Building online communities has increasingly become an important part of the successful creators, entrepreneurs, and organizations’ business strategies.
It makes a lot of sense as online communities connect you with your customers like never before. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get people to actually pay for your community membership.
If you’re struggling, it could just be that you’re focusing on the wrong elements.
Ahead, you’ll learn six ways to get people to pay for your community membership and why they work.
Create real urgency with a cohort-based model
Think back to some of your favorite experiences in life, the ones you keep coming back to. More often than not, you remember a bit of what you experienced or learned, and mostly the people you were with.
This isn’t by accident. Humans aren’t wired to be alone. We thrive on human connection to share knowledge. This is why a cohort-based model can be so effective for getting people to pay for your membership.
In most basic terms, a cohort-based model for a membership normally means that you have a specific enrollment window for when people can join your community. In turn, those who pay for your membership join your community as a “cohort” of new members all experiencing what you have to offer for the first time together.
Cohort-based models are incredibly effective because they tap into people’s fear of missing out. You create a sense of exclusivity, scarcity, and urgency for people interested in what you have to offer.
Sophia Amoruso, one of our Hosts (that’s what we call our customers) has found immense success in offering her paid membership with a time-limited cohort-based model.
Amoruso created The Business Class & The Lounge, a 10-week premium digital course for founders who are serious about building smart, profitable businesses. Her membership has consistently sold out since offering it in a cohort-based model.
Hook people with a weekly livestream series
Another effective way to entice people to your paid community is to give them a taste of what you offer your members.
Using social platforms like Instagram or Twitter to livestream a weekly event are good ways to showcase the awesome experiences happening in your community. More importantly, using these streams as a way to showcase your expertise builds your credibility and keeps your business top of mind.
An entrepreneur who does this extremely well is Leon Howard, aka Wall Street Trapper. Howard has built a multi-million dollar business by teaching people the fundamentals of investing and wealth management, especially in the Black community.
He offers masterclasses, virtual events, online courses, and a paid online community to his members that are trying to understand the stock market.
Every week Howard goes live on his Instagram to talk about the latest news and insights he’s learned from the personal finance world that week. These streams are very approachable. He uses these in a fairly impromptu format which is a dynamic way to keep up with your audience.
On top of these IG livestreams, every Tuesday, Trapper goes live on YouTube with his “Trapping Tuesday” series. In it he does a quick analysis of what is effective in the stock market. He promotes with a quick email that day and an email once he goes live. Every episode links to his paid community, creating a constant flow of new people in the door.
At the end of his streams he tells viewers that if they want to level-up their personal finance skills they should join his online community, Trapper’s Anonymous.
Combine your community & challenge funnels
Selling various challenges to your audience is nothing new. You probably already do this in some form whether it is a simple skill building or habit building challenge, they’re easy to create and low effort to manage.
Traditionally, challenges have thrived through social media hashtags and private groups on platforms like Facebook.
The problem with using social media hashtags is that it can become hard to track, especially if your challenge blows up. It’s also extremely hard to build a sense of camaraderie and community on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
The community component on challenges is so important because it not only creates more engagement, but it also keeps people around. Through words of encouragement, advice, and more, participants of the challenges are forging real connections with others and that is powerful.
Rethinking challenges as a way to build community and provide people results and transformation is a powerful device to get people to pay for a membership in your community.
Take Cristy “Code Red” Nickel for instance. She is one of our most successful Hosts and has leveraged her “10 Pound Takedown” challenge that she charges $27 to steadily increase her community memberships every year.
In the past, she relied on Facebook Groups for people to join and post about their progress in the challenge. It worked for a time, but it was hard to actually get people to pay for anything else or sell them new products. Now, her 10 Pound Takedown challenge acts as the paid gateway to join her online community and her own mobile apps which she launched with Mighty Pro.
Keep your funnels full with free workshops
Similar to my point about giving people an idea of how much value your content has through livestreaming, the same is true of offering a free workshop.
Workshops are an awesome platform for taking something from your existing content, repackaging it into a bite-sized experience, and showcasing to people who tune in why they should be paying for your community.
Think of offering a workshop like an introduction into a longer experience with someone. Just like the best TV shows will use cliffhangers to keep viewers interested, so can you with how you structure your workshop.
Teach people a real skill, framework, or idea but leave enough mystery and intrigue that people will want to buy the full experience to learn all that you have to offer.
Sara Longoria, the creator of Hey U Human, has tapped into viral growth for her business through using free content across social media to funnel people into her membership community.
Within the community, members participate in monthly events, courses, training and support sessions all about developing habits for managing all of the stresses happening in our lives.
One of her go-to ways of getting people to join her community is offering a free workshop that teaches people a framework she calls the “Rapid Relief Technique.” During her workshop she teaches people three simple techniques to be more mindful and less anxious in their daily lives.
Leverage ambassador programs for insider knowledge
A surefire way to get more people interested in your paid community is to have diehard supporters who can vouch for how much value you’re providing members.
Building a member to ambassador program is a great way to get the most out of your most dedicated and enthusiastic supporters.
While you should certainly advocate for the value of your own content, it’s always more convincing when you have others who reach out to people and talk about why your community is so valuable.
But there are even more benefits to ambassador programs than just outreach.
Mindbody One, an online health and fitness community where members gain access to exclusive content from Mindbody and a quickly-growing network of peers.
They have a “Champion” ambassador program that has become a valuable asset for their businesses.
Champions run live events within the community, answer community questions, and contribute heavily to build a positive community spirit. They act similar to a customer advisory board that gives deeper insights to Mindbody executives and leadership.
If interested, we wrote a case study on how Mindbody uses its online customer community in their B2B SaaS business here.
Offer exclusive knowledge members can't find anywhere else
Recently, I was listening to the My First Million podcast with Sam Parr and Shaan Purri. In their podcast they interview highly successful entrepreneurs about the business strategies and insights that have helped them make millions.
Sam and Shaan talk at length about why people join paid communities, sometimes it’s because they are looking for a networking opportunity. Other times it’s because you’re offering excellent online courses on a skill they’re trying to master.
But the most important factor is that the information available in your paid community should be something that people can’t find through a Google search or anywhere else for that matter.
It can be challenging for people to understand why they should pay for an online community. But if you have exclusive information, connections, or resources that people can’t get anywhere else then the community justifies the price.