Lessons in Membership Model for exiled media

Press release

Cinthia Membreño, from Confidencial (Nicaragua), shared her experience in building a membership model, in a conversation with NEMO member, Zamaneh Media.

In the spirit of knowledge exchange, Confidencial shared its most important learnings from building a membership model from exile, in an in-person session at the Zamaneh Media office. Representing Confidencial was Cinthia Membreño, its Audience Loyalty Manager. These are the main takeaways from our conversation with her:

Know your audience

Figure out who your audience is and what it is that they are seeking in your reporting. In today’s media landscape, there is no shortage of media outlets that your audience can refer to and, most certainly, refer to others.

– Who are the people consistently consuming your content?
– Why do they come to your media outlet instead of your competition?
– How satisfied/dissatisfied do they feel about your coverage?
– Are they willing to help your team in any way?

The first step towards building your membership model is finding the answers to these questions. There are several ways of doing that:

  • Periodic audience surveys on your website/platform
  • Open line of communication between your newsroom and audience through emails
  • Engaging with your audiences on social media
  • Website and social media analytics
  • Dedicated personnel to handle communication with the audience

Know yourself

While you are getting to know your audience, also get to know yourself. No, we do not mean a group reflection session (although who are we to say what might work for your team). We mean your media outlet’s internal capacity.

As exiled media, we often operate with small teams and smaller budgets. This also means limited time and bandwidth. Therefore, it is key that you take into consideration what it is that your team can realistically deliver on time.

Consider your audience and your newsroom as two separate blueprints. Put them on top of each other to find out which aspects of your work overlap with your audience’s needs and wants. A few ways of approaching this:

  • Collect information on who does what in your newsroom and what they enjoy doing
  • Talk to your team about the importance of audience engagement work
  • Share key results of your audience survey with your team
  • Come up with a value proposition for your audience with your team

Trust your audience

This one is harder than it sounds: trust your loyal audience base.

And how do you know where they are? Your databases. Confidencial has discovered that readers who are subscribed to their newsletters are more inclined to participate in surveys, test products, and join membership programs or donation campaigns.

These people want to see you thrive and share reliable information. As journalists, we often feel that our moral responsibility towards our audience should keep us from asking anything from them. Be that donations, membership fees, content suggestions, or feedback. This is where we are wrong.

People have had to subscribe to newspapers for over a century. People have written ‘letters to the editor’. Your audience wants to be involved, they want to feel like a part of something big. Therefore, trust that your audience wants to help and let them do it. Remember to also reciprocate by keeping your audience’s digital security at the heart of any decision you make, from tech stacks to subscription models.

Keep it simple

  • Which tech stack should we use?
  • Do we need to hire an audience engagement expert?
  • Do we need to redesign our entire website?
  • How much will this cost us?

Stop! Breathe. Start off simple.

If you have decided to launch a membership program, perhaps you can design an engagement strategy that goes like this:

  • Develop a minimum viable product. Something that doesn’t take too much time to put together. Maybe a special edition newsletter that you send once a month? And offer one exclusive article in it.
  • Once you have built some engagement and a habit among the readers who have signed up for free, start with a donation campaign.
  • Use a platform to process donations that works for you and the context of your media outlet. If the readers don’t know it, take the time to explain it. They will eventually use it.
  • Through trial and error, slowly build a membership model from there. Take incremental steps toward where you want to be. Please keep it simple, but be consistent!

    And remember: membership is not a speed competition, it’s an endurance competition. Patience is key with these kinds of initiatives.

Just do it!

Finally, just do it. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Experiment and iterate. If a strategy does not gain traction among your audience or is too cumbersome for your editorial team, try another one. Experiment till you find a model that works for you and your audience. Take your audience along on this journey.

It helps to have a face or a name that your audience can associate with you. Consider having your audience engagement manager or your editor-in-chief sign each newsletter that you send to your audience. Most importantly, do not hesitate to let your audience know that you need them and their experience to enrich yours.

In closing

A membership model is, first, an audience engagement tool and as a result, a revenue generation tool. Build your value proposition and membership model based on that!

Some resources

Confidencial’s membership program’s website:

Radio Zamaneh’s Opinion Panel:

All you need to know about building a membership program: https://membershippuzzle.org/