Does anyone know of (or run) a successful community that charges for membership?

(Robert Maaye) #1

Hi again

For the purposes of a different community project (to the one I just posted about in my ‘Does anyone have any experience of attracting a sponsor? topic) I was wondering if anyone knew of any communities that were successful in charging for membership (or perhaps you run one) that I could check out? It’s something we are contemplating for a membership scheme we run with 30,000+ members and are just interested to learn from others experiences to help inform the strategy for this area of the business.

Personally (the above is more for my director) I would also be interested if you knew of any who had tried to charge for membership but failed. Preferably epically failed as for the current community I manage I am pretty sure we will kill it if we charge and prefer the sponsorship route to monetise…so the more examples I have illustrating that the better! :slight_smile:

Thanks in advance for any replies!



(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #2

Hi @robertkmaaye - I came from nonprofit associations - each charged membership to belong. They are a different beast though, since they had paid membership models prior to an online community. If your group does go the path of paid membership, I’d recommend checking out - they have resources on pricing membership.

(Sarah Hawk) #3

We used to charge membership here and gave that away. When this community was first launched (on a different platform with a different name) it was an exclusive, paid community. It wasn’t a failure, but it didn’t pick up steam as we’d hoped. We migrated here, and opened up a public channel, keeping the paid private areas. We added value to that membership model by including free access to all our training and resource materials.

After a while we realised that we were spreading ourselves too thin and that the paid model wasn’t working for us (retention was ok but we weren’t growing) so we gave it away.

Since then, growth has been great, but the value proposition changes, and that can be tricky.

If you are going for a paid model, the value of membership (exclusivity, access to resources, access to experts, something else) has to be very clear.

(Robert Maaye) #4

Thanks for the quick reply @Katie_Paffhouse_Buss I’ll be sure to check them out.

(Robert Maaye) #5

Thanks for sharing your experience @HAWK. Very helpful!

(Richard Millington) #6

As @Katie_Paffhouse_Buss says, I’d definitely check out the association communities. HigherLogic, Socious, DNN etc can provide you with a pretty good list here.

Look at what they charge but also what they provide. The key thing here isn’t always about the value itself, it’s about whether this is the ‘one place that everyone that works in this field has joined’ model.

Also check out the Community Roundtable. They operate more of a traditional analyst model. They pitch themselves high and offer seats for access - which gives access to the community but also research reports, guest webinars etc…etc…

(Sarah Hawk) #7

Calling @AmyTurner

(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #8

Absolutely agree. I don’t think I can stress enough that these orgs existed as paid membership before community - hence the everyone has joined feel. That may help in your case to keep things free or at least incorporate a free version.

(Robert Maaye) #9

Awesome thanks @richard_millington

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #10

You could try inviting someone from TalkingPointsMemo to the discussion. They run a partially closed forum, promoting a private section of their community as a value-add:

I’d be very interested in hearing from them.

(Rob Bosch) #11

Mabe a comepletly different kind of community, but almost all dating communities ask a monthly fee. (Never used one myself and hapily married for 16 years now :slight_smile: )

(Sarah Hawk) #12

That’s true, but are they communities? Do people interact with each other outside of the transactional stuff?

(Suzi Nelson) #13

Our community is paid (kind of). They purchase a monthly membership and the community is positioned as a free bonus. We remove them when their membership is canceled.

The group itself is pretty transactional on the surface, but awesome things have happened and people get a ton of value out of it. We’ve found it adds a level of exclusivity and an increased pain of disconnect when they go to cancel, so we’ve seen a descrease in our churn rates for the product.

(Sarah Hawk) #14

Good suggestion. I’ve contacted their CM Kristin, in the hope that she’ll join the discussion (and the community).

(Kristin Salaky) #15

Hi there!

This is Kristin from Talking Points Memo (as mentioned above!). I’m sure our owner could give you more insights about the exact logistics and benefits, but I’ll try to give as much info as I can!

TPM has a paid community called “Prime.” Basically, it’s $50 a year (or $5 per month) and it gives members access to an exclusive discussion board with topics including everything from Trump’s latest tweets to the latest Game of Thrones episode. That seems to be the big draw of Prime, because it being a political site, it allows people to discuss in a community of people who are knowledgable and it’s easier to keep track of and organize discussion. We also host live chats for members only.

With Prime you also get access to exclusive content, which tends to be longform articles and profiles which are also super cool. You also get far fewer ads on desktop and none on mobile.

As I said, not the total expert on the ins and outs of our model, but from what I’ve seen people really respond well because not only do they like the discussion forum, but they often want direct ways to support the site. We’re lucky to have a really engaged community who have followed our founder Josh from the beginning so it tends to do well for us because people want to contribute directly, not just through ad clicks and things. People also like the fewer ads benefit as it makes the site look better.

I hope that helps and please let me know if you have any specific questions! I can try and get anything answered for you that I may not know as well :slight_smile:

Thanks for thinking of us!


(Marjorie Anderson) #16

Hi there,

Some aspects of our community are for paying members. To access any of the content at all, you have to create an account; however, articles, some downloadable templates, and blogs can all be viewed at no additional cost. We do have what we consider “premium” content, which can only be obtained through paid yearly membership. This gets you access to virtual events, webinars, and premium downloadable content that non-members do not have access to.

To be fair, this model was in effect when we acquired the community, but we didn’t see any sense in changing it. It gives those who are not paid members a glimpse into what they are “missing” by not being a member. And if they do not choose to join, we are not excluding them from gaining knowledge and resources that will benefit them.

Hope that helps!


(Rosie Sherry) #17

We opted, instead of trying to charge membership, creating value and money in different ways. First through events then through an online learning platform.

(Katie Bapple) #18

I work with a lot of different types of community models. The only truly successful time I have seen a paid membership revenue model provide positive earnings is in the association space. The interesting thing, however, is that when I talk on the phone to these community members, they haven’t necessarily bought into the community, they’ve bought into the peripheral value propositions that are facilitated and reinforced by the community. For example, the reason I hear most often for renewing membership dues is because it pays their way into the organization’s annual event or in-person training workships - something other organization types can surely do, but has far less precedent and very different scale.

I have seen plenty of associations thrive on a paid membership model, yes. I’d say those that succeed most often though have group type memberships - their company pays for membership, giving their employees access to the community. That doesn’t work in some use cases.

Sponsorship sales can be a decent alternative, especially in B2B communities, but you have to keep it extremely relevant, both topically and to user needs. Webcast and white paper programs (this is where you get into the lead generation space) can work well, as long as the vendor isn’t pushing a sales pitch and your Terms of Use + lead pages disclose that they are providing information to a sponsor.

Good luck!

(Sarah Hawk) #19

Hi Rosie.
Do you actively track the ROI of the community with regard to event and training sales? i.e. can you directly tie the value of the community back to the company? This is something that I’m trying to figure out at the moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Rosie Sherry) #20

I know I couldn’t have done the events without the community first.
I know the events wouldn’t work (as well) without the community participation all year round.
The community started as a forum, but really it has out grown that and we just exist wherever need be - forum, social media, events, meetups, etc.
I’ve spent zero advertising money. I’ve done everything from scratch and relied/benefited from the community support.

I track lots of data, but tbh, the best data comes from conversations (online or offline). It comes from the community talking about what they want. And it comes from me listening.

Can I tie back the value of the community back to the company? Yes - because without the community we wouldn’t exist and I would’ve given up ages ago :slight_smile:

Not sure if that is what you are after :slight_smile: