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Build a strong membership community in 4 steps (+ Tutorial)

You want your membership site to thrive, right? Then start investing in your membership’s sense of community today using these five steps.

You’ve poured hours into creating valuable membership site content for your customers.

And they’re engaging with it about as much as grass engages with the desert.

That could be a problem.

If you’re worried that your online community will flounder due to lack of member activity, this guide is for you.

To make your program more engaging for members, we teach you four steps for building a welcoming online community for both your current and new members. 

To start, let’s look at how to welcome your customers with a well-crafted onboarding experience. 

4 steps to build a successful community for your membership site

Step #1: Create a welcoming online community for new members

The first step in creating a bustling community is to make sure people are welcomed with open arms from the moment they join.

What happens immediately after a customer enrolls in your membership program sets the tone for the rest of their membership, so it’s essential you make the experience smooth, informative, and pleasurable.

To do this, start by sending a stand-out welcome email. A lot rides on your welcome email. 

In fact, the average welcome email open rate is 82.21%. That’s over four times the 19% average open rate for emails in North America. 

That makes your welcome email not only the perfect opportunity to wow and woo new members, but potentially the only chance you’ll get to do it without fighting for their attention.

What should you include to make your welcome email a stand-out onboarding email?

For starters, try to:

  • Welcome your new member (of course)

  • Tell them what next steps they should take, like creating a username and password, if applicable

  • Give a walkthrough of your membership program, such as each subforum’s purpose

  • Lay out ground rules for participating in your membership

  • Explain how often they can expect new content 

  • Mention who to contact if they have questions

  • Include any other important information for new members 

Or follow in the footsteps of HireClub’s onboarding email, where they . . .

Introduce their founder and purpose:

Explain how to get started with the service:

Mention where members can get extra help if they need it:

Provide an avenue for giving HireClub feedback:

The point of your welcome email is to set your members up for success and to encourage them to take immediate action in your membership program. 

Beyond your welcome email, it’s also vital to design your membership site to guide members along the path to success. 

One way to accomplish this is to create a pinned post in your main discussion forum that lays out the rules for participating in the membership.

You can also create a “new members” channel for new members to introduce themselves and interact with fellow members. Previously published “about me” posts can also help new members learn more about existing members. 

Wandering Aimfully features an “introduce yourself” thread for new members in its paid Slack community, for example. 

Essentially, a good welcome experience boils down to giving customers key information they need to succeed and offering a helping hand along the way. 

For an even better experience, use our second step to foster a sense of community. 

Step #2: Nurture your brand relationship

Once your new members are welcomed, it’s time to build on that rapport and nurture a relationship with your members. 

One surefire way to do that is to treat each member as a unique customer with individual needs.

After all, 74% of consumers want to be treated as an individual and not as part of a segment. 

There are very few things that work better than personalization to make customers feel special. 

So much so that 60.5% of consumers say it’s important to receive personalized communication via email, chat, social media,  et cetera. 

Whatever channel(s) you choose to connect with your members, by simply reaching out -- to check in, answer questions, and offer help -- your members will feel more valued and cared for. 

The point is to offer every member individual attention and to be there, ready to help, whenever they need it. 

If you don’t have time to go the extra mile to give each member VIP treatment, consider hiring a virtual assistant (VA) or hiring your first employee to help and represent your brand as a liaison. 

Check out how Boody, a clothing company, sends an email introducing an assigned Boody liaison after making a purchase. 

Or Filmsupply, which sends a similar email to customers introducing them to a “human touch-point”.

Assigning a personal helper not only makes members feel like VIPs, but it also gives customers a better experience with your business. 

Want a bigger revenue boost? Focus on not only connecting with your members via contact information, but also emotionally connecting.

People who feel emotionally connected stay with a business for an average of 5.1 years, compared to 3.4 years for those who just feel satisfied with a brand. 

On top of that, emotionally connected customers also have a 306% higher lifetime value (LTV) than satisfied customers. (In case you’re unfamiliar, LTV refers to the amount of money a customer spends over their entire relationship with a business.) 

A final way to nurture your relationship with your members is to connect with them inside your membership community. 

One option is to hold live-streams where you answer members’ questions in real-time.

The REIKI Vault from Dee’s Divine Guidance, for instance, allows members to ask questions at the end of their live Weekly Healing Sessions. 

Another option is to hold short one-on-one check-ins with members every few months to see how they’re enjoying their membership. 

That said, nurturing a connection between members and your brand isn’t the only valuable relationship you should maintain. It’s also important to nurture relationships between members. 

Step #3: Connect new members with existing members

The next step for building a solid community for your membership site is to connect existing members with newbies. 

An effective way to increase membership engagement in your online community is to assign each new member a partner. 

What’s great about this is partners can also help new members stay accountable to their goals. 

Alternatively, you can also host regular events, projects, or mastermind groups that encourage members to interact and collaborate with each other.  

Just like Flatiron School’s Community-Powered Bootcamp, where members can ask questions of the entire student community, work together on assignments, and schedule study groups. 

Buffer’s Buffer Community includes a weekly mastermind where members can share advice and strategies, discuss their challenges, and ask questions. 

Buffer Community also offers monthly CommuniTea/Coffee events at different time zones so members can interact with each other virtually. 

What’s more, members also share their goals at the beginning of the week and reflect on them at the end, which also holds members accountable to their goals and lets them learn from each other. 

In a nutshell:

Use accountability partners, group projects, masterminds, and more to help members develop relationships with each other, which increases the value they get from your membership program. 

But, OK. The first three steps cover the basics of building a membership community. If you want to go beyond and build a strong community of happy members over the long-term, look to our fourth step. 

Step #4: Continue to delight your customers

Another powerful way to build a successful online community for your members is to reinforce a sense of community, support, and engagement over the long run. 

To do this right, survey members regularly, so you have a constant pulse on what they want and need. 

Customer research, after all, is one of the most effective ways to understand what changes and updates members want to see in your membership to make it worthwhile for them. 

As for building your survey, Google Surveys, SurveyMonkey, and Typeform are all user-friendly options. 

You can also learn more about what your members want and need by conducting live interviews with members or analyzing questions they ask during relevant events. 

Take, for instance, successful entrepreneur Tiffany Williams’ “Ask the Expert” series, where she brings in expert speakers and industry leaders as part of her Rich Girl Academy membership.

This is an ideal opportunity for Tiffany to dig into the questions her members ask guest speakers (a.k.a., the experts) to find out topics that they’re interested in learning more about.

By delivering more valuable content based on her members’ uncovered pain points and interests, Tiffany can continue to delight her customers over the long haul.

Even if it’s a casual get-together, like Chipotle’s virtual lunch hour on Zoom, it’s a chance to learn more about and bond with your audience. 

The main takeaway here is to get to know your audience better so you can, in turn, better serve and delight them. 

Speaking of delighting your customers, one way to do that is to make your members feel appreciated. 

With 79% of customers wanting to feel appreciated, a little thanks can go a long way. 

Plus, another 79% of customers want brands to show their appreciation by going above and beyond with small surprises. 

Small surprises can come in the form of a discount, like the Graphic Artists Guild’s discount offers on multiple professional products and services for members. 

Or a free gift, like one businessman’s thank you gift of a box of chocolates with a handwritten note that he sends to each customer every year, which costs him about $20 per customer. 

Whether it’s a physical gift, small discount, exclusive sneak peek, or free product, once you learn more about your members, you can find unique ways to appreciate and surprise them.

Even better, let your members decide how they want to receive benefits and rewards. 

Phew. Now that we’ve covered steps for fostering a successful online community, let’s do a quick tactical walkthrough of some logistics.

How to build a robust online community with Podia

Create a welcome email 

The first way to build an engaged online community with Podia is by sending welcome emails to new members. It takes just a few clicks, let me show you.

(Don’t have a Podia account to follow along? Get started for free today.)

First, head over to the “email” tab on your dashboard. 

Then click “create” in the upper-right corner.

Decide if you want to release a one-time broadcast email or a campaign email that will go out when certain conditions are met. 

Then enter a “campaign name” and choose an entrance condition from the drop-down menu, which triggers your email being sent. You also have the option to add an exit condition.

Next, fill in your campaign details like your subject and body, and schedule when you’d like to send it by inputting the number of days after entrance.

Finally, at the bottom of your email body, toggle on the “email is active and will be sent with campaign” button, so your email is set to go out to new members. 

And -- voila -- your email will arrive in your new members’ inboxes after enrolling. 

Email isn't the only way to interact with your members, though. Check out our next tip for live messaging.

Send live chat messages to your members 

Exclusive to Podia’s all-in-one platform, you can leverage our built-in live chat tool and send messages to your members in real time.  

To use customer messaging, just click your homepage name on your main dashboard and then select “site settings”.

From there, go to the “messaging” tab and select who can message you. 

Then head over to the “messaging” tab of your main dashboard. 

Here, you can set your online status using the box in the upper right-hand corner. 

You can also respond to existing customer conversations or send follow up messages by going to the “conversations” section of your dashboard.

To send messages to customers for the first time, just hit “start a conversation”, then select the customer you want to message from the drop-down menu, and you’re ready to start chatting.

Piece of cake, right?

OK. So that covers communicating with your members. If you’re wondering about adding products to your membership, check out the next tip. 

Add valuable products to your membership

Another way to create a bustling online community using Podia is to add valuable and relevant digital products to your membership tiers, which you can do in two ways. 

The first is to go to “memberships” on your dashboard and then name your membership and click “create your membership”.

Next, head over to your “plans” tab.

From there, click “create a plan” and add a name and payment terms for your membership. 

Next, you can add products by selecting products from the “give access to products” section. 

Keep in mind that you’ll need to create your products in advance before adding them to your membership. 

Once you’ve selected your products, click “publish plan” to grant access.

Alternatively, you can create a single product that functions as your resource library for your membership. 

To go this route, just head over to “products” in your dashboard. 

Click “create product” and then decide which type of product you want to create. 

Select your product type, click “create and continue”, and then fill in your product content. 

After that, go to the “pricing” tab and set the price to $0. 

If you go to the “settings” tab of your product dashboard and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see a section called “close enrollment”.

Clicking on the toggle allows you to close enrollment to everyone except for customers who already purchased the course or who you manually enroll. 

I.e., members can access this product through their membership subscription even if it’s closed to the public. 

If you want to limit access further, just go to the Podia Editor and click on “products”. 

Then click the eye icon of the product you want to hide. You can tell if your product is hidden when the eye icon with a line through it appears. 

You can also close enrollment to your course so no one else but members enroll in it. Simply click “settings” on your product page, then hit the “close enrollment” toggle. 

And just like that, you can successfully add products to your membership program. 

Next, we’ll cover how to create membership posts for your members. 

Publish a membership post 

To create a membership post, go to “memberships” on your dashboard. 

Click “posts” on the next screen, and then “create a post”.

Here, add a title and content for your post. 

You can even add videos by uploading a video to the “video” section underneath your post content. 

What’s more, you have the option to limit which members see your posts by going to the “access” tab, where you can limit the post to certain member tiers or make it public. 

Another great feature is you can decide if you want to notify members when your post goes live by clicking on the “send members an email when published” toggle. 

Once your post is ready, click “publish now”, schedule it for a later time and date, or save it as a draft. 

After your content is posted, you can pin your important posts inside your membership by clicking on the “pinned post” toggle at the top of your post dashboard. 

All in all, creating an active membership is a cinch if you’re using Podia’s built-in email, live chat, product creation, and content posting tools. 

But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of our 17,000+ happy users, instead.

Use these 4 steps to foster community in your membership program 

A membership program without a strong sense of community is like a bicycle without wheels -- it just won’t go anywhere. 

To foster a strong sense of community and member engagement:

  • Step #1. Create a welcoming onboarding experience for new members.

  • Step #2. Immediately connect new members with your brand and make them feel VIP.

  • Step #3. Encourage active interaction between new and existing members.

  • Step #4. Regularly survey and learn from your audience to find ways to continually add value to your membership and delight your members. 

  • Use an all-in-one platform and membership site features like Podia’s built-in email, live chat, product creation, and content posting tools to carry out your robust online community. 

Here’s to building a lively membership full of loyal, happy members.

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About the author

Cyn Meyer was a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.