisations.  

They can also be used to unite people by a shared characteristic for inclusion. For example, to support women in leadership, you can start a membership group in your industry that does just that. 

📖 Find out more about building community at work in our guide 📖

Mentoring network 

Membership communities can also be formed to provide a mentoring network to a group of people. Again, this can be cross-company or in one organisation. 

The aim is to connect people to mentors or mentees in order to share skills and grow. Mentoring is also a significant benefit for any membership community to offer its members. 

International Network 

As the name suggests, an international network is one that connects members around the world. Membership communities that work internationally, will need to adjust their offer to meet the needs of people in different time zones. 

Using virtual connection software, you can build you community worldwide and grow your membership even in different time zones. 

📖 Find out more about how Guider can help connect your people virtually 📖

4 stages to building a successful membership community

Here we run through the 4 stages that every thriving membership community needs to take, with top tips for maximising each stage. 

#1 Attracting

The starting point of any community will always be attracting members. Without members, there’s no community!

The most important step here is identifying what your community is about and who it’s for. This may be obvious in the planning stages, but it’s important to be specific about who can (and can’t) join your community. 

Communities with too broad a scope lose focus and those that are too narrow may struggle to find members. 

Once you’ve outlined the scope it’s time to…

  • Articulate the value: Why should people join your community? Who is it for and what’s the purpose? Creating a clear outline of your purpose will help you to communicate to new members why they should join.
  • Put together your benefits: What are you able to offer people in return? It may be networking, events or even discounts. Make sure the benefits of becoming a member are clear and easy to understand.
  • Make the network known: How can people join the community? Think about what platforms and tools your target audience are already using and start promoting your community as widely as you can. 

#2 Retaining 

Once members start to join you’ll need to make sure you keep them happy. It’s much easier to keep members that have already signed up than recruit new ones, so implementing a retention strategy early on is important. 

To do this think about: 

  • Internal comms: How are you communicating the value of your membership community? Whether you’re running events or providing other benefits, you need to make sure you are communicating clearly and frequently with your members.
  • External promotion: Creating a community that people are proud to be a part of means taking the time to keep promoting your successes externally as well as internally.
  • Growing your benefits: Your retention strategy should include how you are going to grow or extend your benefits. Can you thank people for their membership, for example with a yearly reward?
  • Maintaining a personal touch: People join communities to meet like-minded people and connect. This also extends to the community leader. Staying connected to your members is an important part of any retention strategy as it shows that you are invested. 

#3 Engaging 

A thriving community is one where there are lots of people actively engaging with the benefits that you offer. 

Having learned a thing or two about engagement here at Guider, here are our top tips for engaging your members: 

  • Be consistent: Whether it’s a newsletter or an event series, making sure you stay consistent and deliver what you say you will, helps people to engage. When there’s a consistent schedule to activity, it’s much easier for people to make time in their routine to participate.
  • Get feedback: Regular surveys and suggestion boxes give your members the opportunity to feed back what’s working and what’s not. This information is vital in ensuring you can offer your members what they expect and want to engage with.
  • Shout about your wins: A thriving community is a supportive community! Remember to shout about your wins, including praising and rewarding highly engaged members.
  • Test new ideas: As your community grows you may find that things need to change to keep up. For example, the communication channels that helped you reach your first 50 members may not be right to engage a group of 100. Test new ideas and stay open-minded to get the best fit for your people. 

#4 Growing 

Once you have a good base of members and are delivering value in your membership community, it’s time to start thinking about scale. 

In order to grow your community there are several top tips to think about: 

  • Incentivise referrals: Asking engaged members to recommend others to join your network and even rewarding them, is a fantastic way to grow your membership. It helps ensure that new members are engaged from the start. 
  • Grow your own network: As the founder or community lead, it’s important you stay active yourself in networking and finding new people to join your community. This means seeking out opportunities to connect to new people and promote your community.
  • Up your benefits: It’s important to review your benefits and make sure they are competitive to other membership communities and up to date. You can also collect testimonials to promote the benefits of your community. 
  • Connect to other networks: Setting up joint events and PR is a great way to reach a new audience. A good partnership is one with an organisation that has a shared goal or values to yours, therefore, a good cross-over for potential new members. 

Remember: It’s better to have fewer, highly engaged members than thousands of people that don’t contribute! 

What do you think, are you ready to see your membership community thrive? By following these top tips you can set-up a successful community that adds real value to its members. You’ll be connecting more people than ever for meaningful relationships and support. 

Ready to find out more? Talk to us about how Guider supports membership communities to scale, today. 

What's next?

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