In a Sea of Deception, Membership Models Make Sense

Earlier this spring I shared an article from Faisal Kalim in What’s New In Publishing that underscored how membership-based journalism might be the way forward for news media brands struggling in the current climate.

With programmatic ad sales dropping during the pandemic, many news organizations are looking to membership models as a way forward, Kalim explained.

Beyond subscriptions, membership models offer readers a chance to participate at a deeper level with a news outlet, the article noted, because membership implies a deeper contract and stronger relationship with the brand’s editorial mission.

With journalism under siege – a siege that continues to escalate – the membership model is gaining interest. And now, as brands boycott social media advertising because of hateful content and disinformation, a membership model for news brands makes even more sense … if done for the right reasons.

“A pillar of every successful membership strategy is information on how and why audience members come to the publication,” writes Federica Cherubini in The Membership Project Puzzle. “This is even more critical for member-driven news organizations, who rely on a strong relationship with their audiences for sustainability and impact.”

Cherubini reminds us that reader data is the foundation of a sound model, but the idea of “big data” can be daunting for smaller news organizations. Fortunately, Cherubini offers sound advice for news publishers on how to go about this. The first step is to decide what data you really need.

“If you have to focus on one thing to track during a growth phase, I suggest the conversion paths of members – in other words, the acquisition funnel,” Cherubini writes. This will help you better under where your members are coming from, and where your audience engages the most with your content, and on what kind of content.

From there, you can get increasingly sophisticated with your acquisition strategies, but just knowing where your best readers come from and what they like to read will give you the confidence to continue to deliver on your mission and their needs.

This is true for news organizations and really any publisher regardless of industry. Your audience is seeking a reliable source of in-depth and fact-based news; and your readers are growing weary of the culture wars around journalism and the ongoing deception on social media.

Offer your prospects that safe place to land, welcome them, and treat them like gold. This could well be what saves journalism in the long run.