While a steady influx of new customers is important for every membership site, the key to a truly enduring membership site is retention. 

As with any new purchase, it’s common for members to be excited to join your site and then lose interest or get busy with other things. In fact, over 80% of customers cancel their subscription to a membership site within the first two years. 

Because it costs five times less on average to retain and satisfy existing members than it does to acquire new ones, it only makes sense that you focus your efforts on keeping your customers on board for the long haul. We’ve compiled a list of effective retention strategies you can employ to keep users engaged with your site — and with each other — well after they’ve joined.

1. Tease upcoming content in new and unique ways

To build anticipation around your soon-to-be-released content, give members a glimpse of what’s coming by incrementally leaking sneak peeks, also known as cliffhanger content

Similar to TV shows that include a preview at the end of each episode to hook you in for next week, your content teases should be attention-grabbing and enticing. A great way to do this is by using a variety of mediums to keep your members on their toes.

For example, if you tease your new content in a weekly or monthly newsletter, mix it up with a written teaser one week, a video another, and an audio clip in the next. Or, if you want to catch subscribers’ attention while they’re already logged in to your site, try including a “coming soon” section on your home page or at the bottom of course modules that show grayed out thumbnail images of the next video.

2. Grant early access

If, like many of us, Amazon is your impulse buy haven, you’ve surely noticed Lightning Deals on featured items peppered throughout the site. These are time-sensitive and sell out quickly. Early access to these deals is one of many reasons it pays to go Prime, Amazon’s exclusive membership. For Amazon Prime customers, a membership guarantees a 30-minute heads-up period in which members get priority access to flash sale items before the general public. 

The same idea can apply to any membership business model — especially those with tiered access levels where you can grant early, exclusive access to the highest levels. This gives subscribers even more incentive to upgrade their membership and makes those customers with access feel like real VIPs.

The exclusive feeling that customers get from early access — to products, services, sales and more — are part of what makes membership sites attractive in the first place, so incorporating them into your site is a real win-win.

3. Offer discounts

Another way to keep your membership site subscribers engaged is to share special discounts and offers from other companies that you partner with, available exclusively for them.

For example, say that you run a membership site for health and wellness business owners that includes boatloads of how-tos on attracting more customers, improving retention and encouraging referrals. What other kinds of information and services would customers in this vertical benefit from? Maybe they also need graphic design services, web hosting or print marketing collateral. To provide more value, you could leverage any connections or partnerships that you have to hook them up with exclusive deals.

If you’re able to set up a number of these special offers for your customers, create a page within your membership site that’s only visible to logged-in subscribers where they can view links to all the exclusive deals available for them.

If your membership site boasts multiple-tiered membership levels, you could also consider offering an upgrade at a discounted rate to mid- and low-tier members. Customers love being rewarded for their loyalty. They pay less and gain more value from a worthy product or service while you’ve effectively locked in new recurring income.

4. Spotlight your members with contests, giveaways and feature stories

Acknowledging your members through contests and giveaways is a surefire way to heighten their sense of belonging. 

Host your giveaways on one of your social media accounts and create certain criteria for entering  to win a prize. For example, for entrants to win, they must both follow your account and have commented on your most recent post. This will create buzz on your social media and collectively bring your community together in the hopes of winning a prize. 

Another way to boost the engagement of your members is to hold contests. Use a photo contest to push the use of your hashtag on social media and generate user-created content for your brand. Feature the winner at the top of your social media, your website, your membership site itself, or the next newsletter to your members. Your winners will be acknowledged and the rest of your community will strive to be featured.

On your site, you can encourage members to excel in your program or courses by selecting a member each month to highlight with a feature story. This feature can be a Q&A on how they succeeded with your courses, a video or photos showing before and after, or even a leaderboard that features your top five most engaged or accomplished subscribers.

5. Implement a user forum

Even though your members signed up for your site to engage with you, they can also get a lot of value by dialoguing with their peers — your other customers. Adding a forum element to your membership site can be incredibly rewarding. Not only do you open the opportunity for your members to bounce ideas off of one another and get their questions answered, you also create a valuable community full of like-minded individuals who already have interests in common.

When adding a forum component to your site, you have a few options. The first option, which is easy and convenient, is to host your forum on a popular social networking site like Facebook. The functionality provided by Facebook’s group feature is very powerful. One of the biggest benefits of hosting your forum on Facebook is that your members can use their existing Facebook login to access the discussion, which means that each time they log in to Facebook they’ll see notifications and threads from your forum in their news feed. A potential drawback to consider is privacy — not everyone will want to use their personal Facebook account to interact with other users.

If you’re looking for a way to have more control over the look and functionality of your forum, you can use a WordPress plugin to create your forum inside your membership site so that users can only see it when they are logged in. This will also allow you to fully customize the style of your forum to make the experience exclusive and unique to your business.

To get your forum off to a great start, you’ll need to stimulate conversation by encouraging your customers to post there. It can be very beneficial to have dedicated threads on a few intriguing topics set up so that new users who log in while your forum is still taking off will have something to respond to. Don’t forget to create rules and guidelines for your online community, and be sure to note any topics that are off-limits or any types of discussions that will not be tolerated.

6. Gamify the membership experience

Using games and game-like elements is a great way to get your members excited about participating in your membership site.

Gamification involves incorporating the elements that make games so fun (points, levels, challenges, competition, etc.) to an underlying customer interaction in order to make the experience more engaging.

Gamifying your membership site incentivizes users to log in more often and spend more time interacting with your content.

For example, Fitbit is a goal-oriented app that offers badges and competition with friends to encourage users to take their fitness to the next level.

7. Quizzes and surveys

There’s a reason sites like Buzzfeed and Zimbio publish endless quizzes — they’re addicting, and they keep readers hooked. Even though your membership site might not be a good fit for “clickbait” style quizzes like “Which Disney princess would be your enemy in real life?,” you can apply the same model to keep your subscribers engaged. Most quiz results sort users into one of several buckets according to personality traits, strengths or preferences, and it can be fun to learn which group they’re a part of.

Quizzes offer an additional benefit: When subscribers get a quiz result that they feel accurately describes them, they feel that you know who they are and what they care about, and you can use their results to tailor the membership experience more towards their tastes and interests.

For example, let’s say you provide marketing and branding strategy to small, local gyms and yoga studios. You could create a quiz all your new members take called “What does your dream studio look like?” Results could include “Trendy, cutting edge health club,” “Laid-back, local studio,” or “Growth-focused fitness facility.” Based on their quiz results, you could suggest content within the site that would be most relevant to them. You can also use this information (which should match up roughly with identifiable segments of your target market) to direct members to upsell and cross-sell products that will benefit them.

About Lindsay Kent
Lindsay is a graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and holds a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations and minors in Spanish and Integrated Marketing Communications. After working with several small businesses, Lindsay moved to sunny Santa Barbara to become Ontraport’s Content Manager.