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June 7, 2024

What Associations Can Learn About Membership from For-Profit Companies


For-profit businesses have learned to leverage the power of community to foster direct customer relationships, engagement and loyalty through belonging.

In talking to community and brand managers from several for-profit businesses, we found that they speak a different language when it comes to membership.

  • They talk in terms of frictionless systems, stickiness and customer success.
  • They measure success more closely, tracking things like monthly recurring revenue, lifetime value, customer acquisition costs, renewal cost and average revenue per subscriber.
  • They are much more focused and clear in their value proposition.
  • They think about onboarding and engagement differently and sometimes use incentives to drive behaviors like posting and participation.
  • They look at their community members also as influencers and allow them to drive the brand.

For-profit organizations also resource their communities differently. Most think in terms of four distinct roles:

  • Community Manager/Moderators: Leaders who help define the operating norms (e.g., best practices, rules and guidelines, de-escalation plans), monitor and moderate discussions, and flag concerns. The number of moderators needed may be different based on community size. Oftentimes the path to community connection is through customer support or communications facilitated by the community manager.
  • Community Content Creators: This role involves staff who will turn community conversations and interactions into editorial content. They will monitor the community and create stories that reinforce value from a marketing and positioning perspective.
  • Client Success Managers: This role is a cornerstone of creating initial and ongoing value for members. This role provides community members with engaging customer service. They will understand the needs of individual members and ensure a curated experience specifically to drive success as that member defines it. Be thoughtful about how many individuals one person might be able to assist and how often check-ins should take place at each step of the customer journey.
  • Ambassadors: These individuals are subject matter experts who help seed conversations, invite other members in and respond when technical questions are asked. Their role is to attract people to the online community and evangelize its value.

Lessons for Association Leaders

There are certainly some lessons here for association leaders looking to grow membership by creating a stronger sense of community amongst their members.

  • Make sure community is the solution to a problem you are trying to solve. Identify the business outcome this function is expected to deliver and make sure it is measurable.
  • Show members the value rather than telling them. Create and share stories based on what is happening in the community. Draw people in by example rather than simply promoting that the community exists.
  • Move the community away from the message board and toward integration with content and other valuable parts of membership. Community should not sit on the side; make it part of the core value proposition.
  • Leverage curation to help members cut through the noise. For example, simplify making connections by identifying who to reach out to and providing opportunities to do so.
    Perceived value is just as important, if not more important, than actual value. Identify the one or two most important things in your members' eyes and focus on those as your core value proposition.
  • Be clear about who your competition is; it may not be who you think. Look for organizations, online communities and groups that also serve your members.

For-profit companies have created a new approach to membership, redefined the job positions related to engagement and created communities among their customers. Exploring the ways for-profit organizations approach membership can help drive innovation within your association. 

This month, we will be releasing our Membership Reset report which will further explore ways to make an impact with your membership program. 


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