Let me start with a small introduction about organizations before diving into the question of what is a membership website.
The Business Dictionary defines an organization as
A social unit of people that is structured and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals.
For instance, companies, governments, political and religious groups, professional associations, and clubs are organizations with different needs and goals and their members are joined by a common interest, profession, activity, or nationality, just to mention a few different criteria.
In membership organizations, the members are required to register and agree to follow a set of rules that define the way they interact with them and with the group, mainly with the purpose of preserving the nature of the institution. Many times they are required as well to pay a membership fee to be allowed to enjoy the benefits of belonging to the group, namely, services, knowledge, interaction and collaboration.
So, what is a Membership Website?
A membership website (MW) is a virtual place where membership organizations develop. Members have access to services and information in areas reserved for them, protected from the general public, and they are granted access to tools and resources that help them achieve the goals they are pursuing.
In an ideal situation, they can interact with the website system to practice the acquired knowledge and, above all, collaborate with other members to learn the social skills required to be a valuable member of their community.
Types of Membership Websites
There are several ways to classify them and I will talk about two of them; according to their content and according to their financial sources.
According to their content
- News websites provide some kind of insider content that allow their members to be informed ahead of the nonmembers about the evolution of a given topics. They specialize in a wide variety of subjects like Sports, Finances, Science, Entertainment, Politics, Religion and almost any topic on human knowledge.
- Learning websites teach their members the theory and practice on a given trade. They provide the know-how about a particular activity and train their members in the best practices associated with it. Financial Markets Trading and Online Business academies, Online Universities, are good examples of this kind of website.
- Services websites this is a very wide range and we could probably split the category, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll group them here. Some will give their members support and assistance to perform tasks, saving them time by giving timely answers to solve a problem, forums, and technical support websites are good examples of this type. Others will allow their members to perform online operations that would otherwise be very time-consuming, trading platforms and e-commerce websites are in this group. Web hosting companies provide a valuable service allowing their members to host their sites providing as well, in many cases the tools and resources to build them.
- Products websites specialize in producing and delivering to their member's digital products associated with their business. For instance, web templates or a graphics websites providing a preset quantity of original products in a given period for a fixed fee, instead of selling them as separate units.
- Social websites where members hang out and share experiences, chat and gossip just like in any club. In other cases, members profiles are more professional and the nature of the communication is less mundane.
Those are the main types as I see them, but I'm sure that the list can be easily expanded and modified according to your experience and point of view. Needless to say, that some websites fall in several of those categories rendering a more integrated service to their members.
An online business academy, featuring a forum and providing web hosting to their members would be a clear example of that type.
According to membership types
- Free Membership websites don't charge a fee to their members, they rather cover their expenses and/or make a profit in different ways. A freelancer website, connecting suppliers with clients, will charge a percentage of the contract. Others could accept donations from institutions interested in the web site outcome. They can as well sell advertising space or practice content advertising in the affiliate marketing business.
- Subscription Membership websites do charge a fee, either monthly or yearly, to their members, allowing them to cover for website expenses and/or make a profit. Nonprofit organizations may just balance the fee amount with their expenses. Charging a fee is many times complemented with all the financial sources already discussed for free websites, having multiple ways to monetize their content and services. Others rely solely on the fee keeping the website clean of distractions and allowing their members to concentrate on the purpose that brought them to become members.
Membership Websites Operation.
Nowadays, it is very difficult to separate the financial goals of any institution from its service quality. Behind are the days when entrepreneurs could just go for the money and forget about HOW would they do it.
The public demands quality and the website should be gentle and helpful or it will be out of the cyberspace in a very short time.
Now, the workload of an MW is very high, you need a team to perform all the tasks associated with it.
Generating new content, keeping track of members, marketing, and finances, help, and support, just to mention the most relevant tasks, is a lot of work for a single person.
A possible solution is to hire personnel to perform those tasks which will probably take the operating cost to the ceiling. A smarter solution is to create a community of members to perform this daily tasks
- A help system where any member can ask a question and receive an answer from the rest replaces the heavy load of giving support by a lighter one of monitoring the help system.
- An active Q&A section plus encouraging members to blog their experience and to create training generates a lot of content.
- An affiliate system, paying a commission for the promotion of the website, spreads the marketing effort between the members.
This is a win-win situation, where the owner benefits from the points already listed and the members become effective partners in the website giving them the possibility to grow it as a business and the fulfilling experience of belonging to a community.
As a Conclusion
Membership websites are a widespread business model with a great potential to join the effort of their members to pursue a common objective. MW's that promote a strong community have a better chance to give their members a fulfilling experience. The more involved their members are in the website operation, the better results the website will have.
I am a member of the most popular social websites and a proud member of Leads Leap. Please let me know about your experience with membership websites or if there is anything you think should be added to this article.