Should you have a community inside your membership site? Should you set up a forum or set up a private Facebook group? That’s the topic of this installment of CBB.
Should you have a community inside your membership site? Should you set up a forum or set up a private Facebook group? That’s the topic of this installment of CBB.
Truth is, while there are many benefits of having a community inside your membership, it also comes with several cons. And those cons are much more pronounced in the beginning.
In this episode, we’ll discuss:
- Pros and Cons of having a community
- Choosing a platform for your community
- When is a Facebook group better than a forum?
- When should you say “no” to a community for your membership?
- When is the right time to start a community?
- What is my preferred platform and why?
Lastly, if you’re finding these episodes valuable, I’d highly appreciate it if you could post a quick review over in iTunes. You can also share on social media and direct people to CoffeeBreakBlogging.com. Be sure to use #cbb so that I can see it and thank you.
We have been talking for the last few episodes about Membership Sites and various aspects of growing a membership site on your blog. Today, on that theme, I want to talk to you about a membership site community; building a community inside of your membership that is going to be one of the benefits of your program.
Now, many people have gone back and forth on deciding whether they should have a community or not. Many people have seem to kind of knee-jerk into creating a community inside their membership thinking that it is going to be a lot easier to do than it actually is. I am here to tell you that actually, in many times, starting a community inside a paid membership is a lot more difficult than it probably sounds.
So first of all, let us talk about a few pros and cons on whether or not you should have a community in your membership site.
The Pros & Cons Of Having A Community
The “Pros” Side Of It
One of them is that it allows you to have support for your members when you are not actually there. Now, that one is really convenient. For example, if you go on to the Blog Monetization Lab; people can ask questions that are coming up and other members can chime in and answer that. And so, it actually provides a nice support network for all lab members even though I am not the one personally having to answer them. Obviously, I am in there pretty much everyday and I am answering questions; that is a really big part of it, something you have to take into account, by the way, that it definitely takes some time. But I have got that extra support network of actually utilizing the community itself to support the community, which is really, really great.
Another pro is that it helps form bonds in between your members. It forms relationships, people get to know each other and that helps people stick around. When you have that sense of community inside the program where they feel like they really belong there and they would be kind of sad if they have to disconnect from that group, that helps keep people in the program longer. So that is definitely something to keep in mind.
And thirdly on the pros side of it; is that you are helping generate user generated content. User generated content is nice, helpful content but you do not have to write it. Your members are actually writing it for you by way of forum posts and various other pros inside the community. And if you have a search function on that, that all becomes really helpful stuff for future members and you do not have to write a lick of it. So that is really, really helpful from the pros side.
The Big “Cons” Side
Now let us look at a couple of really big CONS here that you need to take into mind here about starting a community with your membership…
The first one is that it does definitely require maintenance. And what I mean by that is that it is going to require you to be in there, interacting regularly, like quite a bit. At the same level, if not more than you have probably handle your own inbox, you are going to have to log in and answer people’s questions in that community. So that is just something you have got to plan for. Like I said, I am inside the Lab community pretty much every day and that is something that you are going to have to do yourself, if you are going to start a community. So just ask yourself the honest question; is that something you want to do?
The second thing; and this is a biggie in the cons category, is that it can be a lot harder to start one of these things off than you might think. The big problem there is going to be slow participation. Especially if you are asking people to log in to a community which is on your site that you set up for them. From their perspective it is just another community and so that is another log in that they have got to remember and that can provide a little bit of complexity for them. Not that they cannot figure it out, it is just that if you make them jump over one or two hurdles, they are less likely to utilize it. And then compounding it is that if they get to this thing “impression” that there is just not many people in there and that their questions are going unanswered, that really is going to put a big sad face in the whole thing. Once they received that failure of putting a question out there and they just didn’t get answered or it took like three weeks for them to get answered; their enthusiasm of using that forum is really going to dwindle and people just won’t use it. And so, you have got to have a plan in place if you are going to bring a community to the table to deal with that. You really have got to have a plan to ramp up that community. It is going to take a lot of structured time on your part to post questions and maybe use your member email list to bring people into that forum and get them to chime in and you are going to have to just direct people in there and really spark the community, otherwise it is going to be very difficult to have it happen.
What To Build On Top Of A Community
So let us talk a little bit about platforms like, okay you decided you want to set up a community, what do you build it on top of?
Well, the first idea is that of having a forum. Now, forums are great. They are. They are a little old school in the fact that they have been around such a long time from the old newsgroup and bulletin board days and they have kind of moved forward but there are really not a whole lot of ways. But there are a ton of forum packages there to choose from, like PhpBB, VBulletin, Invision Board; there are lots of these things out there and basically you just need to take a pick as to which ones you like and which ones your membership site platform can integrate with fairly easily. Because you have got to protect this forum so that it is only for members.
Now, another option; and this is one that I use somewhat, is BB Press. It is created by the same people who made WordPress itself, so therefore they talk together really nicely. It is actually a really stripped down forum that sits right on top of WordPress itself and it is just nice and easy. And that is one of the ones that I use inside the lab, BB Press; completely and totally free, it also has a number of add on plugins that allow it to work with a lot of other membership plugins. And also because a lot of membership plugins for WordPress happen to use the standard WordPress User System to begin with, in a lot of times you can protect that forum content naturally, like that.
The big pro with these forums is that it allows you to have full control over the community environment. It also allows you to own that content because it stays on your platform. And that is probably the biggest deal there; is that all that discussion, if you can successfully spark this community, is that it is going to be on your server. You own it, nobody can take it away from you. You can have full search functionality; there is a number of flexible capabilities that come along having that forum inside of an environment that you control.
The reason I bring that up is because another very, very popular option that I wanted to bring up to you as an option is that of the Facebook Group. Now, many, many program out there; it has become very popular to have private Facebook Groups for paying members where you just set up a Facebook Group and one of the options on that is to have it be closed where people have to request access to it. You can also have those Facebook Groups be secret so that not only can nobody find it without you telling specifically that it is there, but they cannot see it, they cannot see who is a member. It is completely and totally cloaked if it is a secret group. And so, you can set up these groups and one of the biggest reasons why I am a big fan of the Facebook Group for this, is that it is easy for people. There are no hurdles there. Most people, at least in my market; in many markets, just odds are because there are, what… 1.2 or 1.3 billion on Facebook? It is that most of your audience probably has a Facebook profile.
And not only that; statistically speaking, they are probably on Facebook almost everyday. They are there for their personal lives. They are there for the purposes of discussion. We are all carrying around apps on our phones that allow easy access to Facebook. And so, it is super easy to engage in a community on Facebook. And another cool thing about Facebook Groups is that when somebody posts something in that group, a little notification pops up at the Facebook top menu bar. And so that keeps conversation happening because people who are part of your community see that notification and they want to come in and check it out.
So there are multiple reasons why I think Facebook is a really good platform for a member community. Now, you do need to manually manage that bad boy; there is no automatic way of integrating WordPress and Facebook like this. There is just no way to make your members automatic members of the Facebook Group. So what I have to do internally is that; we have got a little internal process that we tell people in the Welcome Email and then some follow-ups, to go to the Group to request membership and then my VA has to manually go in there and approve them. And so it is just a manual process and we just make that clear at the outset.
Now the other big thing you got to keep in mind with Facebook is that you do not own that group. And you do not own that content. It is on Facebook system. So it is theirs. What I mean is that you do not want to use a Facebook Group for something that is absolutely mission critical to your membership. If community is the primary part of your member benefits, I wouldn’t put it on Facebook. But if it is an add on and what they are really paying for is training content or software or something like that, a private Facebook Group can work really well.
The other thing about that content in a Facebook Group is that even though there is search functionality on Facebook, it just isn’t all that great. It is not really all that polished and so there is not a lot of long term value to the content inside of a Facebook Group. So you just gotta keep that in mind, but it is really good for engagement. I can tell you that with the Blog Monetization Lab, I used to have a forum in there and that was a primary means of community and it was really, really tough to get going. When I moved it to the Facebook Group, now we have daily interaction inside the Lab community multiple, multiple times per day. It is a much more active community and I think a big part of that; not only is it growth in the Lab community itself but it is also because we make it so simple because it is on Facebook.
So, Should You Have A Community?
Now, I will be upfront with you… If you are starting from scratch and you do not have that big of an audience right now, I would recommend about a community inside your membership. Work on the other core benefits of that program with the content or if it is software; what they are really paying for, go work on that. Because it is going to take some really concerted time and effort to get that community off the ground and it makes your program a lot better if the stuff that they are truly paying for is really good versus having that negative vibe of having a community that just looks like it is crickets in there. That is going to do you a lot more harm than just simply not having a community at all. So if you are starting from scratch and you do not have that big audience right now, do not worry about the community.
Now on the other hand, if you think a community can bring some benefit to the group and you have an audience in place and you are pretty confident that if you tell people about it and have a concerted participation campaign of getting people involved and you can bring them in, then go for it; get it set up. But that is the big thing there… Do you have a member base in place that is ready to use this community. If you do not have that it is going to be crickets; it is going to be really hard to get it going and then you have got to engage on all kinds of weird little tactics you might have… I have heard people who will go and start multiple forum profiles but yet they are the ones controlling all of them. They basically go on there and simulate conversation. I guess it could work, but it is kind of weird! That is just kind of weird to have to do stuff like that.
My preference between forum and a Facebook Group, is the Facebook Group. I have preferred Facebook Group as the platform for member engagement for multiple reasons that I have already said. It is just a lot easier. Now, I did mention earlier that I do have forums inside the Lab and I want to talk to you a little bit about why I have both. I will be totally upfront with you; the Facebook Group gets by far more engagement than the forums inside the Lab. And I absolutely knew that that was what going to happen. So instead of having a serious… like you click on the tab inside the program and it says “forum” and then there is a bunch of zeros and not a lot going on, what I have done is I have specifically made forums that tie in to the individual action plans that I have inside the Blog Monetization Lab.
And so, that is how it works. We have got the Action Plan with all the content and then off to the side, there are two options. One is to go to the Facebook Group and ask a question and the other one is to go to the related forum to that Action Plan and ask questions. And I am very upfront with people that the reason we use those forums is specifically for content that has long term value. It is for putting content up there that is going to add to the overall long term value of the Action Plan. And in fact, we find really valuable discussions going on inside the Facebook Group, we might actually redirect over to the forum and it is simply for the long term value of future members; for searchability, and things like that. And so with that little caveat on our forum, that is how I put forums in the Lab. I do not want anybody to think that the Lab forum is the primary means of communication because if they thought that, they would think Blog Monetization Lab was a very dead place, and it is certainly not. It is just that almost all conversations are happening on our Facebook Group.
So with all that being said, hopefully you can make a decision on to whether a community for your membership is the right thing to do for you. If you are asking yourself a bunch of questions that whether you could really ramp it up, that is probably a good indicator that it might not be time to do it. When you got enough members in place where you know that you email out your member base, you are probably going to send a couple of hundred people at least, into that forum right off the bat, or into that Facebook Group, then go and start one up and see what happens. But definitely have that game plan in place. Maybe have some themed discussion going on that are on a schedule and you direct your members into that thing and you really got to make a purposeful effort to spark it up.
Get Into The Lab Community 😉
All that said and done, if you would like to participate in this Lab Community that I have been talking about so much in this episode, you got to be a member of the Blog Monetization Lab. It is definitely a worthwhile group to be involved in, lots of questions being asked everyday… I am in there every single day answering so, if you want to have access to me and have me answering your business questions; pretty much on demand, your best place to do that is going to be inside the Blog Monetization Lab Community.
So if you want to learn about that and all the other benefits of the Lab, head on over to the blogmonetizationlab.com and learn more. I also want to remind you that if you are finding these episodes valuable or if you are finding this entire course known as Coffee Break Blogging valuable, I would highly appreciate it if you would share it to a friend. And if you can go over to iTunes; hop on in there and post a star rating and review and let the world know what you think about this podcast.
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Thank you so much and I will see you next time at Coffee Break Blogging!
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